The State Fair is in town, and it seems that what’s dominating the headlines isn’t the racing pigs or the cake decorating contests — it’s the food. Well, if you can call a bacon cheeseburger stuffed between two Krispy Kreme donuts “food.” Here in North Carolina, we’ve turned deep frying into an art form. Our motto seems to be, “If it’s edible, it’s fryable.” Oreos, Twinkies, Snickers, Chips Ahoy, Coke (yes, they fry the Coke. No, I haven’t tried it).
I don’t mean to single out my fellow North Carolinians. The love of food oddities extends well beyond our state. This weekend McDonald’s announced that they’re bringing back the McRib sandwich nationwide. McRib is a misnomer. An invertebrate has more ribs than this sandwich. Shaped to look like a rack of ribs – fake bones and all – I can’t help but think that this little sandwich represents everything that’s wrong with our food industry.
Fried Twinkies, McRibs…we could call these things “junk food,” but are they even food? I don’t think so. A McRib in all of its processed glory is fake, and why would I want to eat something that’s not even food?
I’m not an evangelist or an expert on the topic of food. I like the occasional donut. I eat mostly what I want, exercise a couple times of week, and am mostly at peace with food. I’m a student of the school of moderation. But I’ve read enough to be disturbed by our food industry and wary of what’s available for our consumption. It’s frightening, and there isn’t one easy or clear solution.
One step toward disentangling the mess is for more of us to open our eyes to what our system of mass produced food has done to our understanding of one of the most fundamental human needs. I know that whatever I do, I’ll never completely eliminate the harmful effects that my eating has on our environment and/or myself, but there are some things that might lessen it. I wanted to share some things that I’ve picked up on my quest to better understand how I can eat to support my health and the health of the world. This is a simple list, but even the simplest things can have a big impact.
1) Eat locally as much as possible. Not only can you shake the hand of the farmer that grew your vegetables, you can also know that the food didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to you (thus reducing the amount of gasoline consumed and emissions spewed).
2) Just say no to high fructose corn syrup. The stuff isn’t natural. It’s a cheap alternative to sugar that’s pumped into just about everything these days. A recent study showed that cancer cells absolutely love high fructose corn syrup. The researchers said, “cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation…efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth.”
3) Eat food that doesn’t come from factory farms. This practice limits the places where I can eat or buy meat, but it’s worth it to me. We truly are what we eat, so why would I willingly choose to eat something that has been pumped full of unnatrual and potentially harmful substances? Huge factory farms are also the cause of tons of waste, environmental hazards, and animal abuse. I readily admit that I am a bleeding heart liberal who believes that animals, even if they are destined to be eaten, should be treated humanely. I don’t want to support factory farming. It’s that simple.
4) Eat organic. I understand that the “organic” label isn’t a panacea. I know foods that are labeled “organic” are not 100% organic (I’m not even sure what that means). But when it comes down to it, I don’t want to eat pesticide, antibiotics, or genetically altered food. So, if I can reduce my consumption of it by buying food that’s labeled organic, then that’s what I’m going to do.
5) Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I can’t take credit for that mantra. It’s Michael Pollan’s. It’ simple yet profound. Eat food. Food – not food products that are masquerading as food, but food that your great-grandparents would recognize. Not too much. There’s that moderation thing again. Mostly plants. Leafy greens and plant-based food should be the foundations of our diets. This one is tough for me because I would be happy to live on crusty bread and cheese.
I’ve tried to live these choices for the last year, and it’s been hard. It’s also been expensive. It hasn’t escaped me that often the average American just can’t afford to purchase anything but the cheap, factory farmed food. It’s something else that’s wrong with our system, and I do hope we find ways to address that.
There’s so much more out there. I have more reading to do and more listening. I’d love to hear about your relationship with food and how you ensure that what you’re consuming is healthy for you and the environment. Or, I’d love to hear if you disagree with me entirely. If you’re the guy or gal who can’t wait for the McRib’s comeback, let me know…would love to “rib” you about it. Sorry, bad pun.
Here’s a list of books and movies that might be interesting if you want to learn more about the issues surrounding our food:
1) In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan
2) King Corn. A documentary film about two friends, an acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast food nation.
3) Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. Daniel Quinn
4) Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan
1) Photo of the Donut Burger taken by Chris Kuehl.