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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Food, The Evil Power of Ritz Crackers, and Why I’d Rather Talk About Genital Herpes

“What have I told you about watching that crap?”

Even as I approach 30, my Dad still monitors what I watch on television. In his defense, I have always enjoyed what he refers to as “bizarro world” subject matter. As a child one of my favorite movies to watch was King Kong circa 1933, because, as my five year old self put it while demonstrating with miniature marshmallows, “I like when he squishes the lady and her baby.”

As a teenager, I developed an insatiable love for the provocative, creepy, offensive, controversial, and just plain disgusting.

“Mom, did you know that the human body was never meant to metabolize human flesh, and so cannibals in prison give off a really strong, foul smell?”

Cue my mother slamming her silverware down on the dinner table and storming out of the dining room.

Naturally despite years of adolescent therapy and anti-depressants, my poor parents were unable to cure my taste in media. So as an adult, when left to my own devices I will consume all manner of the macabre, disturbing, or depressing. Film, documentaries, books, TV shows, articles – I gobble them up as long as they leave me just a little more cynical, melancholy, or amused by the absurdity of the human species.

There are subject matters, however, at which I respond by waving my banner of avoidance. Not just because I am likely to get either “What have I told you about watching that crap?” or “What have I told you about reading stuff on the internet?” from my dad, but because I know they will evoke one of the three emotions that I lack the coping skills to handle in healthy ways: stress, guilt, and/or powerlessness. Some of these subject matters include: hell, the apocalypse, PETA, prison rape, and the Church. (And, yes, my therapist does have a copy of that list in my file.)

Another subject I avoid like the plague is food: where it comes from, how it’s made, who or what died so I could eat it, what it’s doing to my body, and what axis of evil is benefiting from my consumption of it. I know with one hundred percent certainty I am going to eat bacon. I’ve seen me do it. I don’t need to watch hundreds of pigs screaming like a herd of great aunts being stunned with captive bolt pistols and being exsanguinated, while all the baby piggies watch in horror.

Sooner or later, though, the guilt over being apathetic and hypocritical overpowers the avoidance of guilt over something else, and I peek through my fingers clutching the covers to throw over my head if necessary. So after reading Ace Weekly’s blog about the politics behind “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and the subsequent reading of Ace’s review of Food, Inc (a movie I avoid like genital herpes) where I was assured the movie contained nothing as a graphic as what PETA wants to show me, I went spiraling into the dark place where pubescent self-injury with a razor blade has been replaced by feverish internet research and a marathon of opposing documentaries.

Le sigh.

Sorry, Dad.

I am totally on board with eating healthy. Approximately six weeks after giving birth, I presented this diagram of my post partum self. Not. Pretty. I would never say weight was really an issue for me before pregnancy. Sure, I was always 10 to 15 pounds fluffier than I wanted to be, and, of course, I had my celebrity bodies picked out that I wanted to emulate, but never could with my hardy Irish stock. But pregnancy causes changes in a woman’s body that NO ONE tells you are going to happen. Women worry about their breasts being saggy after breastfeeding. Ladies, plop those things in a push up bra and pull your head out of your ass. You’ve got bigger problems to worry about. The Gaggle, Uber Fupa, Double Knee Chins, Swimmie® Arms, Saddle Bags, Muffin Top, and The Stalker Butt to name just a few.

My glorious ride of unlimited amounts of Indian food, store bought cake, and hormone-revenge eating things I don’t even like of my husband’s to get back at him for breathing too loudly has come crashing to a hault. I look around and find myself in the company of most Americans. Well above a healthy body mass index, lethargic, broken out, and STILL HUNGRY. The only way to feel full all day is to eat all day. The only way to eat all day without getting fat is to only eat healthy foods. It is as simple as that.

As simple as that concept is, the implementing of that concept is extremely difficult. We have our ancestors to thank. The caloric density of food that was readily available to our ancestors and the caloric expenditure involved in wrestling the other half of their food to the ground meant a biological imperative developed: “If you find food – EAT AS MUCH OF IT AS YOU CAN”. So to say that overcoming an innate instinct to hunt and gather as much as possible with as little caloric expenditure involved as you can is easy, is to greatly over simplify things.

