Life was certainly much easier before I started worrying and thinking so much about food. I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow a few years ago, and that's what kind of started me tipping this way. I thought it was a book about organic gardening, which I was thinking about trying. Instead, it was an eye-opening look at the food industry. It was about gardening, but more "why" than "how". Her book talks about how supermarket produce is shipped across the nation from mega-farms where it can be grown "cheaply". So at my local Meijer I can find Idaho potatoes, Washington apples, Georgia peaches, and Vermont maple syrup, just to name a few. Never mind that the climate in Michigan allows for all the same produce to be grown within 50 miles of here. And because there's no cross-country shipping, the environmental costs are much lower. Plus, smaller farmers tend to use more ecologically sound practices like crop rotation and composting, and they use much less synthetic fertilizers and pesticides because of it.
And now that Ethan has come along, I haven't really been able to work on the house or even really get out of the house. So I've been reading. About food. Since December, I've read Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preparation, The Backyard Homestead, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, and I'm now into The End of Food. And the more I read, the worse it gets.
I've never really been passionate about a cause before. I'm pretty much a libertarian, so I believe in people's right to do as they please (excepting criminal activity, of course) with little or no government intervention. But I'm convinced, more than ever, that we are really screwing up. We've come from a country of small, local farmers who grow food for everyone to a system of monoculture and imports. Here in Indiana, all you see are fields of corn or soy. None of which is actually fit to eat as is. The corn is grown as food for cows or to be processed into various chemicals, including, but not limited to: baking powder, caramel, corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin, mono- and di-glycerides, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sorbitol, food starch, modified food starch, xanthan gum, vegetable oil, vegetable protein, hydrolized vegetable protein, vegetable shortening, lecithin, malt syrup, malt extract, and aspartame. Take a look at any box of supermarket food, and you'll likely see more than one of these chemicals in the list of ingredients. Considering that I don't really know what most of these things are or what chemicals were involved in extracting them from a kernel of corn makes me really not want to eat them or feed them to my child...
But millions of Americans do just that. I'm not saying that it's the end of the world if not every meal you eat isn't homecooked. I eat storebought cereal, crackers, pizza, and more. And I usually enjoy it. But I don't think that people really know that most of what you buy at the supermarket isn't real food! If it had been left alone, it would probably be healthy. But by the time they're done making it shelf-stable, or adding back colors, flavors, and nutrients that were lost during processing, it's not the same thing anymore.
For example, did you know that lowfat milk contains powdered milk? The milk is so watery after removing the fat that they need to make it resemble milk again. So they add powdered milk or "milk solids". I was grossed out enough by that, bit then I learned that the process they use for drying the milk causes damage (oxidization) to its cholesterol, making it more likely to cause blockages in your arteries. Plus, your body needs the fat in milk in order to absorb the calcium and protein. The manufacturers don't have to list the powdered milk in the ingredients, since it's still considered milk. Nice, huh? Guess who switched to whole milk (which really only contains about 3% fat. So 2% isn't really as "low fat" as they'd have you believe)... And from what I've been reading, saturated fat, which comprise most of the fats in meat and dairy products, isn't terrible for you.
I've pretty much concluded, totally unscientifically, that people need to eat food the way God gave it to us. Somewhere along the way (starting in the 1920s and accelerating from there), scientists decided that they knew what was better for people to eat and that what we'd been eating throughout history was bad for us. For example, in the '40s and '50s, doctors were telling people that cow's milk was better for infants than breast milk. How could an educated person possibly believe that a cow would produce something healthier for babies than what their natural mothers could provide (assuming a decent diet, of course)? People would think you were crazy if you suggested that kittens should be raised on human breast milk!
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Maybe the weather will start to improve, my cold will go away, and I can spend some time outside doing more and reading less...!