I’ve been reading books lately about food. Not cookbooks (which I have finally just abandoned), but books on how our food is brought to us. You know what I mean: what is a Twinkie, where did that tomato come from, and why should I be afraid of that chocolate?
To offer an overview of it all is daunting. Suffice it to say that I’m convinced. Between books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and Brian Halwell’s Eat Here,between Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation andNestle’s Food Politics, I am frustrated with the dark side of my dinner plate.
Typical supermarket processed foods are carted half-way across the planet, causing environmental damage. More, in order for that tomato to reach us, it’s harvested before it’s ripe, genetically-modified to prevent early rotting (often at the cost of taste), and then artificially ripened in warehouses via chemical gases. Food pricing and quality-control policies internationally and domestically push small farmers out of work, reward corporations for reducing diversity of crops, and allow pesticide-tainted or genetically-modified crops to enter our food chain without warning labels. We consume so many artificial ingredients that we shouldn’t wonder why we have more and more chemical sensitivities.
Okay, so set all that aside. Here’s what I want to do:
- I want to eat food grown locally, the closer to my kitchen, the better. It doesn’t travel far so it’s more fresh and more nutritious.
- I want to eat food that is processed less, which goes with the above. That means I want to cook more and “zap” less. It also causes less waste in packaging.
- I want to eat food that is organic. The fewer toxins in my system, the better.
- I want to eat food that has been traded fairly, meaning that the farmer has been adequately compensated for food she has grown.
Sounds fine. But how do I do it, especially in a southeast Michigan drowning in superstores and Pop-Tarts?
I found a farmer’s market only a half-mile away. The food is grown in a small farm in Romeo, about 12 miles away from me. The people are friendly and they know me. I’m also eating more vegetables and fruits because they’re actually good!
But they are only open a few months each year. I have to give up my love of bananas. If I want to eat year-round, I have to learn to can foods.
I pack more and more fresh vegetables and simple foods in re-usable containers.
But my supermarket is full or processed foods. They’re packaged for convenience, as if they know I need to eat in the car, on the run, pack a lunch. It’s so much easier, and there are some foods I just can’t find without preservatives and chemicals.
I buy more and more certified organic foods, and the cost of these foods is coming down quickly as consumer demand goes up. Stores broaden their selections more and more.
But many organic labels are misleading. Processed foods which are organic accomplish little, destroying any potential nutritional benefits at the factory. They often travel too far which is a dirtier process than what was saved in their pesticide-less production. And some labels become “trendy items,” raising the price beyond the practical and increasing the profits of corporations which practice less environmentally-friendly methods.
I buy more and more fair-trade foods, especially in coffees and chocolates.
But these remain the hardest of all, sold in niche markets only, priced for trendiness as much as justice, and they often travel far.
In short, trying to live cleanly and nutritionally well remains difficult, as much a challenge of time and energy as it is opportunity and affordability.
Perhaps I should feel guilty. And perhaps I should shrug my shoulders and say that this is just another part of a 21st century global awareness which remains impractical . . . and therefore unreasonable.