I've started this blog to record my thoughts and research about food and health: how we grow our food, what we eat, the nutrition debate, food distribution, food sovereignty and environmental impact.

My life started down a new path after I read an article a couple of years ago in the New York Times magazine. I became fixated on learning all I could about our eating habits, the way our food is made, and the effects that the industrial food industry has had on our culture and our lives - physically and mentally.

This blog joins an ongoing discussion and is a place to voice interest, intrigue, and discovery. This is not a podium for lecturing, so please extend grace to each other if anything is found to be erroneous. Counter-arguments are encouraged with respect, empathy and compassion for other perspectives.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Repositioning Food: Outside the Brand-name Box

I haven't written in a while, and I haven't heard from any of you for a while... is that a sign that you've forgotten me or disregarded me as a fanatic? I am not off my rocker, I assure you, and I am definitely not an idealist. I am a pragmatist and I believe in reinstating a fundamental belief in the highest good of the community and the efficacy of a local food production system. Anyway, I've got some things on my mind...

Globalization has shown us its true - ugly, greedy and impersonal - face, and it has no practical or social advantage over local economies. For a majority of people in this country and others, eating good food is just not in the realm of the possible as a result of decades of choices we've all made and patterns we've all contributed to... and now, finally, we're awakening to the reality/effects of having entrusted our food choices and health circumstances to a dastardly industrial machine intent on nothing but its own perpetuity in wealth and power.

I've been following the headlines on the Good magazine website for a while now, which is a very informative and innovative source of ideas and practicalities. They recently featured an article about rebranding the food movement into an essential and imperative reality for ALL people. I want to make a very critical distinction about the accessibility and availability of fresh food... as of now it is mainly marketed and available to the upwardly mobile, discerning consumer of quality goods. The point I want to make here concerns the way the food industry, the health industry, and many related corporate interests has branded the healthy, the organic, the natural and the sustainable production of food as a posh, upper-middle class, prestigious privilege.

That marketing scheme is utter crap. There are better, more equitable and completely bio-dynamic ideas out there ready to be implemented, and the only route to a revolution of the current industrial agricultural system is for these ideas to spread amongst the people like so many diverse crops that nurse the land, animals and people back to health.

Have I ever farmed? No. Have I ever made a sacrifice in order to eat better? Yes. I've adjusted my spending habits so that buying fresh, organic food is the second biggest piece of the pie-chart right after my housing expense. I have been living in NYC the last four years (and so the housing expense is twice as much as anyplace else), letting these ideas expand and foment. I am from Minnesota, where farms are plenty, and everyone eats the meat and potatoes and wheat from all these enormous factory farms and feedlots that use pesticides, growth hormones, and stack as many turkeys in the shed as can fit. I'm weeks away from moving back to my home state, and I'm gonna take up my gardening hoe and I'm gonna join a CSA and I'm gonna start interviewing and connecting with the people who have already started to bring this revolution to the Midwest. Then I'm gonna learn about the businesses that sell the produce, meat, dairy, and other various grocery items from local, organic farms and production businesses and hopefully I'll be able to make tenacious inroads, with fellow dismantlers, towards a more accessible and just food production system.

The positioning or branding of a product is an effective way to differentiate, say, one toothpaste from another, yet the same method of promotion can become a device of misdirection when applied to an area of theory such as what's good for you to eat or how to change your diet to improve your health, among many other areas unrelated to the topic of this blog. You see, food is not the same as toothpaste. There is nothing to differentiate food from: a carrot is a carrot. Food that is healthy, fresh, whole, sustainable and fairly traded is what it is. All lifestyles need it. All income brackets need it. All ethnic and indigenous and immigrant and transient populations need it - that's right, everyone. It is completely inhumane to establish exclusivity out of good food or fresh food or local food inside a brand name as the major corporations, such as Whole Food and Trader Joe's, have done.

We need to reposition the movement of our food production, from industrial to agro-ecological (I'd like to further explore this concept in a future entry), with a new mindset that values the healing and nurturing and life-affirming qualities of smaller-scale systems that reconnect us to the land our food comes from and the people who do the work of putting food in our fridge or cooking delicious in-season food for us in a restaurant.

We need to demand and reciprocate accountability for the quality of our food by being active participants in the process. We need to support and encourage our food suppliers to be conscientious of what goes into the growing and raising of our food; we need to pay a fair and compensatory price for such food; and we need to require the companies that distribute or process that food to do so in an equally sustainable and conscientious fashion. Access to "good, clean and fair" food (from the book Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini) is a basic right to all people, something that is as fundamental as water or air, but the greed in the world has successfully taken the control we once had over our food system out of our hands, and now sells the altered, processed and nutritionally void products back to us for a whopping profit, all the while placing an extremely higher premium on nutritious and sustaining fresh whole foods than on factory-farmed and laboratory-manufactured and processed edibles that I will not even call food. You can grow up eating Tombstone pizza, Taco Bell, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Mountain Dew just fine, but with age comes wisdom, and you may just learn that your body is in a poor state forty years down the line.

