The Cost of American Food

The following is actually a presentation I plan to make in my Advanced Composition class in a week or so, so it may not make a ton of sense to you since I wrote it for them, but I still wanted to share.

I knew after reading the first couple of sections of The Omnivore’s Dilemma that I would likely be making some changes in the way I viewed food; I was less sure that these changes in mindset would actually amount to anything, however.  Add to the reading assignments the in-class Movie Nights featuring “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.” and it was pretty much sealed in stone.

While writing my paper, I had a huge subject initially: “The subsidizing of cheap corn has far-reaching, varied consequences and must end” including such “sub-headings” as “The method of food production in the U.S. is unsustainable,” “The methods of producing meat in CAFO’s are unethical,” and “It is necessary to change the way Americans view food.”  WHOA!  The only thing all of these “sub-headings” have in common is that they could all be their own papers!  I wasn’t focused enough, so I decided the concentration of my paper should be on the one aspect that made me realize this:

“If we were eating the right things, we wouldn’t have to scrutinize an ingredient list or nutrition facts table.”

Most of what I’ve been reading over the course of this class has pointed in this direction: that consuming whole foods, which are locally sourced and sustainably produced, is the key to saving not only one’s health, but also one’s environment.  It’s alarmingly simple, but when you dig a little deeper, there are aspects of our culture that make this nearly impossible.

I thought about what I was eating, which was certainly better than what I could have been eating, but still wasn’t all that great.  I watched every single food documentary on Netflix.  Seriously.  I read and read and read and read.  I spent so much time reading that I started getting serious headaches, was fatigued most of the time, and my back was constantly hurting from sitting at my desk reading article after article, food blogs, editorials, news sites, book reviews…  It was exhausting, the sheer amount of information about something I’d never really thought about.

And then I realized that’s what the problem was: no one thinks about this stuff.  People say “we’ve got the USDA and the FDA, they’ll make sure I don’t eat anything that’ll hurt me.”  But that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.  The USDA and the FDA make sure we don’t eat anything that will hurt them.  The overall health of Americans – for lack of a better word – sucks, and yet we profess not to know why.  “No way, it’s got nothing to do with the processed ‘Frankenfoods’ we eat, that can’t be it!”

I’m sorry to say, but from everything I’ve been reading, that’s exactly what’s going on.

Over the course of the last month and a half, I’ve considered various changes to my diet, at the very least, I was checking out labels of the foods I had already to determine if there was corn in them (don’t lie, you all did it too!).  I had already eliminated beef from my diet, because I simply don’t like it, but even before I completely eliminated beef, I eliminated veal.  I couldn’t imagine eating a poor little baby cow that’s starved for nutrients and kept still so the meat would be tender.  Nope.  But then I learned how much the dairy industry supports the veal industry.  I love cheese.  I love yogurt.  Butter.  Milk.  How could I eat this stuff and not be a hypocrite?  Why is a baby cow’s life more important than an adult cow’s, or a chicken’s, or a pig’s?  I started doing some serious soul-searching, the likes of which I’d never encountered, even with years of studying Hinduism.

I don’t have it all figured out yet, but there is one more quote that I think is relevant: “let thy food be thy medicine.”  Hippocrates said it, around 431 B.C.E., and I think there’s a certain level of truth to that.  If we’re getting so sick by eating the processed nightmare of a diet we’ve come to have, maybe we can get better by eating better.  Maybe we really would be able to take fewer prescriptions, need fewer surgeries, and have fewer health complaints.  I don’t want to get all hokey with this, but I did find a website: www.100daysofrealfood.com, and it has some pretty “doable” guidelines for a healthier diet, and recipes to match.  I think I might at least visit a farmers’ market or Whole Foods now.  For the longest time, I was more concerned with price of the food I was buying, but now I’m actually worried about the cost.

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