Sunday, January 31, 2010

We Need a Food Revolution

Soooo, Tom and I watched Food, Inc. on Thursday. Thanks to Netflix and the lack of new Thursday night television, I had a life-changing moment (or series of moments) right on my couch.

I don't want to sound dramatic, but watching this movie has revolutionized the way that I think about food. I didn't really expect that anything in the film would be particularly surprising to me. My mom got her master's degree in nutrition while I was still in high school and both of my parents are medical professionals. Healthy eating and exercise were always a way of life in my family and McDonalds has long been an anathema, so I didn't expect to be so totally floored by what goes in the food industry in this country.

I felt after watching this movie much the same way that I felt after watching Bowling for Columbine, incensed by the fact that these obvious and egregious wrongs are not just allowed to continue, but are blatantly supported by our government. Just as I cannot imagine how anyone could oppose a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, I cannot wrap my mind around how anyone could possibly object to holding those who control 80%  of the nation's food supply to a certain standard cleanliness and common decency. One of the things that sticks out most in my mind and that brought me to tears as I watched was the similar disregard with which these giant corporations treat the animals they farm and the workers who raise and process them. It is unconscionable.

A second point has really stayed with me in large part because it applies as well to the education system as it does to the food system. The point was made that the system through which food, meat in particular, is farmed and processed in this country is irreparably broken and yet the food industry's reaction to this systemic problem is not to rethink the system but to come up with high-tech fixes that keep the system intact. Having just endured a 90 minute staff meeting in which the latest, greatest, fancy-pants new lesson plan writing system was rolled out and mandated, that point really hit home.

The difference between Food, Inc. and Bowling for Columbine is that Food, Inc. left me feeling not just angry at the system, but also empowered to change it. The point was made at the end that everybody gets to vote with each meal and each item scanned (or not scanned) at the supermarket. After I watched the movie on Thursday night, I immediately got online and started researching ways that I can implement some of the changes that, after seeing the film, Tom and I agreed are nonnegotiable. My entire prep period at school on Friday was devoted to looking into CSAs or Community Supported Agriculture programs in which individuals purchase a weekly share of a local farm's produce and receive in return a box each week that is full of freshly picked, in season, local fruits and vegetables.

Then, after school on Friday, I settled in to see what I had missed on Oprah this week, and as she so often does, O came through with the perfect topic at the perfect time. On Wednesday, the inimitable Ms. Winfrey had Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and now Food Rules, was a contributor to Food, Inc. and has this simple, seven-word healthy eating manifesto: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. 

Pollan's first point is that too much of what Americans eat would not be recognized as food by our grandparents. His suggestion, and one that I am going to attempt to implement, is not to eat anything that includes ingredients that a third grader could not pronounce. Now, this poses a serious threat to my friend Diet Coke, but I am going to start cutting out as much of the fake, processed "food" out of my diet as possible. This leads to another "food rule" that Pollan offered up on Oprah: Eat junk food if you want, but only if you make it yourself.

He doesn't suggest that we deny ourselves anything, just that we limit ourselves to food we can make ourselves. So when the craving for fries or brownies hits, we can have it, but only if we want it bad enough to make it from scratch. Sold. Although, this may mean that I need to get my hands on an ice cream maker as I am not about to give up frozen treats altogether.

I know that it will be an adjustment, but it is one that I am committed to and excited about. In an effort to kick of my own personal food revolution, I hit Whole Foods after work on Friday and the farmer's market this afternoon. Here are the changes that Tom and I making:
  • No more factory farmed meat. Gross. Oh, and: F you Purdue, Tyson and company.You guys are real douchebags.
  • No more sneaking high fructose corn syrup and other nonsense into my food. I had already pretty much eliminated high fructose corn syrup from my diet, but Tom has been going through his food staples in horror over the last two days...
  • Real, quality foods trump low-fat, sugar-free, chemical-filled ones. 
  • Buy in-season local produce as much as possible by shopping farmer's markets and possibly joining a CSA.
The main message that I will walk away with is that we need to be more conscious about what we are putting into our bodies and the bodies of those we love. Sorry for the long-winded, soap-boxy rant, but I am fired up. Go watch Food, Inc.! And just in case you need another reason to watch the movie, this guy is in it:

He is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia's Shenendoah Valley, author, farmer, environmentalist, and voice of reason.

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