As I walked through our garden and picked a couple carrots out of the dirt as an afternoon snack, my thoughts were not what I was consuming but about others. Before you tune me out as a Pollan – Foodie, or a Clean Eater, or assume Paleo, or whatever assumptions you care to draw I encourage you to read on. My true food obsession started fairly young, I picked up Fast Food Nation when it first was published in 2001 as a “fun” read while on a spring break trip my senior year in high school.
It soon became the foundation and inspiration and basis on which I would later write my senior thesis later that spring. Yes, I went to a high school where you wrote a senior thesis. I dove into the politics, food systems, and various court cases surrounding McDonald’s and I am not talking about the woman and the cup of coffee we all know about. No I dug deep, looked at food systems, learned about what environmental impacts happen so we can have that perfect fry. Twenty pages of writing later, I submitted my research, then graduated. I put it on the shelf for the next four years and instead entrenched myself with business, attending a top business school for my undergraduate work. There I was ingrained with all the reasons, those systems I wrote against, maybe weren’t so bad. I ate and drank what I wanted without any consideration of where it came from, who produced it and what was in it.
But then I graduated, I watched Big Ideas for a Small Planet a television series, and that thirst for knowledge was excited again. I moved back to Vermont, a mecca of all things local, lived in a closed down bakery where two people from town had permission to have a garden in the back. They were modern hippie idealists and further stoked the fire within as they gave me excess veggies. Living without television, Internet, or cell service at my house I read and read more. Books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life; Food, Inc; The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved; What to Eat (still one of the best I have read); The Ethics of What We Eat; Twinkie, Deconstructed; Farewell My Subaru and of course The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and everything else by Michael Pollan) as well countless others. While some read fiction novels, my reading ocellated between stories of those trekking up mountains and those exploring food boundaries. I was not your typical 21 or 22 year old. I searched for more and more documentaries on the topic of food and our consumption in America, below was one of the first I saw in 2005.
By my 23rd birthday I could walk into a grocery store break down the politics in it and what not. During that time I lived in the dorm at a boarding school as a dorm parent and was at the mercy of the dining hall for food most of the time. I enjoyed summers shopping at the farmers market, and kept my food talk to myself and still didn’t speak up as I research, watched, read and finally listened to more and more people talk about the topic. Maybe it wasn’t in vogue or my friends didn’t care so the topic didn’t come up much.
Then in 2010, I made changes in my lifestyle, became more active again and started to put the knowledge I had amassed for almost ten years into practice in my life. I had the resources, I had the space, and I had the time to cultivate this knowledge into reality. I had enough money to buy the organic fair from the co-op, had the space for a little garden, joined the CSA, and had farmers all around me I could purchase things like fresh eggs and cheese. I was one of the lucky ones living in a state like Vermont. I was one of those people that many love to hate these days, I knew where all my food came from, sitting at a table I could give the origin of each part of the meal. I was not a snob, I was just obsessed with the local, seasonal, organic, Pollan worshipping, locavore, food movement.
Then more research came. I shifted gears a little wondering why the rest of the world wasn’t just eating out of gardens, I looked further into the Farm Bill, USDA, and more. I started to realize my idyllic existence was not reality for most of the country. I learned about food deserts and why the most obese people in our country tend to be the poorest. How one can be both overweight and at the same time malnourished. Riddle me that batman. The story was more complex than I initially thought.
Recently, I have read and watched severals articles, blog posts, and documentaries once again on food, where it comes from what’s going on with it and why as a country we are so unhealthy. I read articles like this one, How Junk Food Can End Obesity, and find myself jumping up and down and yelling at the computer about how they are wrong. Then watch documentaries like, Hungry for Change, A Place at the Table, and Forks Over Knives. The more I learn the more I realize there is no simple answer to the state facing the nation.
Yes, I think everyone should move and exercise, but realize more and more that even doing that can be difficult for many of the country. I realize that “eat better” is simply not always an option for some on food budgets of $3.00 a day. I realize more and more I am lucky to be able to grow some of my own food, without the aid of chemical enhancers, and eat eggs knowing their are no hormones pumped into them. This is my reality but not the reality of many. I know less than 1% of our farm subsidies goes to fruit and vegetable farmers and most goes to a few commodity crops (King Corn). I know how much time and energy it takes to maintain a garden even on the small scale in a backyard. I know as of June 18, 2013 the ADA now considers Obesity a disease not an epidemic. I know Monsanto has been in the news a lot these days and GMO is now a word many more Americans know now than that a few months ago.
I don’t have the magic bullet, nor do I try to have an answer for all the woes in our broken food system in the US. All I know is that we are headed down a path that doesn’t look pretty. I look at the kids today and see them growing bigger and bigger at younger ages, and watch gym classes get cut in order to give more time for subjects like math and science (I love math and science, but not standardized tests nor teaching to a test) so we can boost national scores. I do know exercise helps kids to focus better in school and achieve those higher grades without the extra class time. I also know something is wrong with our food system when kids can’t relate the milk they drink to a cow or bacon to a pig or even worse not know that carrots grow in the ground. I only wish these were made up stories.
It seems like in an age of technology we have pushed mechanization to the max, altering the food we eat, making “convenience” foods which end up nowhere near their original plant or animal. I just see a broken system, one which needs a reboot, a kick in the ass, and some serious thought about the implications for the future. What if we took that same technology and refocused it, put money into finding truly cost effective ways to bring real food back to the tables of not just a few but everyone in America. It’s a quant idea I know, and one which is not popular with large business, but one which seems vital for all our health and wellness. It doesn’t seem like pumping more chemicals, and artificially pumping products with nutrients that can’t be absorbed and sticking a health claim on it is the answer. I don’t have the exact answer, and have made the changes in my life to allow me to step away from the processed system, but know it’s not possible for all.
What I do know is knowledge is power, knowing this is happening is the first step, bringing these issues to our collective conscious is key and finally taking action with that knowledge and sharing it with people. For once the country sees what is truly happening in our food system we can start to work on solutions that work for the masses not just a few living on the fringe. Stepping off my soapbox and back into the garden, to be the elitist foodie again, as many would title me.
And finally to lighten the mood, On Clean Eating.
What do you think about our current state of the nation in regards to health, wellness, and the food we eat?