Saturday, January 30, 2010

Becoming More Aware

Ryan and I had the opportunity to see "Food, Inc." recently. We both read The Omnivore's Dilemma this past summer (I became interested in the book after a book group discussion of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and not too long after I finished it we first saw the trailer for "Food, Inc.". Since it was a movie I'd been wanting to see, and it was a free showing at the local Unitarian Universalist Church, and since Ryan and I very rarely go out these days, I was quite excited.

We enjoyed the movie. It's obviously biased in some ways, but since the other side typically refuses to be interviewed that can't be helped entirely (though I'm betting refusing to be interviewed can definitely be the smart move since it's likely you'll be portrayed in a negative light no matter what). I thought it was very thought-provoking. It left me thinking primarily about two main things - what are we eating/what can we do to eat healthier food and what can be done to help people with less money afford and know how to eat better?

So, here are some of the things Ryan and I have been doing and would like to work towards in the future:

-After Ryan and I read The Omnivore's Dilemma we decided to try to avoid CAFO/corn-fed beef. We now buy our beef and pork at the Purdue Butcher. Eventually we'd like to save for a large freezer so that we can purchase a quarter cow from a local farmer and have our beef for the year.

-We've tried to cut back on our meat consumption overall. Obviously, during the winter we eat more than in the summer since the produce availability is lessened. Previously we were eating about 50/50 meat/non-meat meals. We've cut that back to around 30/60 or less during the summer and try to stay slightly under the 50% mark for our meat meals in winter. (Not only is this healthier, but it's more in line with the Word of Wisdom!)

-We buy as much local produce as we can. This past summer I went to the Farmer's Market weekly and bought everything I could of what we needed there.

-When we one day own a house I hope to have a large yard so that we can plant a garden. Raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and strawberries. Also enough tomatoes to eat and to can. Lettuce, chard, peas, green beans, squashes, carrots. We may even try out onions, potatoes, and garlic eventually.

-We're trying to eat more seasonally. Tomatoes grown thousands of miles away in the middle of winter, picked when not ripe, then artificially ripened just don't taste as good. So why buy them? We're certainly not perfect at this yet, but we're working on it. Not only does it make our meals taste better, but it lessens our footprint on the environment.

-We're hoping to gradually wean ourselves off of those big, fat boneless skinless chicken breasts from the store and buy locally raised chickens. Which means learning how to use the entire chicken. It'll take some time, but the results will hopefully taste chickenier (and be kinder to the chickens.)

-We'd switch to local eggs now if we could get our hands on Polyface farm eggs. (Our Manassas readers will have to go buy them instead - last I checked Polyface farm comes to a farmer's market in Manassas, you lucky people!) Reading the chefs in Omnivore's Dilemma rave about them was startling. I'd always thought an egg was an egg. But apparently not. So, when we have a little more income we'll switch over.

One difficult thing to realize is that you can buy lots more calories for a lot cheaper when you buy foods that are unhealthy. Which is part of why we have an obesity problem. I think we could help poor people out by making the food stamp program run more like the WIC program. No more buying conveyor belts full of candy, soda, or chips with your food stamps. Really making people use the money to achieve a more well-balanced diet. When you're on WIC you're required to go online and complete a lesson about nutrition and how to feed your family well every time you go in to pick up your checks. Expanding that to the food stamp program would help as well. That's the main idea I've thought of. I don't know how many schools still have home ec. classes where they teach cooking or not, but that's another thing that could help. If kids feel like they can cook when they get out on their own they will be more likely to do so. Of course, if we stopped subsidizing all the surplus corn that becomes high fructose corn syrup, that'd help as well.

After the movie Ryan and I mentioned to each other that there are thousands of causes or issues such as this one that we all have a choice to care about or not. This happens to be one that we've decided is important for our family. There are others we don't worry about as much. It's simply not possible to take on all the issues. So, what are your thoughts? What do you choose to care about and why? If this is one of the issues you care about, what ideas are you implementing in your home?


Michaela said...

You should watch The Botany of Desire! fascinating about food. Also, read The Hungry Soul.

We definitely try to do some things... we gardened this summer - our landlord said it was ok. And a few times at the farmer's market. We're at about 50/50 right now for meat, which I'm ok with for the time being. Incomes definitely determine a lot of what you can buy, and in the winter, that produce is tricky.

Mostly I just like to be aware of what I am eating, but I can't say I've set any specific goals yet. Except that Scotty and I buy the local cheeses and vegetables whenever we can. But those sound like exciting goals!

Alanna said...

I'm really impressed that you're trying to get away from the chicken breasts you buy at the store. I taught the book Fast Food Nation for three years, and while there's a lot of poor rhetoric in there, one of the lessons I always took away from it was how removed we are from the meat we're eating. It's like we try to forget that it was even a living animal, especially because of the way our meat is packaged. I think it would be healthy to be more grateful for what we're eating.

