Thursday, August 14, 2008

TALKING ABOUT FOOD

Who doesn't think about food at least three times a day? I admit it -- I not only think about it nearly constantly, I even dream about it. I think it's in my DNA as food was always on my family's mind and we talked about it constantly. What should we make for dinner? Who's bringing potato salad to the picnic? Can we eat at the Fish Shack soon? Let's make cookies. You get the drift.

As soon as I could stand on a stool and stir something I begged to cook and bake. So it's no surprise that for me, writing about food is like riding a bicycle; even my adolescent journals are filled with anecdotes about food.

As much as I love planning and preparing great meals, these days my concerns are more about what we eat and how our food is produced. As a child growing up in the
40s and 50s, we learned all about "modern" food production and how we could grow bigger, better and larger crops. Better for farmers, better for us! And wow! The convenience of canned foods and frozen TV dinners!

As kids, our biggest worry was being served too much especially of something we hated. Ever wonder why Popeye loved canned spinach? Madison Avenue advertising companies knew they'd need a cartoon character to force us to scarf down a wretched tasting, grey-green mess.

And how about,"Starving children in India (or Africa or China)would be grateful for this food, so eat your vegetables!" After one such lecture, a friend's brother actually packed up his vegetables and gave it to his mother to mail to India. Bet the kids in India would have loved a package of moldy canned peas and 'Tater Tots!


Well folks, here we are in the Twenty-First century and boy have things changed! Processed food tastes better, we've got fast food on nearly every corner and there's a never-ending abundance of food in all the stores. Of course, this come with a price. Obesity, increased health issues, food so processed that there is no nutrition in it. How could something so good go so bad in such a short time?

Food has always been enormously political and unfortunately that isn't going to change anytime soon. What's important is that we be as aware as possible about the politics of what we eat and make informed and ethical choices, whether it's about today's dinner or speaking up when we see inequities, be it poor farming practices or the manipulation of the food supply by mega-corporations.

Agri-business has a death grip on how our food is produced. While humans have been genetically modifying food since the agricultural revolution, until now we've done it in a way that improved the product without causing potential harm to those who eat it or plant it. Not now. Monsanto, giant of the agri-corps created grains for export to countries like India. In traditional farming, a percentage of the crop is saved for seed production the following year. But this wouldn't be good for Monsanto's bottom line so they engineered the plants so the seeds would be sterile. Imagine the surprise of the Indian farmers when the seeds didn't germinate the following year! And imagine how that affected the children.

Monsanto also introduced the genetically engineered, recumbant Bovine Growth Hormone rBGH, used to induce more milk from cows. Unfortunately, rBGH is a dangerous drug that poses unacceptable dangers to humans from increased antibiotic residues and elevated levels of a potent cancer tumor promoter called IGF-1. Organic Consumer Association's (OCA)"Millions Against Monsanto" campaign generated over a quarter million emails and petition signatures on the topic of rBGH, making rBGH one of the most controversial food products in the world.

After 14 years of controversy, August 6th Monsanto announced that they will sell off or "divest" rBGH and take it off the market. The OCA is now working to break Monsanto's stranglehold over seeds and take away their mandate to force-feed genetically engineered food to an unwilling or unaware public. You can help to push through federal legislation to require mandatory labeling and safety-testing of GMOs (genetically modified organisms.) Learn more about the Millions Against Monsanto campaign:
I admit that I'm obsessively curious, which translates to way too much research. And, hey, it's so easy with the Internet! When I find something I find interesting, I invariably print it out and force it on my kids and friends. Sometimes they're taken in and sometimes I either get a "why?" or that ever-familiar rolled-eyes look for doing something too dumb for words. Since you can't roll your eyes, but only make comments to my blog, I'm going to give you some more links to some --and short entries on other -- articles about food that I think are worth reading. We'll start with Michael Pollan.

Michael Pollan is an award winning writer and author whose articles can be found in the New York Times and The New Yorker. This particular article, "Why Bother?" is from a New York Times issue devoted to green issues. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-lede t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1&oref=slogin

MSNBC has an article, "Eating Only What Grows Around You: Extreme Locavorism." While I will freely admit that I'm not an extreme locavore,
I love farmers markets and buying fresh local produce. It's as much a social event as it is a way to shop. I also happen to be blessed by living in a food paradise as we have farmers markets all year around, live on the Monterey Bay where fish is abundant, and cheese is made locally as well. However, that isn't a year-around option for lots of people. Practicality and good nutrition are valid considerations; we do the best we can.

We also have to take into consideration the tropical growers who produce coffee, chocolate and vanilla, bananas, sugar and other important commodities. If we completely stop buying these products, how will they survive? In this case, wise purchasing is what matters. No matter what your position, this article is thought provoking. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24994028/

What many of us don't know is how far our food travels before we get it. This quote from the From the Union of Concerned Scientists: is telling:

"Grocery chains are increasingly buying foods from around the world in an effort to cater to consumer tastes and to take advantage of cheap labor in other countries. But shipping Norway cod to China for processing and back to Norway for sale has a hefty cost, not just in fuel but in the global warming pollution generated by these long trips. The European Union is at the forefront of a movement that aims to make shippers and shoppers pay for this pollution through taxes or new emissions trading rules. Measuring total emissions is a complex business because miles traveled, form of transport, and time in storage all contribute to food's carbon footprint."

Concerned about Childhood Obesity? Whether or not we have children, it's important to be concerned about the issues of obesity related diabetes and heart problems in children. Poor health at any age puts a huge burden on our medical system. These children are also our potential future leaders, the very same children who will be affected by, and responsible for, the choices we make for our planet. What drives children to want junk food? Well, in part it's advertising that they see every day on TV. Read on:
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=25289

Finally, I found this quote by Dr. Shiva very to-the-point regarding today's blog topic. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a scientist, world-renowned author, and grassroots leader in India.


"Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient."

In closing, I want to say that it's not necessary to be obsessed or fanatical about every bite we take, but it is important to be conscious and aware. Small changes on a regular basis become big changes over time. Enjoy your food but be conscious about its health and its footprint on the planet. And to add a light-hearted but thought-provoking end, I introduce to you my daughter's funny and enlivening blog. One entry that speaks about our enormous abundance of food and the waste that occurs daily is as follows: http://zipntizzy.blogspot.com/2008/07/dumpster-days.html Dumpster Days

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Hi,

My name is Leslie, and I subscribe to your newsletter--which is great by the way! I read some of your daughter's blog, it's very cool, and I will be going back. I went to check out the Monsanto website, and will also, be checking it out more. I like to read your blogs. What is the best way to start bloging, how do you make a website? If you have any tips it would be great.
I love cooking so much I drive my kids crazy with new stuff all the time. I always wanted to help my mom, but she would only let me make salads. One time I told her I wanted to cook dinner, and searched her cook books for sometging easy, and I came up with Welsh Rarebit. On the day I was suppose to do this, no one came home in time for me to cook. I couldn't go to the store to get what I needed, or anything. I was only about 12 I think. I was so dissapointed, but it didn't discourge me at all.
Well, thanks for the newsletter.

Leslie M Schultz