Mar 12, 2008 :: Food for Thought. Heh.
Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants. (Unfortunately, that link requires Times login - it's the only way to do this without pasting an entire article here. Get one though. It's free.)
That article is great. Long, but great. But it's really ancillary to what I wanted to say here.
I read an interesting blog the other day that I found had some points to make about food as cultural currency (and about how the "whole" and "local" food movements seem to have some overt white, affluent, liberal leanings). I realized that it's true. We in the whitey class have a lot of time on our hands to wring them over such things. I don't deny it. But I truly think someone has to--so why beat up the messenger? Does it have to be someone surprising who has more to lose for the effort to be valuable? (I ask this a lot, to be honest.) I also I think the writer missed most of the point, which I think is this:
(1) while industrialized food may not likely go away, the current means of production is likely to prove itself broken. Visit the American West and Midwest, cough up the dust that used to be topsoil, and tell me that the way food is grown there is going to last forever? (or has even done all that well in just the last 50 years?)
(2) "Local" food and whole food aren't inherently elitist. Those types of food didn't have any cultural or socioeconomic connotations in the thousands of years before the media and michael pollan (no matter how much i like what he says, he's culpable too) started raving about it. To be honest, for a very long time, all of us, black, white, poor, rich, Brahman and unclean, ate whole and local foods because that's all there was. To that end, whole/local is the definition of food, really - delicious twinkies, high-fructose corn syrup, and the scientific triumph that is the Chilito (or chili-cheese burrito, depending on how long your relationship with Taco Bell has been) notwithstanding. Since the second World War, we--me included--have tended to eat a lot of processed and far-flung food-like substances, even (in my case) after a decent amount of effort toward the opposite. The short version of this is that nature (or God, or Buddha, or the great Spaghetti Monster--you're reading, you choose your deity) generally knows what he/she/it is doin' - and before we stopped listening, our bodies did too. The fact that we sit all day does pack on pounds (as the blog suggests). But until evolution catches up with us and makes us all able to do that without also ballooning to an unhealthy girth (arguing what is "unhealthy" is another conversation), I'd say it's hard to argue that it's unnatural.
But what about all the great things we've achieved that nature hasn't done for us? Doesn't that negate that argument?
I'd say this: we wield a double-edged sword with medicine and technology. We live longer (beyond the body fatigue, complicated or deadly childbirths and childhood ailments that felled our predecessors). But we also poison ourselves, sit still way too much (see above), and clog our body's runways with the trappings of other variations of that technology. You could see it as a manifestation of the law of diminishing returns.
I'm no hippie. I assure you. I drive a gas-chomping pickup truck--in a major American city. (I actually own two vehicles and a motorcycle, to be honest.) Bad, bad bad, my liberal guilt screams, and I let it. I like my chinese-made clothes - because I can afford them. (I also love American Apparel and the like, but a shift in priorities I haven't made yet would have to happen for me to buy primarily from them. Mostly that I could only afford to own 1/3 of what I do now. And I do have some vices. Like fashion.) I watch bad tv and rent movies from Blockbuster. But I'm also much luckier than many. I don't have to shop at Wal-Mart (or, worse, a convenience store) for my veggies. I don't have to drive to work every day. I don't have to buy Costa Rican brussels sprouts - I can grow them in my yard. I don't have to feed any children or meter out a budget to stretch over anyone more than two adults willing to cut here and there if we want to allocate cash to starting a compost heap or buying free-range chicken. I've got choices.
I think the point is - it is easy for me. It's not easy for everyone. And I certainly wouldn't purport to impose that way of life on anyone who didn't want it. But I would say this: through the actions of those for whom it is also not a hardship, we could turn the tide for anyone else who wants to get on board and for whom it is not as easy. Make it easier. So, tell me how a trickle-down effect would be bad, if it's restorative to human health for all of us?
I don't think that's elitist. I'm not saying I "know" what's best for anyone but me. But on the other hand, I can't help but hear the snotty, individualist, farm-country-raised Midwesterner inside me say, "Ok. Then, when you can't find carrots in the store anymore, don't come stealing them from my garden."