Friday, March 16, 2007

Real Food

Anybody who knows me knows I love to eat, cook, and talk about food. A few years ago it started to become clear to me that I had always ignored one important aspect of food - where it comes from. Food production is an issue that nobody really seems to talk about, and the general public does not seem that interested in (although there is now a significant portion of the population that is trying to make meaningful change). Nobody wants to know what really happens to the cows that they eat or that it takes approximately 5,000 gallons of fresh water to produce 1 pound of beef, they just want steak. Nobody wants to know that in order to mass produce chicken the chickens are literally fed chicken shit, they just want their $1.99 per pound boneless breasts. Nobody wants to know how factory farming is destroying the environment and is completely unsustainable, they just want all their food cheap and plentiful. Nobody cares that the introduction of genetically modified species are reducing biological diversity in order to increase the bottom line of greedy corporations, they just want tomatoes in February. Well, I have made it one of my goals to find out more about food production and allow the information I uncover to guide my decisions regarding what I buy and eat. In short, what I've found out so far is that it is best to eat as local, as organic, and as unprocessed as possible. Doing so will increase your own personal health while increasing the health of the environment in myriad ways. Know this - everything you know and believe about the food you eat is probably wrong (and I have learned this lesson personally). If you care about your health and the future, you owe it to yourself to become informed.

I'm currently reading 2 new books:

"The Real Food Revival" is basically a guidebook for eating "real food" produced by "real farms." From the books website:

The Real Food Revival: Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel offers practical advice for anyone—wherever they shop, whatever their lifestyle—who wants food that has all the flavor nature intended and doesn’t subject them to the side effects of industrial agriculture such as exposure to toxic residues, GMOs, and ailments such as Mad Cow Disease.

Real Food Revival provides eaters with simple strategies for enjoying delicious, sustainably raised food—food that is created with great respect for the eater and the environment by growers and producers who are concerned with quality over speed. In The Real Food Revival, eaters will learn how to navigate the jargon—organic, natural, cage-free, Fair Trade, grass-fed—in order to make meaningful choices in the marketplace. The book also lists resources that connect eaters directly with local growers and trusted third party vendors who are dedicated to providing fresh, cared-for edibles.

"The Food Revolution" by John Robbins. John Robbins was the heir to the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream empire, which he walked away from for many reasons, not the least of which was personal health. In his own words (excerpted from the first chapter of the book):

We had an ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool, our cats were named after ice cream flavors, and I sometimes ate ice cream for breakfast. Not all that surprisingly, many people in the family struggled with weight problems, my uncle died of a heart attack in his early fifties, my father developed serious diabetes and high blood pressure, and I was sick more often than not.

None of that showed up on the balance sheets, however, and my father was grooming me to succeed him. I was his only son, and he expected me to follow in his footsteps. But things did not develop that way. I chose to leave behind the ice cream company and the money it represented, in order to take my own rocky road. I walked away from an opportunity to live a life of wealth to live a different kind of life, a life in which, I hoped, I might be able to be true to my values and learn to make a contribution to the well-being and happiness of others. It was a choice for integrity. Instead of the Great American Dream of financial success, I was pulled forward by a deeper dream.

John Robbins' personal tale is a startling indicator of just how destructive and detrimental our current methods of food production actually are. He was so appalled he turned away a fortune, much the same way former cattle rancher Howard Lyman turned away from his life's work for basically the same reasons. The book details truths about popular diet fads, mad cow disease, and other health effects of current food production - but it is does much more by offering healthy alternatives. This book points out the problems, and offers some solutions.

I figure I'll write a little bit about these books as I read through them some more, maybe I'll open somebody else's eyes the way mine have been opened. Ultimately it's up to each individual to decide for themselves. You can lead a horse to water...well, you know the rest.

It is hard to talk about these issues with people, as most people fear change, but I feel these are critically important issues. The only way we can change our system of food production is with education. For me, the key was anger. I am angry at a system that I feel set me up to love cheap, unhealthy food. A system that takes advantage of impulses built into my brain by millions of years of evolution. A system that distorts truth, deliberately interferes with well-meaning food producers, deceives consumers into believing their food is as healthy and safe as possible. A sytem that cares more about its bottom line than your health. A system that is heavily contributing to the destruction of our biosphere and threatening our future. A system that is, quite simply, a bad one that is unsustainable and needs to be changed.


Anonymous said...

A few months ago, my fiance and I went to her co-workers house (2 co-workers, one house). They raise llamas and pigs. The man grew up raising pigs. He told a horrific story of how they used to kill pigs back in the old days. I felt terrible after hearing the story, but I still eat a ham sandwich every day for lunch because it is a simple low fat source of protein...and it tastes good. Also, as you say, when I think of ham, I'm picturing a neatly wrapped slab of meat, not something with a face.
My problem isn't so much the lies about where the food comes from or the lies about how healthy it really is, lies are so commonplace these days that I've grown to expect them from just about every source. What REALLY angers me is the COST of all this food. You've stated how unhealthy these food factories make all these items in their quest for a healthy bottom-line. I've started eating "healthier" the past few months, and all of this "healthy" food is terribly expensive. I think my weekly grocery bill rose about 25% when I started adding the "low fat" or "high fiber" alternatives. I haven't even gotten into any of the organic stuff. I'd estimate the cost of the organic stuff at another 40% (or more) over whatever the non-organic equivalent is. You take a pint of cherry tomatoes at $2.50 and it goes up to $3.99 if it's organic...and because it doesn't have any pesticides or preservatives, they're wrinkled and inedible in 3 days, instead of 5. This is just one example. I am sure that the food is worth the extra money, I'm sure most of the extra goes toward the actual overhead from the farming operation, but that doesn't make it any more affordable to the consumer.
I just don't think I (or alot of people) COULD afford to eat responsible food.
As you've said, the system sets us up to love cheap and unhealthy food, then lies about how unhealthy it is, while destroying the planet in the process. But now, the healthy foods are so expensive that it is no longer cost-feasible for the members of an entire family to sustain itself with products that will keep them healthy instead of just keeping them alive.

On a side note...
Now, my biggest complaint is the price of milk. Week after week I am enraged at the price of milk. When I lived in Arizona...THE DESERT, I could go into my local grocery store (with UFCW workers) it was highlly likely I'd be able to buy a GALLON for $1.48. No joke. It wasn't a day before the sell by date, and it never went bad before I could finish it.
Now that I live in New England, a locale regarded as a dairy land of sorts, I walk into my local Stop and Shop (also with UFCW workers) and buy a HALF gallon of milk for $2.19. (It is cheaper at Big Y). If I go to the Stop and Shop in West Hartford, it's $2.89 for the same half gallon of milk. Do I drink enough milk that this will put me in the poor house? Not really, but it still gets my goat.
Don't even get me started on the $1000 pizza I saw on Yahoo news yesterday!!!


Darron said...

That's exactly what I angry that the government basically subsidizes unhealthy food and food production creating artificially low prices to keep consumers happy while foods that are actually good for us go unsubsidized and all the cost is shared by the farmer and consumer. It's a ridiculous system...and of course it can all be tied back to big buisness and lobbies, which is why campaign finance reform is such a huge issue. It's the difference between a government representing the people and a government representing big business.