the unconventional eater, a rant

April 29, 2010 at 7:07 am Leave a comment

the scene: a big name grocery store at the checkout; i have just finished having a discussion on the merits of fresh vs. frozen chicken with the checker; both of us agreeing that fresh tastes so much better even if it is more expensive.  she is ringing up my organic, free-range chicken…

checker: “i’ve never had organic chicken; does it taste different?”

me: “no, not really…(she’s looking at me like, ‘well then, dummy, why pay more?’)…uh, i eat it for other reasons”

checker: “oh, lucky you.”

true, i suppose, because organic anything is more expensive (up front anyway, but more on that later) than conventionally grown products but based on her reaction, i think the checker thought i was being a snob.  really, i was just sparing her the lecture on animal by-products, antibiotics, hormones, the impact on the planet, etc..  and this is before i get into eating locally to help small farms and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  oh, and we were just talking about chicken, not, say, corn, which when grown conventionally is dependent on government subsidies, petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and miles and miles of government built and maintained roads and the gas needed to move it around.  sigh.  i wasn’t sure the checkout line at the grocery store was the place to get into it, but it’s been eating at me all day, so here goes the prolonged rant.

there are a lot of reasons why i eat the way i do–organic, local, unprocessed–when i can, based on its availability and my ability to pay for it:

  1. i think organic is better for my health: i’ve noticed an improvement in my health since i’ve made a commitment to eating whole, organic foods.  granted, it’s no scientific study, but it’s good enough for me.  i guess i just assume that because i don’t choose to put petrochemicals on my plate, i don’t want to eat them accidentally because they’re on my food.  now i know the usda says that you can remove pesticide residue if you wash your produce with soap and water, but who does that really?  okay, i do, but we’ll leave my other issues for another time.  and can someone explain to me how you scrub residue off a strawberry?  also, there have been studies showing that foods grown without pesticides and herbicides have higher levels of vitamins, especially antioxidants like vitamin C, probably produced by plants because they have to rev up their defenses in response to natural predators.
  2. it’s better for the planet: from the microbes in the soil that are destroyed when fields are sprayed in preparation for conventional planting to the insects (some beneficial) that are killed when pesticides are applied; to the wildlife in the streams and oceans that are damaged by run-off to all of us who drink the water downstream.  i just think that we’re not being very good stewards of our little planet if we’re producing chemicals–yep, that also takes its toll–and then dumping them on the planet.  there are other ways of farming that much kinder and i’d like to support those efforts.
  3. it’s better for the farmers: you know if those chemicals are not good for us to eat they cannot be good for the health of the person who has to apply them.  or the person who walk in the fields after they’ve been sprayed.  or who lives down the road from that farm.  and companies that produce round-up ready crops, for example, have farmers in a bind: the farmers get caught in a cycle where they have to buy seed every year from the same people who sell them the pesticides.  plus they have to have the specific machines required, which costs money, something that farmers have precious little of as it is…well, it just seems that agri-business has them by the you-know-whats.  i’d love to see us opt out of that system and give farmers their health and livelihood back.
  4. and then there’s the true cost of food: like government subsidies and federally maintained roads for trucks to haul produce and livestock (those are your tax dollars, too!).  and let’s be truthful with ourselves: we don’t know the full consequences of some of these pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and food additives on our health.  somebody just recently decided that hydrogenated trans-fats are officially bad for us, but really, they’ve always been bad for us–and there have always been people warning us that something produced in a lab cannot be good for us.  it’s only just now that we’ve decided to do something about it.  what other things are we putting into our bodies that are going to cause health problems down the road?  you know we’re all going to pay for that eventually, whether it’s with our own poor health, increasing health care costs, or government intervention.  why take the chance?

ultimately, my question is this: should eating better and caring for the planet really be a luxury?  it saddens me that people see it that way and that we don’t calculate the true costs of our food choices.  i actually hope that by supporting organic techniques and local farmers i am enabling more healthy–and maybe eventually affordable–choices for everyone.  hey, a girl can dream, right?

suggested reading, in no particular order:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto both by Michael Pollan

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

and my next read: The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel.  hear The Splendid Table interview he did here.  i want to check out his other book, Stuffed and Starved, as well.

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