Thursday, December 16, 2010

Food is a Socio-Economic Problem

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.


  1. Affronting
    I just did a detox of processed foods and sugar, and it was really enlightening. Now that I am more aware of the effects of not having "non foods" in my body, I am much more open to this movement (never a spring chicken..I have to try everything out myself). There are so many foods that I once assumed were healthy, but are full of crazy 10th grade chemistry words (and besides theology, I was not successful in chemistry). I don't think people know how affronting these additives are to our health.
    It's true that eating naturally is more expensive, but like education, it's an investment that I'm willing to make. I would definitely go to DC [you know we have a place to stay ;)], but I'd also like to start at the school level. I passed your website to our consumer science teacher (formerly known as cooking teacher), and she was very excited about using your site as a source. We have a school garden, and have been changing the school lunch offerings, but when I see what students bring to school, it's not in line with the movement the district is trying to set into motion.
    Back to your question...I am equally appalled, and yes, I'd be happy to help!

  2. This issue, among many surrounding our federal government, angers me to a point of speechlessness...and for those of you who know me that is saying something! I would stand with you. But if it's just the two of us we're going to look pretty silly.

  3. I would love to march for Real Food! :)

    I live in Portland, OR, and we have a great program here where people can use their food stamps at Farmer's Markets. In addition, some of the farmer's markets have raised matching funds and give food stamp holders $5 or $10 a week of these funds to spend also.

  4. I completely agree with you! I would love to help organize a march. I started my own blog as well last summer and read yours frequently. Something needs to be done!

  5. So many of the same issues. I have been on a personal journey to clean up my diet that accelerated after my mother died of cancer.
    (2 years ago)

    The medical community acknowledges no links between factory farmed/chemical laden food and cancer. Unless we demand that all types of factory farming be phased out, I believe that as each generation gets saturated with more and more chemicals we may be looking at cancer (and other debilitating diseases) at earlier and earlier ages.

    March on Washington, yes. How about more locally organized information tables at farmers markets. Creating printed matter and sending it all over the country or making it available on your blog as a downloadable pdf. I've often felt like I wanted to excerpt parts of the omnivores dilemma and other books and print it on stickers and put them on questionable foods in trader joes or safeway.

    (check out this website regarding airport body scans and our rights)

  6. Thank you anonymous from 12/29. I Cuold not agree with you more. I think you are right about the generational component. I believe we are altering our genetic makeup by ingesting so many chemicals. I have read some articles that suggest just that.

    In terms of a downloadable have given me much to think about. Unfortunately, I believe food is 20 years away from being a 'survival of the fittest' scenario. Those of us who are willing to clean up our diets will pass on healthier genes to our children and so on and so forth.

    I know that sounds bleak, but there are signs that it might be true.

  7. Im with ya!! People need to be educated, though. Thats why I started a blog as well. We need to get the word out about real, whole foods. Because, right now, in my small town anyway, everyone is still listening to the government and their dictors (who also follow the government) for their nutritional advice. Its maddening but if we keep talking it will change! It already is starting to.

  8. I'm with you! The food available in our supermarkets can be healthy, if consumers know what to look for. Unfortunately, many people feel that they are short on time and they buy the quick, "convenience foods". I lost my Mom to Leukemia when I was 4 years old and I'm looking for any way to be sure that I'm here for my kids all the way to old age!

    I'm from So Cal and I'll march with you!

  9. I'm with you on this. I just watched the movie Food, Inc. Have you seen it? If not, you must watch it. But be warned, you'll be more mad than you already are. I was.

    There is a link at the end of the movie for a website you can go on to sign a petition. I signed.

    I'm new to clean eating, but follow Tosca Reno and read all her books.

    Good luck, let's do this!


  10. I am so thrilled that people are continuing to find this post and that they are interested in the idea of a March on Washington. Let it start with us.

    Let's make a plan!! I am a do-er, so get ready.