Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Near the Center of a Well-Lived Life

"We had it tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive." ~~ Frank Puleo, a caterer working for the united States Olympic Committee, after testing a 14-inch chicken breast purchased at a supermarket in Beijing, host of this years' summer Olympics
As shocking as the toxicity of Beijing poultry is, do we really know what's in our food these days? In the rush to conform do we sacrifice years of good health - even life - by eating dangerous food products which our great great grandmothers would not even recognize as food? Do we have the respect we should for the cycle of life, the importance of food - whole food - and the soils from which they are born? What roles do corporations and governments play in determining what's on the shelves of our grocery stores and what's in the stuff that is placed there? Who's minding the store? Who's minding our choices? Who cares?

Way too big a topic to cover in a simple blog post. But I am thinking about certain aspects of food and eating and health and choices. Many options remain available, if only we snoop around a bit. I believe there is a better way to approach the fueling of our bodies. I believe it can be done with panache or simplicity or both. I believe it can take a prominent place in the fabric of our daily lives, to our betterment. And I think it's about time.

Michael Pollan writes in his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto: "For most people for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life. Traditionally people have allocated a far greater proportion of their income to food - as they still do in several of the countries where people eat better than we do and as a consequence are healthier than we are. Here, then, is one way in which we would do well to go a little native: backward, or perhaps it is forward, to a time and place where the gathering and preparing and enjoying of food were closer to the center of a well-lived life."
"Compared to the 9.9 percent of their income Americans spend on food, the Italians spend 14.9 percent, the French 14.9 percent, and the Spanish 17.1 percent." ~~In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
Pollan continues, "In order to eat well we need to invest more time, effort, and resources in providing for our sustenance, to dust off a word, than most of us do today. A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap, and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and little more than an hour enjoying them."
"In 1995 Americans spent twenty-seven minutes preparing meals and four minutes cleaning up after them; in 1965 the figure was forty-four minutes of preparation and twenty-one minutes of cleanup...all of which suggests a trend toward prepackaged meals."~~David M. Cutler, Journal of Economic Perspectives
Pollan again: "Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. Doctors have gotten really good at keeping people with heart disease alive, and now they're hard at work on obesity and diabetes. Much more so than the human body, capitalism is marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into new business opportunities; diet pills, heart bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But though fast food [here again, food that is fast, cheap, and easy] may be good business for the health care industry, the cost to society - an estimated $250 billion a year in diet-related health care costs and rising rapidly - cannot be sustained indefinitely. An American born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in his lifetime...A diagnosis of diabetes subtracts roughly twelve years from one's life and living with the condition incurs medical costs of $13,000 a year (compared with $2,500 for someone without diabetes.)...Diabetes is well on its way to becoming normalized in the West - recognized as a whole new demographic and so a major marketing opportunity. Apparently it is easier, or at least a lot more profitable, to change a disease of civilization into a lifestyle than it is to change the way that civilization eats."

We have the choice to educate ourselves about our food supply and eating customs. We have the choice to take our health seriously, taking the matter into our own hands, to stop trusting those who profit off our ignorance.

Ultimately, I suppose, it comes down to what truly matters to us, for that is where choices are born.

I relish life. I really do. I enjoy finding full-flavored whole foods in my garden or community. I love to savor the sight and smell of each piece when I unload it from my shopping bag. Then, to cook it up with love for my family and friends, to present beautiful, life-sustaining foods, to savor the deliciousness of the meal along with the joy and laughter from those whose knees tuck under my table, whose hands are poised to participate in the mystery, knowing that I have done no harm, but provided goodness. Such is near the 'center of a well-lived life'.


Wandering Coyote said...

I knew in the second paragraph, even before you mentioned Pollan and his book, that you were going to refer in some way to In Defence of Food.

There is so much buzz about this book out there, I am going to have to get ahold of a copy.

But I already know about the crap that's in our food through Fast Food Nation. If you get a chance to read that, I totally recommend it.

