I know this headline is not a news flash to anyone reading.
Last week I discovered a great new blog, The Sweet Beet, written by Michelle Madden, a woman who, much like me, overcame her dysfunctional relationship with food to find that life on the other side is delicious. A friend sent me a link from an article that the author had written for Huffington Post (how do I submit to the Huffington Post??), which lead me to her blog. She had recently posted about eggs. Yummy, Unctuous, Delicious Eggs. I innocently commented on her blog, saying that I get my eggs from one particular farm at the farmer's market, but that I was thinking of looking for a better quality egg. I asked her which farm she bought her eggs.
So she told me that she loved the eggs from Violet Hill Farm, which is only at the Union Square Farmer's Market on Saturdays (when I am not at my nearby office). And she went further to say that she always felt that the farm who grows my eggs has never had knowledgeable staff at the farmer's market. AND that their eggs are graded which means they definitely have more than 3000 hens. I know the eggs I buy are not certified organic, but I always believed that they are raised on a farm that practices low spray only-when-necessary practices, so I have always trusted them to make good choices. Plus, they are $4 a dozen versus $3 at the grocery store, or $8-12 from some of the other certified organic farms at the market.
Now I am a big girl, so even though I was really bummed by what she told me, I can deal. Part of me knew that I should be eating the better organic eggs. Hell, that's why I asked the question. But I am totally maxed out. I cannot possibly spend one more dollar on food. Something else will have to come off the table in order to afford these eggs. And that is when it hit me. Here I am in New York City with all the resources in the world, and even I can't make my food perfect; how is anyone eating clean unindustrial food?
Madden's comments got me thinking about what is the standard that we should be eating. And is access to clean food a civil right? I kind of think it is. But how do we define clean food when we talk about democracy and a body of people 300 million strong? The USDA, FDA and maybe some other government agencies want you to believe that organically raised foods have the same nutritional properties as conventionally raised fare. Never mind that the EU feels differently. But I have noticed a massive difference in my health since switching to organics. I eat less, have fewer cravings, I sleep better and overall feel better and have more energy. My government would like me to believe that my increase in general well being is because I am finally eating the healthy foods they have been recommending for years. But that's not really true since I try to keep my servings of all cereal products to 3 or so in a day and they have been recommending 9-11 servings since the early 90's. I also eat probably almost 50% more fat in a day than they recommend. It all leads me to believe that eating organic matters. This says nothing of other preservatives and chemical conditioning agents that I am no longer consuming because I am no longer eating commercially processed foods.
But even though I go to all this effort to eat clean and locally, there are folks out there like Madden that are doing a better job of it than me. I want to eat 100% clean and local. I want all my food to come from small farms. But between child care and insurance payments and mortgages, I can't shell out any more cash.
I am not being cheap. According to an interesting article from Grist I spend more on groceries than virtually anyone else in the country. Manhattan averages the highest per capita food spending in the nation. Their numbers include restaurants but not booze. But, although my spending is in line with my locality I am not using any of my money in restaurants. Which leads me to believe that I spend more on groceries than virtually everyone else in the country. So, if that is the case, and even I can't afford to eat 100% clean, what about everyone else???
If you believe that conventionally raised food is lower in nutrients but you know that it is cheaper, then do you believe that it is okay that people living in lower socio-economic levels eat food that is lower in nutrients? Is it okay that our food companies aggressively market inexpensive products of dubious nutritional value to those with fewer means? Is anyone else stepping back from all the details to see the same big picture as me? Government farm subsidies, USDA policy and our "free market" has created a class system for health and nutrition in our country. If you distill it further you see, health is something you have to pay for in this country. I always kind of saw it as one of the personal liberties-life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? For some people the lack of access to clean food is getting in the way of their pursuing life at all. And the fact that the government is funding it by keeping corn cheap so it can be made into so many sodas and hamburgers is disgusting to me. Every person in this country should have access to clean food. If this were a conversation about access to clean water, would your opinion be different?
I have been thinking about something for a long time. Do our representatives not know about our desire for clean food, fewer pesticides and fewer added sugars and chemical preservatives. There has been so much in fighting in the industry over Front of Package labeling, yet the industry always wins on that one. How come our representatives aren't sticking up for the safety of the consumer?
Of course I know the answer. Money. But I have watched while other issues have been aggressively acted upon in the public, like smoking. The tide turned against the tobacco companies and now the government has been tough on them. Fewer people smoke and that is a good thing! But the food companies are trickier because people need food to live. People do not need cigarettes to live. But what if there were more activists that were lobbying for tighter regulation of chemical preservatives? Or lobbying for lower allowable limits of food dyes? Or working hard to change farm subsidies? What if we had more people like us fighting the good fight in Washington? Could we get more accomplished that was actually in the consumer's best interest?
What if a million people marched on Washington to make a statement that we are sick and tired of how our government policies are propping up unsafe food and our current pay-to-be-healthy caste system? Would you come? Would you march? Mobs of angry people do change the world. I would willingly stand up and say I will be person one in my mob.
So I am just putting it out there. I want to organize a march on Washington. I am angry about food. I am angry that no one in our government is doing anything about it. I am angry that the USDA is still pushing a low fat high grain diet even amidst all the science of the last 20 years. I am angry that the National School Lunch Program serves such crappy sugar laden food. I am angry that the FDA waits until a significant number of people die from any additive until it reevaluates whether it is safe. I am angry that the Sugar Lobby is still pushing us to eat more sugar through effective lobbying. I am angry that my own mother died of cancer in a decade where few health professionals saw the link between diet and health. I want a voice. But I don't know how to start. Are their food activist groups that I can join? Is anyone else out there as angry as I am? Should I just give up? I need to hear from you today. Please comment. If the problems in our industrial food complex make you mad, let me know. If you would show up to a march on Washington, let me know. And, if you think I am just being kooky, let me know that too.