Then add our modern economics into the hunter gatherer equation. If I take my dollar to the produce section, I can “gather” about 250 calories max. If I take my dollar to the snack aisle, I can “gather” about 1250 calories. That’s a tough sell to a caveman, and it’s an even tougher sell to a working mom trying to feed a family of three. That said, the long-term healthcare and environmental costs associated with those snack aisle purchases make the extra four dollars for the same amount of calories in the produce aisle pale in comparison.

However, if you are not in the upper middle class and above, liquidity is a real issue for your family. My husband and I work 50-60 hour weeks, live in a modest home in a decent neighborhood, drive used cars, and know that our daughter will be attending public school whether we (or she) like it or not. We live neither beyond our means nor neglecting to think about the future of each member of the family. So liquidity – the ability to have enough cash on hand to clothe, feed, and house our growing family – makes it very difficult for us to justify spending an extra $200-$300 a month to eat ONLY health food.

Then comes the guilt parade from the Locavores, Organibals, and Wholey rollers. They introduce a whole new set of complex issues with the food we eat. Now, not only do I have to figure out the balance between my family’s health and our economics, but I get to add a third, fourth, and fifth spinning plate to the balancing act: morality, politics, and environmentalism. These could each be their own blog, so how about an example to keep things concise?

Corn. Yummy, delicious corn. Pop it, grill it, boil it, sauté it, butter it up and suck it down. Why God even made those little kernels gold so we would know how valuable they were. Right?

WRONG.

Apparently, with every new corn field being planted on American soil we are slowly and assuredly constructing a massive doorway to hell through which Satan himself is going to spring in a blaze of burnt Orville Redenbacher.

Farmers need to be able to make a living, especially farmers whose crops they can no longer grow competitively (i.e. tobacco). So the government decides to subsidize a crop that will be easy to grow and highly profitable. They didn’t pick rhubarb or broccoli or onions or cane sugar. Nope, they picked corn. Why? Because corn can be used to make anything. Synthetic sweeteners, preservatives, dyes…you know…everything between the produce section and the dairy section. Corn doesn’t stop at the food aisles either. Batteries, toothpaste, cleaners, fuel…they all contain corn. You thought you were in love with your girlfriend, didn’t you? WRONG. That emotion was manufactured from CORN.

So what’s wrong with the government keeping farmers in business by making products and food that we all use and eat? Apparently, just about everything. Over production of corn is hurting the environment. It is also making life unpleasant for our little furry friends who would rather be eating grass, instead of CORN, making them so fat so fast that many become lame and deformed, which makes standing in the two feet of their own corn waste even more unpleasant before they are hauled off covered in poo to be slaughtered where the corn poo will contaminate the meat giving us salmonella and e-coli poisoning.

We overproduce so much corn in fact that NAFTA opened a flood gate of cheap exported corn to Mexico (see oil companies perform jig on stage left), putting Mexican corn farmers out of business. Those Mexican corn farmers have to work somewhere, so the big five food manufacturers recruit them as illegal labor and strike deals with immigration to only arrest illegal immigrants at a particular rate so as to not adversely affect production. We then buy all those corn products, which make us fat, give us high blood pressure and diabetes, and send us running to the pharmaceutical companies who are happy to dole us out expensive prescriptions. Paying for said prescriptions makes us even more likely to purchase more cheap corn products.

So basically, if I buy a box of Ritz crackers, I have hurt the environment, kept the local farmer poor, made the evil axis of pharmaceutical companies and Big Oil more money, screwed an immigrant, made school lunches less healthy, supported socialism, hobbled a furry friend, and poisoned my family. Everyone believes the line between personal responsibility and government intervention is really hard to figure out. Not really. I’m pretty sure that my box of Ritz crackers should not wield that kind of power. There you have it. The line. When Ritz crackers are bringing about the apocalypse unabated.