However, I'm a complete hypocrite here, because the truth is, cooking meat tends to gross me out, so I sort of like for it to not feel too much like meat! (I always make Craig cut up the chicken we eat, because I can't handle it at all if there are blood vessels in the meat!) I'm not ready to be a complete vegetarian, so I just keep buying my overly packaged meat... I'm impressed you're trying to not do that so much!

My goal for my family's eating habits has mostly just been to include fruits and vegetables every day at all. I tend to be a huge bread eater, but I have to force myself to remember produce! And I've been trying to eat an apple a day. I really don't like fruit, so this has been a challenge, but one that I'm learning to enjoy. And I think it's been good for me.

My own causes right now tend to be mostly political-- health care and all that-- although I really haven't done much recently except try to keep track of what's going on and send emails to my congressmen.

I dreamed last night that I was giving money to help in Haiti, but I guess I can't actually count good intentions in my dreams!

Good luck with the eating!

Aye Spy said...

Oy, you're going all hippie on me.

A couple of the blogs I follow are by people who have similar goals, food-wise. I don't feel very enthused about changing my eating/buying habits for PETA's sake or because of any kind of "footprint," but I'm thinking of making some changes just for the love of food and wanting to be a better cook. A good cook knows how to divide a chicken, how to get the best local produce, and how to grow it if possible. I definitely have room for improvement there.

Kudos to you for choosing a cause; hope it works well for you.

Erin said...

Michaela, you're doing better than us with gardening then. We grew a couple of tomato plants this summer, but that's all. I think I need our life to be more settled before I'll really be able to pursue gardening much.

The little blood vessels used to gross me out, too. But as I've cut chicken more I've become used to them. We will never raise our own animals and kill them ourselves though - I'm more than happy to leave that part to someone else. I simply like the idea of my food having seen the light of day and being able to support it's own weight.

For us, we don't give a darn about PETA (at least I don't). Honestly, I've always thought they were crazy. We have no plan to become vegetarian or vegan. I think, Sarah, that we have a lot of the same motivations. Mainly we're interested in eating healthier, better-tasting food and knowing exactly what is in our food and where it's come from. I do also care about the environment, so that's an added benefit that locally produced food will generally have less impact than food shipped from far away.

Susan said...

I tend not to care where a food comes from (locally vs. trucked in)so long as it's good for me and in my price range. Unfortunately, price is a big motivator in what we eat. And since fruits and veggies cost a lot we have to ration how much we eat each week. We are planning on starting a garden this summer but I imagine we'll still have to buy most things. Hopefully in a few years we'll have room/money for a bigger garden.

Alanna said...

I was just skimming this article and thought of your blog-- I'd love to hear what you think about this:

Erin said...

Interesting perspective. Though I do take him a bit less seriously when he hints that he thinks global warming is a fraud.

Here are my thoughts on some of his arguments (and I probably won't hit them all since I can't remember them all, so if I miss one that you want to know my thoughts on, feel free to ask about it specifically):

As he points out, it makes much more sense to grow strawberries in California than in Canada during the winter. Personally, I still think they taste best during the summer months, so I simply don't expect to eat strawberries during the winter. And that goes for fruits and vegetables all around.

He says a winter diet of turnips doesn't sound very appealing. Of course it doesn't! There is much more available during the winter though. Potatoes, winter squashes, carrots, apples, citrus fruits. And, if you can and freeze other vegetables and fruits when they are in season then you have those options available as well. There's a reason methods of preserving food were invented. Do we do this currently? No. But I certainly hope to some day.

I'm no expert in any of this, so I can neither verify nor discredit his statements about carbon emissions from grass-fed beef. My biggest issue with store beef is its source at the CAFO. If I'm remebering this correctly, cows aren't truly evolved to digest corn. Eating corn is how E. Coli develops and feedlots encourage the spread of the germs since they're standing close together and in their own manure all day (and I know I've read of cases of the CAFOs polluting nearby water sources because the manure doesn't break down fast or well enough and gets washed in when it rains.) A corn-fed cow isn't likely to be as big of a problem when it's coming from a small, local farm where the cow probably isn't spending it's life standing ankle-deep in manure. A perfectly reasonable reason for eating grass-fed beef is that, in many people's opinions, it simply tastes better.

Those were the main points that stuck out to me. I highly recommend reading about Polyface Farm and how they rotate their animals - it's absolutely fascinating. Truly sustainable farming is very difficult work since you have to know a lot about your soil and what your various crops and animals are going to take out of it or put in and figure out how to properly rotate crops so they don't leach all the nutrients from the land.