Naiveté, Passivity, Laziness: America’s Modern Food Crisis

I love reading about food. As a runner and yogini, I know that what I put into my body makes a huge difference. The way I fuel my body is the difference between being happy, productive and active, versus watching TV feeling sapped. After reading Jonathan Saffran Foer’s Eating Animals a few years ago, the graphic portrayal of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) led me to my longest stint ever of vegetarianism. Even the 6th graders at my school are required to read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemmaso that they can begin learning to question where their food comes from at a young age.

There is so much important and useful information out there about American food– if only more of us would read it! We’d be saving ourselves a lot of trouble and health issues.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite authors of all time- The Poisonwood Bible) is all about making an effort in procuring one’s food. Kingsolver was raised to believe that people need to earn what they get– that people need to put effort into every meal.

Kingsolver describes an America in which food is never “the point”– in museum cafés, in airports, and in fast food restaurants, the food isn’t the point. The food is the afterthought, a mere thing that needs to fill empty stomachs. She describes a trip to Italy with her husband in which food is pretty much the entire point of life. It’s the focal point of every day. Even the smallest places cater to good food. Even lunch or a tiny meal is a thorough, thoughtful, well-planned beautifully orchestrated event. So much care goes into even the most minute of details.

Food is the fuel for our bodies. A healthy body provides the basis for our well-being. Why should food deserve any less attention than that?

Have you ever seen a yogi pray over their food? I have. It isn’t necessarily praying, but it’s contemplation. The yogi realizes that their various poses and their state of feeling well is only made possible by the quality of what’s going in. You can’t get a side-plank out of a Big Mac. You just can’t. Therefore, the eating we do has to be more of a nourishing experience rather than something we just have to get done. Americans literally just shove any old thing down the hatch without a second thought.

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Last night’s red and golden beet salad.

Although I certainly do not go to Kingsolver’s great lengths (she raises her own chickens and turkeys and eats produce grown on her own property), reading her book made me aware that I’m at least on the right track. I cook dinner for Shane and myself five days per week. It is nothing fancy. I usually use organic ground turkey to make stuffed peppers; the peppers I buy downstairs at our local farmer’s corner grocery. Or I make chicken breasts and put them on an arugula salad with organic quinoa, beets, and feta cheese. While I’m sure I eat certain vegetables out of season (Kingsolver would never commit this silly error!), I learned from her book that by standing in my kitchen five hours per week, I’m taking control of what goes into our bodies. During those five hours where I chop and wash and rinse and boil and make a general mess of the whole place, those are at least five hours that I am saving Shane and me, my small household, from empty calories, high sugar, and high sodium of take-out and other easy food options.

I will encourage myself to do better– to buy only organic produce and ask my grocer from how far away the vegetables come, but for now, at least I am in control of what goes into our stomachs… we are not the imbecilic victims of fast food chains. Americans can do better. It’s really not that hard, and dare I say, it’s often enjoyable and sometimes relaxing, if you have given yourself enough time to prepare a meal.

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Brown rice, zucchini, corn, organic ground turkey– a very spicy mix awaiting stuffing.

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45 minutes later… the finished product

Jamie Oliver delivers a tragic TED talk focusing on the American plague of obesity and unhealthy children (now with a projected lifespan shorter than their parents) It’s just that we’ve been giving children sugary milk for so many years in public schools, we don’t even think of it. Oliver brings the barrow-full of sugar and dumps it on stage just to wake us up to the realities of the things we put into our own bodies and into the bodies of the next generation. With a little more thoughtfulness, introspection, and critical questioning, a lot of our unhealthy food practices can be avoided. Perhaps a lot of people are in denial, because people think it is difficult to change long-standing habits.

Naysayers will say that the insanely-paced American lifestyle precludes us from making healthy food choices. I agree that It is hard to change people’s habits overnight, but we do so by education. We change our habits by reading books like Kingsolver’s and watching Oliver’s TED talk. In college over the course of four years, I cannot think of even ONE meal I made for myself. This makes me shudder. I wonder why I was tired all the time, eating three meals a day in the mass-produced mess hall. Now, the hour spent in the kitchen every day is just as much a part of my schedule, and is just as important to my health as the hour I spend jogging or doing yoga. Repeated actions become habits. So, give it a try- spend an hour in the kitchen. You might love it.

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3 Comments on “Naiveté, Passivity, Laziness: America’s Modern Food Crisis”

  1. Karen August 15, 2013 at 13:37 #

    Great article! You are inspiring!!

    • Marisa LaValette August 15, 2013 at 13:47 #

      Dear Karen,

      I hope you and Bill are well. Thank you to both of you for being such faithful readers of my musings!

      Say hi to the feathered and furry friends!

      Love,
      Marisa

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