If you believe the lies that the big agricultural companies and the FDA tell you that you can't afford to feed your family fresh non-genetically modified vegetables, milk from grass-fed cows and organic free-range chicken without growth hormones or antibiotics, you've been duped, as we've all been duped.

DON'T GIVE UP HOPE!!! We can find the solutions, but our current lifestyles may have to be altered to achieve a greater good, a viable future.

Human beings are born of this earth, and no biological system is dysfunctional or incomplete. We are meant to be nourished and to be healthy by eating that which the earth provides, however, we process our food way beyond its original form and way beyond recognition, and we only hurt ourselves by doing so. We need to be eating food in its purely natural state. Take milk for example. Milk comes out of a cow with the whole percentage of fat - that's the logic of evolution. For whatever reason we process our milk and take away percentages of the fat and think it's healthy. We artificially separate the beneficial parts of our food and recombine them into unnatural products (quite often without the beneficial parts) and then stabilize them with preservatives and fortify them with vitamins formulated in a laboratory.

Why? Who said that? If you're someone who eats WHOLE grains, then you should also be someone who drinks WHOLE milk.

The nutrients present in foods that are in their natural state are unparalleled - they need no tampering from us in order to be more healthy. Milk is created with whole fat for a reason: because it's GOOD for you! Fat has been such a maligned and misunderstood component of our diet for a long time. Part of the misunderstanding happens because fat NEEDS to be consumed in order for the fat in the body to be regulated, but it must be in conjunction with the rest of the nutrients present in whatever foods contain it. Nutrients and fat work together in your body, still in semi-mysterious ways, to regulate your weight, muscles, neurons, joints, bones, blood, energy, memory, metabolism, digestion - the function of each organ and each cell. Yet even though some of the processes food goes through in our bodies are unclear or as yet unknown doesn't mean that we could live better through chemistry.

When you eat a processed food, you're getting food that has been changed into a new, less beneficial form - manipulated to taste a certain way and have a certain texture, with complete disregard for the natural combination of ingredients originally intended to give your body what it needs to function properly. The nutrients ingested are largely artificial, and they are overabundant (read: in excess). This means that your body is receiving a rush of a fabricated combination of ingredients. As an example, vitamin B comes in multiple forms, each one attending to slightly different biological functions. If you only drink Gatorade and always eat Nature Valley granola bars, you are only getting ONE manufactured form of vitamin B, and probably getting an overload of it. What happens then is that your body rejects other, naturally occurring vitamins in the real food you eat because of the excess of the one vitamin. Instead, when you eat several kinds of fruit and vegetables, you are getting the benefit of several different types of vitamin B, in amounts that replenish your system and allow for other nutrients to be digested and assimilated.

When you eat a whole, unprocessed food, you're getting the natural, intended combination of nutrients that enables your body to digest and utilize them in the most beneficial manner.

I want to take this blog in the near future into an exploration of what form is taken by all the disparate and necessary nutrients that our bodies need and what function they serve. I want to start compiling a compendium of sorts on all the constituent parts of nutrition and health... so stay tuned.

Participation is the key - look into the topics that pertain to your life. Read about the issues and the processes involved in the farming of your food and the nutritional factors involved in weight and disease management (I recommend the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes). Sign a petition urging your representatives in Congress to support local agriculture, subsidies for broccoli and kale and all vegetables, microloans or tax incentives to small start-up farms (I recommend the Organic Consumer's Association website). Maybe you could assess your pie-chart of total spending and see if there's a way to reallocate your income so that there's more money available for good, nutritious groceries. I don't know you or your priorities or your struggles, regardless, I'm trying to rally people to stand together, and to support each other in the actions of reclaiming our authority, our community, and our health.

Again, my word is not authoritative, yet hopefully it is an encouragement. The present authorities on these subjects have led us astray by using insufficient data as reason enough to build a recommended dietary food pyramid. No one has written any comments on my blog to argue a counterpoint... but I welcome it. I need not be an authority to engage others in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. I have no market share that I am seeking to maximize. This is not about the dollar amount that I could make; this is not about the celebrity status I could attain if enough people followed my advice. I want to know and spread the truth. I want my diet and health to make sense, and I don't want to subscribe to marketing strategies aimed only at making me feel good and affluent, and giving me foods that are easy, processed, and nutritionally deficient.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I've Seen the Devil: He Comes in Blue, Yellow or White

I love corn chips, like you wouldn't believe - with salsa, guacamole, hummus, cheese, etc. I used to eat a bag of chips every two days - maybe not that much, but still too much. Even after cutting out 90% of all grains from my eating habits I still can't kick chips out of my life. This is the hardest thing to stop eating/craving, I don't understand why, of all things. Maybe it's because I feel the least guilty about them, as compared to cinnamon rolls (although I'm a softee for a good sweet roll), pancakes, toast, cereal, muffins, pasta, rice, etc. It's that irresistible salty snacky thing that does it like nothing else.

Anyone out there feel the same (about chips or something else)? What is a satisfying substitute? I'm trying to replace chips with roasted cashews or almonds, but so far the taste buds (or is it a chemical reaction in the brain?) can't be persuaded. How do you wean off something so addictive anyway?