Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A difficult undertaking


I’m reading a most excellent book right now: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Normally, I’m not much of an alarmist when it comes to reading books that expose industries. I will generally feel brief shock, but commence on my merry way with little lifestyle/habit changes. Even after reading Fast Food Nation, I felt disgusted about the thought of eating fries or hamburgers again, and though I rarely, rarely eat fast food, I do confess to still ordering fries. Pollan has me thinking differently.
Pollan exposes the corn industry. I won’t do a full book review here, because he goes so in-depth that I couldn’t do his research justice, but Pollan artfully exposes how the majority of our food is corn-product laden, thanks to generous corn subsidies and industry giants Cargill and ADM. He also goes in-depth on the meat-processing and farming industries.
We were not designed to eat processed, chemicalized corn-processed food, in the quantities that we do. Nor were the cattle we eat. They should be eating grass; not forced to consume mass quantities of corn when they reach the feedlots. A good portion of this country’s health problems can be traced back to high fructose-corn syrup, copious amounts of corn-fattened beef, and food composed of chemicals that only chemists can decipher.

Here’s the tragedy: Finding relatively un-processed, non corn-product containing food is a difficult undertaking. Americans, alone, suffer this obstacle, though we’re rapidly spreading our food processing techniques elsewhere. Even so-called “organics” are stuffed with corn by-products and now controlled by behemoth companies.

The best I’ve ever felt, and the most nutritious, consistent diet I’ve had, occurred when I spent a summer in Costa Rica. My daily eats consisted of black beans and rice, florescent tropical fruits, and rich coffee. I rarely ate meat, occasionally splurged on fish. My diet was wholesome, genuine, and pure. I did not feast on an amalgamation of ingredients from various regions. I ate locally and traditionally.
I’ve also felt/ate great while traveling in Europe. Switzerland and Germany, in particular. Local dairies produce the milk and yogurt products. You see the actual cows grazing on, shockingly, grass! Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and stripped grains are not main ingredients in food. Local bakeries produce bread, not General Mills. (I'm being simplistic with that statement: of course there are large mills, and American products, but it is just as easy to come by locally baked products.) People eat the way they have for centuries, and though they may consume large amounts of cheese and butter, the purity of their food, and the fact that they walk to their destinations, contributes to their healthier lifestyle.

I’m feeling pronounced sadness reading Pollan’s book. I find it shameful how ignorant most of us are about what goes into our food. I find it alarming that it is so hard now to find pure, unadulterated food—even in so-called “healthy” products. Seeing so many overweight people around, mindlessly consuming plastic-encased “food,” is a shame. As a society, we’ve gotten incredibly off-course on one of life’s greatest pleasures: eating wholesome, locally grown food, exercising and strengthening our bodies, and respectfully growing food in ways that are sustainable and humane to animals and the environment. I love my country, but I hate the type of consumers we’ve become.

So here’s how I’m changing: I’m making an honest effort to eat wholesome food. I’ve gone back to the rice and beans that sustained me in Costa Rica. I buy plain, organic yogurt, fruits and vegetables that are in-season, bread from local bakeries, and most of all, I read labels. I want to see a minimum of ingredients on labels, and if corn-products in processed form grace the label, I put it back.
I find that grocery shopping is taking much longer. Even pasta sauces—high-fructose corn syrup. Most “whole-grain” breads. Yup, corn syrup. It’s everywhere.
I find that I’m not even tempted right now to eat candy around the office or put jam on my bagels. The artificiality of it all disgusts me.
Food is so essential to cultures, customs, unity, and bonding. Trying to eat well is a challenge, and I don’t want my new habits to alienate me from those I love and rituals I enjoy. But I will proceed cautiously and mindfully, eating food that is as un-processed as possible.

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