Saturday, November 21, 2009

Think Before You Eat

You haven’t heard from me for a while because I’ve been deeply immersed in the complicated world of food distribution and how to change the food system. Through making videos for a non-profit organization called Red Tomato that helps family farms get their produce to market, I've been spending a lot of time these days thinking about what we eat.

One of the impressive things that I’ve learned is that we have incredible power as consumers. I’ve heard produce supervisors at big grocery chains say that the reason they carry more local and organic food is because people like you and me prefer to buy it. They aren’t concerned with whether it’s healthier or better for the environment, they’re looking at their profits. In the last ten years, there’s been a growing awareness about the problems with what we eat and how we eat it. Filling ourselves with processed food, as well as whole foods that are full of pesticides and antibiotics, has any number of scary effects on our bodies. People are gradually beginning to wise up to what we're being sold and demand something better.

When I moved here five years ago, one of my neighbors used to make no bones about it that she thought that I was an elite food snob, being extravagant and downright crazy to buy organic whole foods. The other day, she stopped me to say that since her mom and nephew were put on a gluten-free diet to try to solve their health problems, they have felt great and stopped taking all the medication they had previously been given. She told me that she’s sorry she thought I was nuts for being so particular about what I fed my family and has really begun to buy different types of food when she shops.

As I started my shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner this year, I noticed a change in what was piled up at the ends of the aisles in the grocery store. I found cans of organic pumpkin on sale. I saw more free range turkeys next to the hormone and antibiotic filled ones. I began to really think about what some of the great, sentimental recipes that I cook each Thanksgiving contain that might be harmful. I realized that I could substitute other healthier ingredients and not lose the taste or the tradition that everyone at my table loves.

So, there is something that we can do every day to improve the food system and our own well-being. We can think before we eat. We can buy items in the store that aren’t shipped across the country or from overseas and eat food that is grown in season and locally. We can choose what is grown without chemicals and hormones and antibiotics. We can look on the labels to see if there is MSG hidden in our cans of soup or trans fats in our bakery goods. We can make healthier choices. It might taste different, but it also tastes better. There’s incredible flavor and real enjoyment in every bite.

“Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. “
Wendell Berry

If you'd like to see the video that we just finished for Red Tomato, please go to and enter The Red Tomato Story in the search box. It should get you there.


turquoisemoon said...

Thank you, thank you... I just started working at Whole Foods this year. and...OMG, the things that I've learned is amazing. The stuff that is put into foods, and the processing...oooh double ick!!! Let me mention here that I've become very, very picky.. Also, I might mention, deoderant... Women..please check this out! very scary stuff that is in your deoderant... Great post! me started on one of my rants!!!

Pony Girl said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I try to buy organic when possible, but I'm not anal about it. I do eat too much processed food. But I also don't like to cook so I'm a bit lazy about it. I did try a gluten free diet over the summer. It was more expensive to eat this way, and hard to find foods. But I was trying to see if it helped some of my health issues, like headaches and fatigue. Honestly, I couldn't stick to the diet long enough to see if I really had good results. I'd like to try it again sometime. One thing is, I lost some weight! Eating more rice-based products and skipping all that pasta I love.....

Lori Skoog said...

Victoria...I'm with you 1000% There should be a place we can go to research what is in food before we go to the grocery store. Is there any wonder there is so much cancer? Companies know exactly what they are doing and DON'T CARE. I don't see the Madison Avenue techniques being used to put the truth out there. We need SPECIFICS and in a broader way.
We should pick a day and across the world people could put out a TRUE statement regarding ingredients that people are not tuning in to. Maybe a list of the worst 100 foods you should keep out of your body (and why).

detroit dog said...

Great post, Victoria! Every summer for the past few years, I have had a vegetable garden -- "organic." The tastes are so much better. 2 weeks ago I pulled scallions and they were great. BUT, a lot of people complain about the cost of organic, so I tell them if they can only afford one organic food, make it a potato. The difference in taste is truly phenomenal.

Also, we feed our dog Quasar a holistic food; treats will include fresh/steamed vegetables (left over squash, green beans, etc.). Is there such a thing as organic or holistic horse food?

billie said...

We've been enjoying organic green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, and fresh greens from our organic hay grower this month.

I'm not anal about organic either, but I love buying local and getting such great food for ourselves and our horses at the same time.

Kate said...

Great post - I couldn't agree with you more - most of the problems in our food system exist because people don't think when they make their purchases - but I think that's beginning to change.

deejbrown said...

Our local farmers and Market have helped educate me on the pleasures of eating food from our own soil. Seems strange, doesn't it, that sustaining ourselves from our own roots is a kind of learning curve?

Adamantine1 said...

As an organic farmer, thank you.

Ewa said...

Great you touched the subject - it is so important to raise the awareness. It is growing, but still not enough people know it. Awakening the awareness takes time.
Our body is fully regenerating in 2 years, which means it builds new cells from the food we eat. If we eat processed, not vaualble stuff, our body suffers. And not somebody is doing it to us - we do it by ourselves.

Bones said...

Yay! and how gratifying to get some good feedback from your neighbor, too.

The high price of organic and/or healthy food is the complaint I hear the most from my co-workers (who seem to prefer shopping at the "rotten meat" store). I like to say that processed or convention food is cheaper up front, but the hidden cost in health issues, poor nutrition, and no taste is higher than they maybe realize. That, and to invest in a crock pot!

Thanks for another great post, Victoria.

John and Regina Zdravich said...

This is all so true...I do believe there is a movement out there of people who have become more aware of what they eat. I saw an interesting interview with the person who wrote the book "Food Inc" about how it is a profit-driven industry....

Spartacus Jones said...

I'm with you on this one.

It's amazing. Nobody would buy a car, fill the gas tank with water and expect it to run.
But folks put all kinds of stuff into their own bodies that ought not to be there.

Some of that's not their fault. Agri-business's only interest is profit, and they aren't exactly open and honest about what's on or in what they produce.

When it comes down to it, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food" is still a sound notion.


Ishtar said...

Once you know what's in the processed food, there is no going back. And everything feels so much more right. Everything tastes so much more too without all the cocktail of chemicals that tamper with the few natural ingredients, in an effort to appeal to our sweet taste. We've been buying pringles for ages - allthough expensive, they've been my favourite weekend snack for a long time. But after staying off processed food for nearly a year, I discovered that I didn't even like pringles that much anymore. They taste... sweet... and funny. Then the other day, I made my own potatoe chips. Thin pieces of potatoes fried in peanut oil. They were AWESOME! Best chips I've had in a long time. And so the natural, organically grown is the best. Simple, slightly more time consuming and sometimes more expensive (but not always!) - but soooo worth the effort.

As for gluten, I hear the bread industry uses flour with extra levels of gluten because it makes the bread rise.

Jim Quinlan said...

Since everyone is commenting on your great organic food topic (which I enjoyed) I'll instead comment on the beautiful picture you posted.

Absolutely beautiful. I "felt" I was there.

Hope you and your family have a nice Thanksgiving.