I try to limit my processed foods as much as possible and make as much from scratch as I can. It's so rewarding, and I know what goes into my breads, baking, pasta, ice cream, etc.

Cherie said...

I have heard much about Fast Food Nation - and yes, I need to read it.

I do recommend Pollan's book. It approaches the issue from a little different angle, I think, than does Fast Food Nation.

You can read it and tell me.

deanna said...

You (and the author) paint a compelling picture. I've read and heard, as well, that we'd be healthier if we cooked over fire as they used to. Back then the ashes got spread over the garden, and essential minerals were absorbed into the plants. Today we're not getting the minerals; another reason for diabetes and so on.

Anonymous said...

My family and I are going in this direction with food and slowing down in all ways.

"Ultimately, I suppose, it comes down to what truly matters to us, for that is where choices are born." You put the truth right out there where it is unmistakable once again.

Thank you for the encouragement Cherie.

Cherie said...

Interesting, Deanna. I think there's much we do right and much we do wrong - and I'm not sure we know yet which is which. ;)

Annie, encouragement is a wonderful thing. Good for you and your bunch for taking a good long look at this slowing down and caring perspective. Feels good, doesn't it.

tshsmom said...

This whole movement encourages me. I've always told my kids that cooking is a dying art and they WILL learn how to cook.

I know many, many families that think Hamburger Helper is a home-cooked meal. :(

Cherie said...

Tshs: A dying art is right. I have a friend who brags that she makes all her daughter's birthday cakes from scratch using boxed cake mixes and canned frosting. Same as your Hamburger Helper family. Another mom makes homemade chocolate chip cookies out of those tubes of dough. When I baked real scratch cookies and gave them to her kids they went nuts. "These are the best cookies I've ever had!!" That's when I learned how she makes hers. I guess it's better than just buying cookies - or birthday cakes. At least they're trying. But I wonder if they know that there's an even deeper meaning to the words 'from scratch.'

I think that some of the main things parents should teach their kids are gardening, grocery-shopping, cooking and baking, just how to take care of their own daily food needs basically. Not only is it healthier but it saves money AND should our government ever collapse, well, they'd be able to survive.

Pam said...

Another good (and timely) post, Cherie. You just can't put a price tag on good health -- something a few in our family have struggled with in recent months, as you know. Sometimes that is the catalyst for choosing to change, along with gratitude for the chance to do so.

cecily said...

OK, so I definitely need to read this book too!

In 'Animal, Vegetable, Mineral', Barbara Kingsolver is just now reflecting on her fight for equality in the university and workplace and how it has left her bereft of time to prepare food, and yes the industry and companies that stepped in to take advantage of tired women and fill the gap. Very interesting stuff. I'm trying to buck the trend, but haven't yet started making my own pasta and bread (we don't eat much bread anyway)... but I buy as much whole food as I can!

Cherie said...

Thanks, Pam. How right you are that sometimes we wait until we need to do something, and sometimes we are fortunate to wise up before then. I hope you guys are all well again. :D

Cecily, Barbara Kingsolver's book is mentioned in Pollan's book as suggested reading. I thought of you. It's outrageous to take advantage of tired women, but that's exactly what has happened. And so many suffer for it. Good for you for bucking the trend. I don't make all my own pasta and bread, but have really good bakeries from which to buy them. I, too, buy as much whole food as I can. In fact, I found a farm 30 miles from my house, out in the fresh air toward the coast, which does CSA boxes. (Consumers Supporting Agriculture) They are going to deliver a box of assorted fresh fruits and veggies from their organic, careful-of-the-earth farm to our neighborhood once a week beginning in June. We are so excited! How fun to encounter veggies and fruits new to us, to learn how to prepare them, and to discover new tastes. Those veggies, herbs, and fruits in addition to what I grow here on our property should make for a wonderful summer!

I've got Barbara's book on the way, by the way. Yippee!