Saturday, June 7, 2008

Food consciousness

This is a follow up post to the post that I just did. I felt that if I had done both posts together it might have become too unwieldy and also I wanted to split it as way to allow those who want to comment to be able to comment separately if you so choose. So as I mentioned I just finished The Omnivore's Dilemma and really liked it. This book made me think about my own eating habits and the eating habits that I generally see when I go to the grocery store. As you may know if you have been reading me for a while, I have been trying to eat more locally grown foods. I frequent the two local farmers markets that are near me and I have even found milk that comes from a local dairy farm. I also do not eat that much meat, I eat no red meat, I try not to eat too much chicken and did not eat pork for a while and still do not eat it that often, but occasionally I will get bacon at breakfast if I am out. I have been saying for a while that my ultimate goal is to become a pescatarian, a vegetarian who also eats fish and sea animals. I can't imagine not eating fish and such, I like it too much and that is really what eating is about for me, enjoying what you eat. This is where the food consciousness comes in for me. We have lost some of our connection to the food we eat. We do not know where the beef or chicken that is on the table comes from. We no longer hunt or raise our own food in many cases. I seem to see a lot of people who have gardens, but could you sustain yourself on just the food you grow? The answer to this question for many of us is, no. There is also a growing movement toward organic food so much so that places like Whole Foods are popping up everywhere and even Walmart has organic foods. But is organic really that much better for us than industrial food? I know there are no pesticides used on the produce and no hormones given to the animals, but is that all there is to organic farming. Organic farming has the connotation of small farms or even larger farms, but these farms are supposed to be family run, at least in our own minds. They are places where the cows, chickens or pigs are roaming freer than on industrial farms and have a better quality of life and yet this is increasingly not the truth. Increasingly, organic farms are huge industrial farms that just have found other ways around the use of pesticides or hormones through loopholes. Also with big business comes the government and regulations. In order to have an organic label, these farms have to follow certain guidelines, which I thought makes them a bit better, but in reality these guidelines are created by the industry itself. So there are certain chemicals that can be added to the fields for the produce and certain injections that can be given to the animals that would still allow for the organic label, but seem to take us away from the original intention of organic foods. This labeling of foods is also an expensive ordeal for the farmers themselves. There is a glaring example of where I have seen local farmers that are growing things organically and yet cannot afford to have an organic label. The dairy farm where I can find the milk from at the grocery store, I went home and looked up on the internet. It turns out they are a smaller family farm that has grass raised dairy cattle and that does not use any hormones for their cows, but do they have the big organic label nope. I would guess it is a cost thing, it is easier for a large company like Horizon foods to afford to pay for a label than it would be for a smaller farm. This leads me to the next point, the transportation of products. Organic produce uses the same amount of petroleum to transport as the industrial food, but this is never added into the overall cost for this food. We like to think it is organic so it must be better for us and the planet, but is it really? I have even read that Horizon among other organic milk producers have to fly their milk in from countries as far away as Australia because there just aren't enough organic dairy farms here in the US. Imagine the fuel that has to be used to transport that milk across the world and then across the country to get to you at the grocery store.

This may seem like a rant against all non-local foods and against even organic and I guess in some ways it is, but that is not really the point for me. The point is in the title of this post, food consciousness. We need to become more aware of where our food comes from. I know from looking at the labels that much of the food I eat is industrially produced. It has high fructose corn syrup in it, that evil stuff, but that doesn't stop me from buying it. I am just more conscious of it. It drives me mad when I see people who buy the organic milk from the huge industrial organic companies and delude themselves into thinking this is somehow better for the planet and for the animal and even us than other milk. It may be marginally better, but if that milk has to travel so far to get from the cow to the processor to the bottling plant to the grocery store, doesn't it lose much of its freshness. Wouldn't we be better off buying from a local dairy farm, even if they are not totally organic? The milk would have to be fresher and hence the nutrients would be more intact than milk that is flown across the world and then travels another several hundred miles in a truck to the grocery store. I could never hunt and I am not sure how well I would do as a fisherman, but I am trying to be more aware of the food I eat. I know that salmon are increasingly being fed corn on fish farms and yet I will still eat it. To me it is not about stopping eating those things you like, it is about enjoying what you eat and knowing the costs that are involved in your food. It is about understanding that we live in a society where our food is becoming more and more processed and not denying this fact, but trying to find ways of finding food that is not as processed and not expecting that a label on a container like organic means that the processing is not there, but that the processing is just different.

Finally, I had an interesting thing happen to me recently which I may not have thought about until it happened. I bought some soy milk at the Asian market that I really like. The soy milk was nothing special, it was just an unsweetened soy milk. I wanted something for a vegetarian gravy I wanted to try and sweetened soy milk did not seem write somehow. So I got the unsweetened soy milk and after a few days I noticed a separation occurring in the milk. There was a watery layer below a much whiter layer that I assume must be the soy. I then looked at the label and the only two ingredients in this soy milk are soy and water. Now until that point, I had not thought of what was in soy milk and I have been getting it for a while. I rarely use it for drinking, although I do love chocolate soy milk, but it works well for cooking at times and for adding to iced chai or to iced mate. But I had never noticed a separation of ingredients before and it was at this point that I realized that the soy milk I usually get must have more ingredients in it that just soy and water. It must have things that keep the water and soy from separating so much. It was this simple observation and the reading of The Omnivore's Dilemma that added to this already ongoing journey of food and where I fit in my eating of it that I have been on for about a year now and I am sure will continue. So, whatever you eat today may you enjoy it, but also may you think about where that food comes from.


Anonymous said...

I wish that being aware was enough to make me change my and my family's eating habits, but somehow I still haven't been able to make the changes we need to make for our health.

Tengrain said...

Pollan has a couple of other books you might be interested in: Botany of Desire and The Eaters Manifesto. Manifesto is really what Pollan does to walk the walk and it does give you a kinda-sorta game plan for how to change your diet. I'm still working on it.

I'm glad you liked The Omnivore's Demima.



Distributorcap said...

i wish i could snap my fingers and change my diet -- while i eat a lot less than i used to (wait till you hit 40!) i still eat stuff i shouldnt...

but i will say the video early this year of the abuse given to cows was enough to stop me from eating beef