Since I have moved to Seattle, I have undergone somewhat of a revolution in the way that I eat. While I have always been a healthy eater, my definition of “healthy” has radically changed. When I began thinking about the “roots” of this new obsession, it was quite an arduous task. Was it Seattle? Was it the move itself? Hopes of an auspicious beginning? What about being pregnant? A new baby??? I started thinking about all of these things and I eventually realized that I owe this new found view not to the move, nor the new city, but my proximity to the public library. I guess you could argue that had I not moved, my proximity to the library would have never occurred; or had I been employed, my desire to spend time in the library would have diminished, but either way…it all boils down to the library.
It was here that I became acquainted with so many inspirational foodies. I read some of the founders of these whole/slow food movements like Weston Price, Sally Fallon, and Carlo Petrini; as well as some more recent crusaders like Sandor Katz, Michael Pollan, and Joel Salatin. I became obsessed with their research; devouring each word off the page as if it were my last meal. When the books arrived in the library, I felt like it was Christmas. So what have I learned from these food gurus, you wonder? Well, enough to write a book. But since I no longer have that kind of time, I will sum it up as best as I can in a few short paragraphs.
1. Most “food” is really not food. If it is created in a lab, and not a garden, it’s not really food. It’s science. This type of “food” accounts for 90% of what is in your grocery store. I read something really great in Micheal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dillemma. He said “beware of foods with health claims.” The beautiful thing about food science is that they can shape a type of food to match the latest health craze. If fats are the big no-no, they can make fat-free. If it’s carbs, well, that’s easy, let’s just create this to be carb free and fill it with some other chemicals. The fact is though, that problem with our food sources has nothing to do with fat and carbs. Fat does not make you fat. Processed foods make you fat. It all the junk they sneak into your food to make you think it’s healthy. Did you know that there are 36 ingredients in a chicken nugget? Yes, 36. What ever happened to chicken, flour, salt, and oil??? It is crazy when you begin to think about all of the science behind food. There are actually entire top-secret labs (yes, labs) dedicated to turning corn into other things. When I read the list of what they turn corn into, I was amazed. Corn is in EVERYTHING! Its in our ketchup, our mustard, our bread, our meat and even our shampoo. It may be disguised as guar gum, xantham gum or fructose, but its corn. We have such an overabundance of corn in this country, that we have even turned cows into corn-fed animals! How crazy is that!
2. Organic is Big Brother – The government has taken the organic industry to a very scary place. First of all, it regulates the industry itself. It has come far from the vision of a few hundred farmers “growing food biodynamically” in the early 1970s; even farther than that of J.I Rodale and Rudolph Steiner. It is a million dollar industry just like any other. The owners of Cal-Organic, one of the largest organic food companies, have stated on record that they will only continue to grow organically if the money is still there. Basically, they are not there to save the world from toxic chemicals, they are there to make a buck. Which is both good and bad I guess. Good that more and more conventionally grown land is pesticide free, but bad because they miss the bigger picture or what the organic industry sought out to be. While organic food is better for you and the environment, it is a far cry from it’s original intention.
While the fruit and vegetable part of the organic industry are somwhat “pure, organic meat, milk and eggs are are a joke. You have this vision in your mind that when you buy “organic” meat or milk that your cows are lounging around on a large pasture, or that the hens are free from cages and torture. The truth is, animals need only to have “access” to pasture to be certified organic. This could mean a 15×10 foot lot that is closed off to them most of the time. I read (not sure where) that the actual wording in the rule says that that “access” does not apply to cows under “certain conditions” or something like that. Well, Horizon , the largest seller of organic milk, had decided that lactating is one of the conditions. I could go on and on here. Egg-laying hens have it the worst of almost any animal raised.
“For nearly every person in the United States, one egg-laying hen is confined in a tiny battery cage in a metal, windowless warehouse. She is kept in a wire cage the size of a filing drawer with up to nine other birds, unable to see sunlight, touch earth, or even freely stretch her wings. Suspended above thousands of pounds of manure, she breathes air heavy with ammonia and toxins. Many hens around her—approximately one out of ten—die from disease and infection, or dehydration and strangulation, trapped in the wires of the cages.
