Good ol' Catholic guilt

I'm feeling a lot of guilt lately about food. Not that I eat too much of it, though I probably do, but about its nutritional content and the effect my choices have on the world.

I was talking to my mom this weekend, and I realized that there is more to the generational gap than I thought. My generation (I'm 25) grew up in a completely different world. I'm not just talking about technological innovation, though that's part of it; I'm talking (mostly)about food.

Today, in the age of Meijer, Super Walmart, Super Target, and Big K (not to mention the other superstores found around the country), foods are available in varieties and quantities that absoloutely amaze me. In any food store, there are aisles and aisles of food: cookies, crackers, soups, cakes, noodles, veggies, fruits, chips, bread, soda, and more. Low fat, no fat, low carb, no sugar added, all natural, organic. I tend to stick to my established favorites, otherwise the sheer number of options just staggers me.

I try to eat healthy foods. I buy organic when I can. For the rest of it, I stay away from high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated or artificial anything. Chemicals in my food scare me.

I thought I was doing pretty well with my choices. And then I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. Talk about food for thought...

Joan talks about food as it relates to life. About raising food to eat, about connection with the natural world, about how life is influenced by the foods we eat. Joan reminded me of things I knew, but wasn't thinking about.

We as a culture are severely separated from nature. This was happening with my mom's generation, but more so with mine. Our food just appears in the store or at the market, and we have no connection with it whatsoever. I usually don't know where my food comes from. I don't know which part of a cow a sirloin steak is. I wouldn't recognize a potato plant if it was growing in my yard. And I know there are people worse than me! I've considered myself close to nature, since I camp and backpack (and not in a camper or campground!). I've been on the right track, but missing the bigger picture.

Connection with the natural world isn't just about recycling, or buying organic, or hiking on weekends. It's thinking long and hard about how every aspect of your life will impact the earth.

I thought I was doing a good thing by buying organic, but it's not enough. Even though there are no pesticides used, the food still has to be transported many, many miles to be brought to the store. Most of the organic produce at my local Meijer comes from California or even South America. All that fuel used and pollution produced in transportation really cancels out any gain from the lack of pesticides. It may even be worse overall for the environment. Go figure.

I tried to plant a garden this year. It was something of a half-assed attempt, since I really didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't take the time to research much. It turns out that my "garden" is in much too shady of an area, and the critters in the yard ate most of the seeds anyways. I'll definitely be trying again next year, with a new garden in the northern portion of the yard, which receives full sun. Until then, I'm going to buy in-season produce from my local farmer's market. I'm still going to try my great canning experiment in the fall and work harder towards using more whole foods.

It seems like every day it's pointed out to me again and again that the way we live is wrong. It's bad for us, it's bad for the environment. Our priorities are all screwed up. All of the progress we've made in technology has resulted in a "rich" country, but we've lost our basic survival skills. We've lost the simple pleasures. I feel like I've lost my bearings and that nothing is that it seems. In the sea of commercialism and consumerism, is it even possible to live a simple life?


Jennifer said...

I've been shopping at the farmer's market this summer... at first I was turned off by the dirt clinging to everything. Now I revel in it as I wash it away. It is an adjustment, though!

Anonymous said...

Di, This would make a great editorial. WVPE would be a great place to air it!

Karen in Wichita said...

Well, you don't leap instantly into gardening that makes any real impact on your grocery buying, so just consider the spring to have been practice... that's what I'm doing. (Don't discount fall gardening, though.)

And yeah, the whole supermarket scene is interesting... I went to buy apples and picked up some Fujis, because we like that variety, and then put them back when I realized they were shipped from NZ while other varieties were USAn. (I can't remember what I settled on: "anything but a [Color] Delicious" is a good rule of thumb for me.)