Thinking About Food

24 07 2008

Summer is my time to read as much as humanly possible to make up for the school year. I like to read a wide variety of subjects and my mom, who is a librarian at my sister’s school, helps a lot by sending me a lot of books.

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In the book, Pollan explores the “food chain” behind several meals, including the industrial food chain that leads from corn fields through a variety of factories to create a McDonald’s Happy Meal and a “hunter-gatherer” food chain where he details his experiences learning to hunt and forage his own meal. The parts I found most interesting were his sections on the “industrial organic” and “local” food chains. He confronts the paradox of the “industrial organic” system – that although food can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers, the practices necessary to make organic farming economical on a nationwide level take the “heart” out of the original goal of organic farming. An unavoidable conclusion the reader reaches, especially after reading Pollan’s account of his visit to Virginia’s Polyface Farm, is that the key to our eating woes may lie in small, local farms rather than the ready-cut bag of veggies flown in from an industrial factory across the country.

It would be impossible (and very long) for me to write about everything I learned from this book here on the blog – if you’re interested, you should pick up the book yourself and read it. However, more than anything else, Pollan made me think pretty hard about my own buying and eating habits and what I can (or should) do about them. I’d like to think that doing a better job feeding myself will maybe help me feel and climb better, but who knows…

I suppose I’m a little better off than your average American – my mom brought up my sister and I eating healthy food – lots of fresh veggies, tofu, whole-grain bread, and no junk food. When we did get a “junk food phase” when she let us eat donuts, chips, sugar cereal, soda, white bread, and other things we’d felt “deprived” of, the novelty wore off pretty quickly, leaving me a pretty healthy (I think?) 20-yr old who doesn’t really like candy, chips, coffee, or fast food and has an under-control soda habit (which means about 1 soda per week).

And yet I’m clearly not doing as well for myself as I could. Although I try to cook with whole ingredients, I do often surrender to the draw of Trader Joe’s and their frozen items – vegetable samosas, garlic flatbread, full pasta meal in a bag. And I can’t really consider that I’m doing well for the environment (or myself) when I buy these things (even though I put them in a reusable shopping bag) because the manufacturing and transportation of these products has taken a lot of goodness out of the food and put a lot of badness into the air. I’ve fallen into the trap of the convenience of the supermarket – having pretty much every variety of produce and meat product available year-round, in addition to a wide variety of processed, pre-prepared food items. With all this stuff available, it’s tough to eat responsibly all the time. Even my beloved LaraBars probably represent a lot of petroleum to make, package, and transport.

I think it’s tough to balance the desire to eat responsibly (and well) and economically. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to concoct an entire meal from a few basic ingredients – I live a busy life and reducing stress can often be more important to my overall well-being than cooking a real meal. But, that said, I want to try to eat more locally or responsibly, so we’ll see how it goes – wish me luck!






One response

29 07 2008
…and Eating Locally « Dream in Vertical

[…] Eating Locally 29 07 2008 Following on my previous post about reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and thinking about my eating habits, I decided to try my […]

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