She must live with their decomposing bodies. And if she, too, falls ill or becomes entangled in the wires, unable to access food or water, she won’t receive any veterinary care or human intervention at all because it’s cheaper for egg production facilities to let her languish and die.
When she’s less than two years old, her battered body slows down, no longer able to produce the unnatural number of eggs the industry expects from her. She’s ripped from her cage and trucked to her death.”
Organic hens don’t have it much better. They may be able to spread their wings a little more, but are not treated any different. Organic cows are raised on the same feedlots of other non-organic ones but feed organic corn and grain, instead of other slaughtered animals’ bi-products. Like I said before, I could go on and on.
3. Cheap food isn’t really that cheap: When you take into consideration all that goes into a 99 cent hamburger, the amount it truly costs can be staggering. For one, think about the environmental cost; the pesticides for the veggies not only on the burger, but the ones that fed the cow; the massive amount of waste that a feed-lot cow produces…so toxic it has created a hole in the Gulf of Mexico where nothing can survive. Then, think about the health costs. I read just the other day that our children are going to be the first to live SHORTER lives than their parents. With the rise in obesity and type two diabetes, both directly linked to the “food” we eat, we as parents have a lot more to worry about than what college they will go to.
So now what do you do? While, you may not be able to replicate it, here are some changes that I have been able to make.
1. Eat local. Not only will you keep your money in your own neighborhood, you will be eating fresher and healthier food. According to Sustainable Table,
The majority of the money spent on grocery-store food goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen and marketers. Only 3.5 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmer.ix If you buy food from a farmers market or farm stand, you can be sure that most, if not all, of your money is going directly to the farmer.
While the thought of eating locally may appear daunting at first, it is really pretty simple. As consumer demand increases, so do farmer’s markets. Chances are, there is one close to you and you don’t even know it! Another option, which is what I depend on for most of my veggies, is to join a CSA. Each week, I get a box full of fresh veggies straight from a local farm. To find a CSA or farmers market near you, click here or here.
2. Don’t buy processed foods. Other than the occasional can of beans, condiments, and the very occasional pint of Haagen Daaz, I stay away from anything processed. No bread in a bag, no English Muffins, no Wheat Thins, no packaged cookies. Yes, there are many things that I miss, but I do allow myself a treat every once in a while! A good rule of thumb for this is if there are more than five ingredients and you didn’t make it, chances are it’s processed. If there is something in it you can’t pronounce, it’s definitely processed. When you are in the grocery store, stay on the outskirts and away from the center. Most of what is in the center is processed and full of corn 🙂
3. Know your milkman (and your meatman) I get my meat and my milk delivered. My milk comes from a local dairy and is delivered weekly (by Jeremy and Mariah). My meat comes from Thundering Hooves Ranch in Walla Walla, WA (Ken drives the truck over here). They raise grass finished meats, and truly free-range birds. They also partner with farmers who raise some happy hogs. Their tails are not docked, they are not weaned too early, and they are allowed to roam and root as pigs like to do. Peter Singer would even approve. I even eat this meat!! Grassfed beef and truly free range birds are not only better for you, but better for the Earth. For more information on humanely raised animals in your area, click here.
4. Grow, or forage, your own! It doesn’t get more local than your own backyard. Even though I have a small space, I still manage to grow all of my culinary herbs, some healing herbs, and tomatoes. If you don’t have a lot of space, you can always join a community garden. Unfortunately for me, there is a 3 year wait for the ones here in Seattle. I am on the list though! My new endeavor is to forage local greens and mushrooms. I hear that now is a great time for chanterelles in the Pacific NW. I eventually want to take the Micheal Pollan challenge and once a year, make a complete meal of food I grew, killed, or foraged myself. I will get there one day, I will.
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