Saturday, March 1, 2008

Food Politics

As a graduate student I'm currently doing work with neighborhoods, green design, and how greenwashing (the phenomenon whereby old stuff is being remarketed as 'green' to sell sell sell to the fad) is becoming more an more prevalent in the housing market. However, just as interesting and maybe even more fruitful for an academic is the political situation of food at present!

If you map out the state of food research and nutritional advice over the last 30 years, the contradictions and shifts are startling. Fat = bad, Fat = good. Protein = bad, Protein = good. But as Michael Pollan and Frances Moore Lappe tell us, the really bizarre thing is the scientizing of food: the giving over of the power to make food choices to the 'experts' (most of whom are funded by interested parties.)

Last night while walking to dinner with some girlfriends, the conversation fell to how one woman could drop 5 pounds fast in order to slide into a dress she loved. Little tidbits of wisdom were thrown out from all sides: "Eat only protein and fiber for three days!" was one offering. At my balk, the friend qualified earnestly that this was told to her by a nutritionist, so it had to be good! Another suggestion was, "You can do the juicing diet and just turn all your food into pulp!"

I thought about protesting, but largely remained quiet for fear of insulting my friends. Still: this REALLY disturbed me! As a nation, we're enormous. Obesity certainly is an issue, and food choices matter. However, when did it become an OBSSESSION? When we stop taking pleasure in food ritual and become consumed with calorie counting and nutrition information it doesn't seem to get us anywhere good. At least it doesn't get me anywhere good, and I've been just as guilty of this as anyone else in the past.

And so I offer up my food choices and my food politic, mostly a combination of things I've read and common sense:

1) SLOW DOWN! Enjoy mealtimes - breaking bread together is culturally significant almost everywhere else in the world. Here, mealtime seems a chore, a time-suckage that needs to be sped up. Enter Campbell's Soup-In-Hand and Nutrition Bars and Fast Food. I eat way too fast, scarfing my food as though it'll be taken from me if I don't consume it quickly. However, I have tried to make a concentrated effort to take it slow. Even when it's just a quick lunch by myself in the apartment before a class.

2) NO (OR LESS) MEAT! I am a vegetarian for a few reasons. First, I am unwilling to support the industry that, according to the Lancet study, contributes more to global warming than car use! However, I am not against the consumption of meat by humans, so long as it's local and humane. For me, it's just easier to go all the way. Plus, I really don't like the taste of meat in the first place and can't get over the yuck factor. Vegetarians and Flexitarians (nearly veg) are far less likely to develop all these western diseases than are our meat-consuming counterparts. Staying low on the food chain is cheaper, healthier, yummier and greener. It just seems like a no-brainer.

3) WHOLE THINGS. Michael Pollan's rule is: don't eat foods your great grandmother wouldn't recognize or that have more than 5 ingredients. I take issue with the more than 5 ingredients thing because I love combining veggies and spices and grains in new ways. However, I eat a ton of veggies, and try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Many of the "processed" things people get from the store I just make by hand: bread, yogurt, cheese, pasta, sauces. It does take time, but what exactly are we doing with all that time we've 'saved' by eating at Burger King? Sitting in traffic?

4) TRY NEW THINGS: I receive organic produce delivery every two weeks. I realize the the delivery thing is problematic, but I offer this in answer: During Spring, Summer and Fall, all the produce is local. In the Winter it isn't, but since it's taken from the distributor directly to me, it does travel a bit less than if I'd just purchased it in the grocery store (which I would.) It also makes me try new things, since they bring me what they have that week, I can't eat the same broccoli 6 nights in a row. The variety has been amazing! It staves off boredom, and all these fruits and veggies I thought I hated (mangos, yams, beet greens, etc), I really love. Just turns out organic food tastes a lot better than the conventional variety I turned my nose up at as a kid.

5) STOP WORRYING: The thinnest people I know are the ones who eat what they enjoy and don't have a cow about it. I have NO science to back this up whatsoever, but I think stressing over food and weight actually makes you more of a fatass. If we eat what we love, the REAL version of it (butter from a cow, not a processing plant for instance) we won't eat as much other crud to fill the void. We'll get along with less and feel better and look better. Just a hunch, but it's working for me. [3-4-08 UPDATE--> Now I DO have science to back this up. Check out what the NYT says about worrying and health.]

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