I recently started to focus on buying organic food. Since reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser while on vacation in 2005 (totally not a vacation book, by the way), I’ve been worried about the hormones injected into our food by the mega-farms to hasten the growth process of the animals we eat. While driving through Nebraska once, I saw many meat cattle farms in which hundreds of cows were penned up together to walk in their own manure because there was nowhere else for them to move. The farms smelled horrible. For miles before and after, even. I worried about the quality of the meat in these pens where they couldn’t move. It had an effect on me that brought me to read Fast Food Nation in the first place.
For the most part, though, I’ve been pretty lazy about following through with buying organic. It’s expensive. It’s hard to find. There are less choices with brands and less diversity of selection (ie, if you’re looking for a particular flavor). Thus is the problem with trying to eat more healthy in this nation: the better food is practically inaccessible to the average person, especially in the Midwest. But I can’t say that I ever stopped thinking about what I learned in Fast Food Nation. Nor could I get the image of that penned up cattle out of my head.
I did make a step to reduce the demand on meat: I made an effort to reduce how much of it I personally ate. Most days, I only eat meat at one meal (usually dinner). About once or twice a week, I manage to go an entire day by deliberately choosing to not eat meat. I know I’m just one small person. But I guess in the case of trying to conserve our planet’s resources, I have to just comfort myself with the fact that maybe I’m not helping to contribute to the overall problem because I’ve reduced the overall demand by reducing my personal demand.
I try to preach these values to other friends without being too pushy. I can only hope that others also made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of meat they eat. It’s the same concept as how I feel when I trade two or three days a week of my commute to work by car with a bike in the summer. If everyone did that, just think about how much gas would be saved. And it’s not a huge sacrifice–I’m not saying give up your car, nor stop eating meat. I’m just saying reduce how much you consume. I know that realistically if I’m the only person taking these steps to reduce the demand, I’m not really changing anything. Much like my deliberate boycott of Wal-Mart, which my parents are quick to point out, Sam Walton’s kin could care less about since I’m just one person. But at least I’m not contributing to their wealth and seedy business practices.
I don’t want to become obsessed. It’s just that when you look at the high occurrences of obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses in our society, you have to start to ask yourself just what we’re doing wrong. There has to be a cause. I’m completely convinced that our obesity and diabetes rates can be tied to mega-farms and their hormone-injected food (which also accounts for incredibly early onset of puberty for women these days) as well as our over-sweetened food. I am starting to suspect some of the pollution and other irritants in our environment are leading to more cases of asthma. Other illnesses may be tied to high exposure to other things in the products we use every day that are simply not healthy. I just don’t know what all this means. I’m not a scientist. I can’t conduct experiments with controls. I’m just saying, though, that my mind is starting to shift a little… I’m asking questions.
I guess my biggest moment of revelation happened a few weeks ago when, after having only eaten Kashi shredded wheat (Island Vanilla) for breakfast for about a month, I switched back to my old favorite Post Shredded Wheat (because it was on sale). I was about halfway through my morning bowl of cereal (dry with peanuts added in) that I suddenly thought, “This is way too sweet for my morning meal!” Kashi’s cereal is much less sweet. I guess I got used to it. And it occurred me at that moment why a lot of people I’ve known from outside the US complain that our food is too sweet.
This notion was further confirmed when Crow was looking for a can of diced tomatoes that he was going to use in fajitas he was making for dinner. The ingredients listing for most of the cans revealed that high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar had been added. Why?! Do you pull a tomato off of a vine and pour sugar on it in order to eat it? Um… no!! Tomatoes have their own natural, wonderful sweetness to them; they don’t need additional sweetness! It made me wonder just how healthy the food I’m eating is even when I’m trying to eat healthy. How much of the food I eat every day for a meal contains extra sugar in it?
I started using the application for the iPhone called Good Guide. You can scan products in the store and Good Guide rates the product based on its healthiness, its impact on the environment, and the company’s ethical practices. Questionable ingredients are flagged and noted by the degree of concern. Good Guide also suggests other products of the same type with better ratings that you might consider using instead. The guide is rated by a group of scientists and environmentalists with no affiliation to said products. Check out the video on their website–it’s really interesting.
I realize that this whole thing sounds probably a bit wacky to my friends and family who have known me a long time. It probably looks like I’m starting to embark down the road to a type of fanaticism that inspires a lot of eye-rolling. Who has preached to me this crazy new age religion of purity in food and products? How have they managed to convert me? What’s going to happen next? Will you be raising chickens in your back yard? Oh, no!
Never fear. As I found myself scanning products into Good Guide on my last grocery trip, I started to wonder about myself too. I think this is how it started with some of my friends who I consider a bit on the fanatical side. You buy some natural, handmade soap, then shampoo and conditioner. Then you use henna on your hair instead of chemical dyes. Then you’re scanning the toothpaste isle for something that doesn’t contain fluoride. And the next thing you know, you start only eating products with ingredients you can identify. It’s a downward spiral into a crazy land where you can only understand and communicate with the other inhabitants. And everyone thinks you’ve jumped off the deep end so they avoid discussing food or ecology with you. Then you’re labeled the family hippie and it’s all over.
There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I ate a dish composed completely of organic products, though. Or that I’ve chosen a healthier product over one that is questionable. I still think if I wisely reduce the amount of chemicals I willingly expose my body to, I’m going a long way to a healthier lifestyle. I know it doesn’t erase all the variables–people still get ill for random reasons. But maybe I can eliminate some potential problems that are proven risks (ie, the hormone-injected cattle, food with unnecessary sugar additives). It certainly doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t eat the food I’m being served at a friend’s house because I can’t trust its source. I still like to eat at restaurants, after all (though places like the Mustard Seed Cafe become more appealing choices). And I’m really not rude.
I think if everyone took the time to take a look at the ingredients listing on the products they buy, they’d really start asking questions too. I wish I had a solution to overpopulation and the demand that requires hasty production of goods and food. I guess like with my choice to eat less meat, I just have to hope that other people are making like choices to decrease the demand on the food and goods that are not healthily produced. I have hope. More stores like Mustard Seed Market, Earth Fare, Whole Foods are making their way into Northeast Ohio than there were here just ten years ago. More organic options are appearing in regular grocery stores as well. If companies are made more aware that people are seeking better options, the less healthy ones will go away. (Which, of course, brings that demand problem back. Why can’t you people stop having babies? Just kidding!)
Anyway, I guess I am becoming that hippie relative everyone mocks. Oh well. I have my reusable grocery bags and I’m happy. (SAY NO TO PLASTIC!) Talk to me if you want to know more. Talk to me if you want to tell me more. I’m all mouth and ears.