After reading Michael’s Pollan book The Omnivore’s Dilemma earlier this month, I’ve been closely examining my own eating dilemma. What am I eating, and how can I better my eating habits and be a better food citizen?
Over the years, I’ve come up with my own guidelines. I avoid eating anything that requires a microwave (that includes microwave popcorn). I use the microwave, in fact, purely for defrosting meats and heating up individual portions of liquids. Oh, and melting chocolate.
I don’t eat frozen dinners. The fewer the ingredients, the better. I try to shop organic. I buy free range chicken. And grass fed beef.
But, I have learned, that is not enough. For even organic has gone industrial. How many miles have those organic salad mixes flown to land at my neighborhood grocery store? In many cases, thousands of miles–the usage of fossil fuels negates the environmental benefits of organic. And that free range chicken? It’s been fed an unnatural diet of corn–chickens are supposed to eat grubs! Are they really free range and sustainable? Do they really venture out into the open air, or are they provided with a teeny itty bitty door that looms like the gateway of the Unknown to the timid chickens? Yes, organic is better than conventional…but how much better? And can we do better? That’s Pollan’s challenge.
Nevermind all the corn syrup in all our foods (corn syrup is bad bad bad). Farmers are subsidized by the government–they are encouraged to grow corn, and yet what do we do with all the surplus? We make it into oil, ethanol, feed it to cows whose digestive system can’t support anything but grass, and convert it into “high fructose corn syrup.” It’s everywhere, and not only that, it’s likely to be the number 1, 2, or 3 ingredient in many of your processed foods. I checked a candy bar from England (yes, I know, that thing was shipped from England using tons and tons of fossil fuels)….and I noticed there was no corn syrup listed in the ingredients. It was refreshing to see the word “sugar” in the ingredient list. When was the last time you saw “sugar” in an ingredient list instead of the ubiquitous “High Fructose Corn Syrup?”
I used to spend summers in Seoul, South Korea. Over the course of a few weeks there, I lost a lot of weight. I wondered what it was about Korea versus the United States that accounted for such a drastic change in my weight. Yes, I was walking more in Seoul, but that didn’t account for a fifteen pound weight differential. “It’s in the air,” a bunch of us Korean American would say. Maybe it’s in the corn syrup.
My thoughts on how to eat are in full swing these days. I used to go to the farmer’s market on a regular basis–but somehow, I let those trips fall off my schedule. Going to Whole Foods or the Berkeley Bowl I thought would be enough. But it is not. Even Whole Foods caters to support the “industrial organics.” Though as of this morning, there’s news that Whole Foods will start featuring locally grown produce due to pressure from Michael Pollan.
Though I won’t stop eating the occasional hamburger from In-n-Out or McDonald’s (even though I’ll be thinking about the way in which these foods are processed), Pollan’s ideas have pierced my psyche as well. I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend. It is a good re-start. Not only that, but it was good for my eating soul to be connected directly with the food and the people who grow the blueberries, peaches, strawberries, lemongrass, basil, tomatoes, corn and all the other bounty laid before the omnivore.