Saturday, April 25, 2009

An(other) Inconvenient Truth (Part II)

in-defenseI am not the only one to notice the symbiotic and highly profitable relationship between Big Food & Big Pharma, nor am I alone in diagnosing the tight grip they hold on chronic disease. I am a student of a small but growing few who have made it their lives’ work to advocate on behalf of real food. Al Gore pioneered the popular cry for diagnosing planetary disease, but it’s Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, Mark Bittman, Alice Waters , and a host of other outraged and out-financed foodies and chefs who are leading the charge toward addressing the diseased diets so many of us mistake for nutrition. Pollan is unapologetic when he writes in his Eater’s Manifesto, In Defense of Food: “All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food.”

real-foodSo what’s a food maven to do? And why isn’t the US government on the list of culinary crusaders? Should the FDA be renamed the “Food Dopes of America?” The food faux pas of our most recent presidents tell our nation’s sorry story in an imitation nutshell. In my own lifetime, I’ve watched Bill Clinton frequent Mickey D’s, George H. W. Bush get down on some serious pork rinds, and though it pains me to admit, I’ve seen images, in Saveur of all places, of Barack Obama rewarding his campaign team with Dunkin’ Doughnuts. Let’s face facts: fast food is political gold. It’s an “everyman” diploma that wins the votes of its own victims. Voters identify with leaders who live, feel and even eat like they do. But shouldn’t we expect more from our country’s top dog?

food-mattersPresident Obama certainly has a lot on his plate, so to speak, but our nation’s nutrition is no small potatoes . This is especially true for the strained middle class and impoverished populations who don’t have the money or lifestyles to support inconvenient, expensive diets, even if they have the markets in their neighborhoods carrying whole foods, which of course, they all too often do not. The inequity in nutrition in this country is shameful and only threatens to deepen as recession woes cut into family budgets and kitchen cabinets. My biggest fear is that tough economic times will give way to a backlash toward the green movement and force an even greater dependence on fast food.

To be continued…

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2 Responses to “An(other) Inconvenient Truth (Part II)”

  1. Carmen

    Hi Kimberly,
    I just read your posts on industrialized food, and as a person who greatly appreciates good, quality food and the credo behind the “slow food” movement, I share your concerns and think about these issues a lot. And the question I always come back to is this: How to provide high-quality, minimally-processed food at an affordable price? Is it even possible? With an ever-growing world population, is it feasible to provide grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free-range meat and produce at prices that everyday working-people can afford? The amount of time, land, and energy necessary to cultivate such food, by necessity, raises its price. The role of government agencies is to make sure the food is safe and won’t poison the public, as far as I can tell. Outside of that, the market and its consumers create the demand and the dynamics. In many food cultures outside the US, this is an organic process, where the public’s relationship with food is embedded in its culture, so people grow up with a deeper appreciation of the amount of work and time that goes into the preparation of a meal and its components. However, this may also be changing as more and more people are looking for convenience and a quick fix. I’m not sure that transforming the American public’s relationship with food starts with government intervention, but I do believe it starts at home. It starts with the choices people make at the register, because much of it comes down to that for a lot of people, how many dollars they have folded up in their wallet or available on their credit card. How is the mom of three going to decide on buying the four dollar carton of eggs as opposed to the carton for $1.99 that will feed just as many (and with that extra two bucks she can buy another bottle of sugary fruit juice)? The price on that $4 carton needs to come down. How? More people need to buy the $4 carton, which will increase production, which will increase supply and thereby lower cost. I feel that it is a matter of market and economics. Perhaps through education, we can help people realize the importance of choosing that $4 carton, but for some people, that $2 difference is a big leap of faith based on the supposed benefits of free-range, organic eggs. It is such a complicated cycle, and I appreciate you discussing it here on your site.

  2. Kimberly Belle

    Ciao Carmen, I couldn’t agree more. The cycle you’ve identified is critical, complicated and confusing. While we certainly can’t force any Mom’s hand into buying the $4 carton of eggs, I believe that anyone who can buy the $4 carton should. In an effort to make a real impact on the slow food market “consumers have a choice, and those of us who are in a position to choose have an equal obligation to choose ethically—between real food that makes a substantial impact on global health or fast food that’s causing the slow death of so many among us.” Thanks for reading!

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