I’ve been reading a lot the last quarter: titan-like narratives, countless news articles, gripping short stories that flow like a Franzen novel and political non-fiction that unravels at the pace of a le Carré thriller. I’ve also been sticking my nose into books that deal with the subject of food, health and nutrition, though not in a Sunday afternoon–lite “I need to lose five pounds” kind of way. I’m talking about more sobering stuff. Some highly controversial stuff that revolves around what we eat, when we eat it, where we eat, who’s making what we eat, what is being sprayed on and/or fed to what we eat, and how what we’re eating is – or isn’t depending on where you’re sourcing your info from – increasingly making us fat, sick, dependent and impoverished.
[*Disclaimer*: opinionated rant is due to getting off the fence and attempting to play the food game in a different way.]
From Pollan to Junger, Diamond to Thomas and Schlosser to Campbell, it seems a host of food-related issues are being thrust into the limelight at a time when the population of our planet is heaving with 7 billion+ inhabitants and many countries (particularly developing and under-developed nations) are trying to figure out how to fill all these hungry bellies without going financially or environmentally bankrupt in the process. The New York Times released two Op-Eds last week about how organic food isn’t any more nutritious than non-organic goods (an interesting piece that missed the goddamned point), and I’ve come across at least 40 books and articles in the last few months that talk about the various aspects of food in the 21st century. Some authors conclude we need to continue investing in methods that increase food production regardless the environmental/biochemical/physiological cost. Some talk about the importance of adhering to the good old USDA food pyramid and why carbs are king and dairy rules. And a small few are talking about changing the way we farm, eat and live because our current habits are taking the joy out of eating, pissing off the planet and – for lack of better phrasing – killing us.
So where do we begin?
While we are able to cultivate and produce more food at a lesser cost in order to feed the plenty, the reality is that quality of much of this said “food” is highly questionable and in some cases downright dangerous. Yet, rather than point us in the best direction and highlight ways to feed our almighty temples with food that will nourish, protect, heal and nurture, the battle lines are being drawn by a host of public and private actors and a flurry of nutritional fact, fiction and schoolyard taunting is used to sway citizens off the fence into one camp or the other.
The issue is compounded for those of us fortunate enough (read: not living on less than $2 a day) to frequent the grocery store or market on a bi-weekly basis and who have an abundance of choice about what we can put into our bodies. The simple task of making a meal has become increasingly challenging because – for the most part – we wind up overwhelmed with the options available and sometimes make choices that don’t do much to benefit our health or that of our families and loved ones.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s tricky. It’s actually downright painful. It’s tiring to read all the labeling on packaged goods. It’s slightly mundane to research the activities of the companies that own the brands we’ve come to embrace. It’s no easy task having to sift through the available data and information on food and nutrition and organics and pesticides and genetic modifications and grass fed animals and slaughterhouses in order to discern between fact and fiction and decide what risks are worth taking. All of which rings especially true when big business is lurking in the shadows and there are profits at stake and reputations to protect.
Do I spend an extra $2 on organic apples because they are locally sourced and have only 5 types of pesticides instead of 33? Do I completely cut out gluten products given the higher incidences of obesity, auto-immune disorders and cancer that may be linked to GMO wheat? Do I need to be concerned about additives that probably came out of a Chem 501 lab (such as the aptly named E216, or propyl p-hydroxybenzoate…say what?). Do I forgo meat unless it’s organically raised and ethically slaughtered because not doing so means I am passively condoning the use of hormones, crap feed, animal torture and environmental degradation with every fast food burger, 2 for 1 special or wholesale bulk item I buy?
I don’t know about you, but I get perplexed and disoriented.
It’s a bleeding minefield out there.
Yet, despite the effort it takes to wade through all the shit we’ve been fed and uncovering the shit we don’t know about, it’s about time we start taking the whole food and nutrition issue to heart so we can figure out how to strengthen our muscles and minds, put some slack back into our pants and stop relying on quick fixes (e.g. crash diets, major surgery, prescription drugs) to settle the score for us. It doesn’t mean giving up meat. It certainly doesn’t mean giving up dairy or carbs if that’s what you love and your body thrives on. It does mean getting informed and weighing as many sides of the issue(s) as possible. It also means giving credence where it is due and, once as much as possible is out on the table, making subtle lifestyle choices that are suitable to the individual and take into consideration our neighbours and the planet as a whole since (kindly forgive the belittling tone) you’re not the only one living on this rock you know.
Because many of us are privileged enough to make more than a miserable $2 a day, we ought to take the responsibility that comes with that good fortune a lot more seriously. Not just for our lives, but because those of our children, sibling’s children, friend’s children and all their children’s children – depend on it.
We’re well beyond the 7 billion mark…remember?
Starting points/reference points:
Organic Food vs. Conventional Food (NY Times)
The Food Chain: How Big Business Bought Up the Ethical Market (The Independent)
Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies Influence – Focus on the founder of Eden Foods and dealing with competition from organic companies under the banner of larger corporations. (NY Times)
Funding Sources of Stanford Organics Study Questioned (Huffington Post)
Uneasy Allies In the Grocery Store – regarding GMO labeling in California (Proposition 37) and the efforts of big business (both bioengineering companies and organic labels operating under parent companies) to block the motion. (NY Times)
Organic Food Might Cost More, But It’s Worth It (Toronto Star)
6 Surprising Facts About Organic Food (The Daily Green)