Today, I spent a good hour of my day just listening to the following talk:
Michael Pollan is the author of, among other things “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” of which the latter is the topic. There was a lot of information to chew through, but one of the core points is that much of what we eat in America today is “edible food-like substances” rather than “food.”
What is the difference between these two terms? your grandmother or great grandmother would recognize anything that is “food” as edible without difficulty. “Edible food-like substance” on the other hand, would stymie her. Pollan gave the example of Gogurt as something that she would be confused by. What is in this sealed plastic tube? It feels like toothpaste! The ingredients are crazy, too: High fructose corn syrup (Huh?) and tricalcium phosphate? Neither of those occurs in nature, and Grandma certainly wouldn’t use them in her cooking.
The American diet is so far removed from the natural state of food that most of us have no idea where what we eat comes from. Even our lettuce comes processed! When I was a child, I had to tear apart a head of lettuce If I wanted to have a salad.
Count in that the fact that much of the produce in the grocery store comes hundreds or thousands of miles from where it’s grown to our table. Much of that produce is genetically altered and designed (hybridized) with an eye toward being shipping-durable above all else. If you’ve ever tasted a garden-grown tomato against a grocery store tomato, you know that there is a giant difference in flavor, appearance, and texture between them.
There is a movement underway that has people returning to “real” food, food that Grandma would recognize, and food that doesn’t travel thousands of miles to get to the market. This includes buying food at farmer’s markets and home gardening to raise produce. I don’t have any numbers, but I’ve seen lots of things on the Internet and in my town that proves that some people are “getting back to real.” Even my family is getting back to real food, though that’s as much necessity as anything else.
A big problem with this is that “real” food is more expensive than edible food-like substances. The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is a supply and demand curve that must be overcome. More people want the real food than there are farms and gardens to support it. Second, a great deal of what makes up the food-like substances are subsidized, therefore artificially driving the price down. Watch “Food, Inc.” for more on that. One person that I know summed up that movie in five words: Want some corn with that? Corn is one of the most heavily subsidized crops in the country, making it dirt-cheap to use.
For another problem with our current food supply, just refer to the recent uproar over “pink slime“. Household cleaning chemicals are used to make something only fit for animals into people food. I object, your honor.
Sometimes the sheer thought of eating in the American public makes me sick. I’m growing a garden, so I know where it comes from. (and because it will subsidize my family’s diet for the Fall.)