Saturday, September 7, 2013
The Ethics of What You Eat; Thoughts on Healthy, Sustainable Eating
I have been mulling over this post for a while now. With so much at stake and so much wrong with our food system in the US, food choices are important to the health of our bodies as well as the health of our environment. I have friends who are vegan and friends who are outright carnivores. Each has his or her own reasons for eating the way they do based on history and personal beliefs. I am not out to preach to the choir or entice anyone to drastically change their diet. I'm just asking that we think about what we put in our mouths and its impact on the larger picture.
It's not that vegans are crazy extremists or meat eaters are evil (though you'd think so according to the memes floating around Facebook). It's that we have become disconnected from our food sources. The modern hunter is no longer motivated by his family's hungry stomachs. Those living in cities no longer buy their food from open markets directly from the farmers. City governments put strict ordinances in place that have limited gardening and raising small livestock. Family farms have been overrun by by larger corporate farms. Sustainable farming has been replaced with chemicals and genetically engineered crops militantly pushed on us by companies like the ominous Monsanto.
I eat animal products. I will probably continue to do so, but with intention and care. In one scene from the classic Lion King, Simba's father is explaining the circle of life to him. As we eat the antelope, one day we become the grass that they eat. Of course, I don't think an antelope is going to be munching on me anytime soon. I'm not going to die on the African savanna that I know of. But I do think, as many native cultures used to do, we should acknowledge where our food comes from and be grateful for the life that sustains us.
As Luckily, here in Texas I can still buy raw milk straight from the farmer. He also sells eggs, though it is my goal to own a small flock of chickens. I buy organic and local when I can. San Antonio is also in the middle of the food revolution, with at least three large vibrant farmers markets and many smaller ones. I have purchased local pork, ground buffalo, grass fed beef and local cheeses from the Saturday market at the Pearl Brewery. It is more expensive and I can't always afford it. And that is perhaps the biggest obstacle for access to local, sustainable food for the lower class.
One of the biggest threats to our diet and our society's neglect of its health is the convenience factor. I am guilty of this myself. It is more convenient to go shopping at the local supermarket, throw some premixed, over packaged meal into our carts, take it home and throw it in the microwave than grow the ingredients in your back yard and cook them up yourself. But you also loose control of what goes into your food, how its grown, and how fresh it is.
Of course, we are also a society in love with advertising. And we buy all the weird new food products regardless of how unhealthy they are. Our supermarkets are filled with isle after isle of unhealthy eye candy. But I heard a little tip on keeping grocery shopping healthy by shopping mainly on the perimeter of the store. Think about it. What is on the perimeter? Fresh produce, the meat counter, dairy, the bakery. Individual ingredients instead of prepackaged "meals".
I feel like I am rambling all over the place on this issue, but it is big and it impacts every one of us. We are all aware of how diet contributes to overall health. We know that high chemical use is not only bad for us and the food we eat but also for the environment as a whole. We have been aware of them for a long time, yet continue to give our power over to food manufacturers and chemical companies. We continue with our convenience foods despite many ingredients causing cancer and diabetes, among other health concerns.
But there is one simple answer to taking down this system of ill health and replacing it with sustainability. Buy or grow real ingredients. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or all out carnivore, know where your food comes from. Encourage urban homesteading. Buy organic when you can. Avoid prepackaged. Avoid fast food restaurants. Slow down with your food. Enjoy it, appreciate it, know it. What you put in your mouth really does make a difference.