Obviously, there are enough subjects to cover here for fifty blog entries. So here is my question. What can I do?

*crickets*

Seriously. As a working mother who is the main bread winner in my family, I cannot take on immigration, politics, farmers’ rights, the FDA, the USDA, the Ozone layer, and cafeteria food this week. My husband and I do buy the majority of our produce at the farmers market, but beyond that we’re you’re typical Kroger automatons. I’m a marketer so I respond to numbered lists. What are five things I can do differently right now to help the food crisis our nation is facing, keep my daughter healthy, and still be able to pay for her college education? Let’s see what you’ve got to help allay the guilt so I can get back to my Jeffrey Dahmer biographies and Real Housewives franchises where I feel safe and warm.

3 comments :

bluebelleinbluegrass said...

Here is a list of 5. We live off 1 income so I know what it is like to have food guilt over what you can afford vs. what the food police tell you to eat.
1.Make it your goal to grow 1 tomato plant or one pepper plant next year, you don't have to turn into Fannie Farmer just grow one little plant.
2. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) you get local veggies @ a much cheaper rate than farmer's market and the farmer gets his/her upfront costs covered. There was one this year in Lex which also provided food for low-income families which is kind of doubling your good food deeds.
3. Pay attention to packaging, the less packaging the better because that inner/outer double plastic liner? Both contain corn and petroleum.
4.Don't always think you HAVE to buy organic, because I will bet you that organic watermelon from China in January has a bigger carbon footprint than the non-organic broccoli from Florida. Just look @ labels, see where your food is coming from. And how organic can a fruit roll-up be? Also, try to eat in season as much as possible, or as I say the no 'fresh' tomatoes in January rule. 5.Learn to cook w/ the most whole ingredients you can. Buy used cookbooks, check them out from the library, get a subscription to a food-centric magazine (I suggest Everyday Foods and/or Cooking Light). Look into weekend cooking, since time is limited during the week, and you know you will make choices based on time/convenience when you are tired.
And a bonus 6. Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup as much as you can, which will be difficult because it is in everything including canned soup, but a lot of compaines are jumping on the No HFCS band-wagon so you can benefit from it.

Kristen said...

Bluebelleinbluegrass really covered the key things that I think are important to support the local food movement, so I will throw out some ideas for how to indirectly support the movement, but still make an impact. Before I do that, I wanted to add to Bluebelle's first suggestion. You can plant something this year. There are fall crops that will need to go in the ground in a month or so that would allow you to reap the benefits this fall (literally). The Jefferson County Extension Office offers a free publication to help Kentuckians garden. It's downloadable from their site: http://ces.ca.uky.edu/Jefferson/ The link is in the righthand column. I use mine all the time.

1. Take your daughter to the farmer's market with you and have her help you plant your vegetables. Teaching her to understand where her food comes from will give her a greater appreciation for and understanding of what she eats. It will help her make her own decisions about the issues that you presented. Being in Lexington, you could easily find a local farm and have a family outing.
2. Tell your Kroger manager that you would like them to stock local produce and prepared goods. They listen to their customers. And if they do stock local stuff, thank the manager for doing that.
3. If you eat out, patronize restaurants that source local vendors and tell them that's why you're eating there.
4. Continue to tell people about this issue.
5. If you'd like to learn more without getting super technical or end-of-world extreme or gory, I highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's by a Kentucky author - Barbara Kingsolver - and it makes the issue approachable. I also like it because it's written following the growing season and there are recipes with each chapter that feature the food that is in season at that point in the year.
Good luck! @kristenfotter

Mike Kayser said...

To me it sounds like you already have/had a pretty good attitude towards food. I mean I'll eat anything unless I see something unclean happening to it (note to restaurants, if you're set up so customers can see you prepare food, do it right). My problem is that if I eat at home it's usually really cheap (meat and cheese sandwiches) otherwise I eat once a day. Somehow food's just never seemed that important to me except when I'm upset.

So I guess you could say that you're several rungs above me on the food awareness ladder. ;)