Changing the Way

As a society we are overfed and undernourished.  For the first time in history, poor people are often obese. There are lots of theories about why our culture makes such poor food choices, even while the consequences of doing so are so obvious.

The reasons are no doubt complicated and interwoven.  The bottom line of course is too much caloric intake.  But that still begs the question of why.

One common argument is that folks (especially the working poor) are too busy to prepare meals and eat good food.  I’ve been in the situation of working late and coming home too tired to make a meal.  I can understand the temptation to pick up something at KFC to feed the family after a long exhausting day on the job. But in the parts of the world where there are no fast food restaurants and junk food, the working poor still manage to prepare and eat good food (if they have it).  And plenty of working people in our own country prioritize meals and nutrition.  The problem can’t be attributed entirely to our being too busy to eat right.

And the health crisis is affecting the unemployed poor too, however.  They too are eating junk and they, arguably, have plenty of time to make a decent meal.  Why is that?

One theory is that good food is too expensive, so the poor have to eat cheap unwholesome food.  There is truth to this, but it is also true that a meal at McDonald’s or a meal from a convenience store is usually more expensive than a wholesome meal of inexpensive food like beans, rice, frozen veggies, etc.  It’s more complicated than just the price of food.

Another theory is that the poor often live in food deserts, without access to good quality food.  So they have no choice but to eat the junk that is sold in their community.  There is truth to this one too.  I know of communities where the only food available is from overpriced convenience stores selling crap for food.  People who live there don’t have cars or the ability to get to a real grocery store, so they tend to feed themselves and their families the health-impairing food that is available to them.

But consider this ARTICLE about a food desert in Philadelphia.  After polling the neighborhood and determining that there was interest in having a good quality source of food, a store was built there to offer it.  Michelle Obama came to the grand opening. At least one food desert was going to be healed.  But after the store was built folks just went right on shopping and eating the way they always had.  The store made no difference at all.  In that community, at least, the answer wasn’t just making quality food available.

Changing the way we eat is not going to be easy.  It seems to me that education is an indispensable part of it.  Folks simply have to understand what food means to their health and have to come to realize that the food they’re eating, however much they like the taste of it, may be poison.

When I was a kid it seemed that nearly everybody smoked.  It’s taken a long time, but the tide has clearly turned against smoking.

Maybe the same thing will happen with food.  But it’s not going to be easy.

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8 comments on “Changing the Way

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, changing any thing cultural is extremely difficult. Slowly but surely the cheap processed food has taken control of our taste buds. The flavor enhanced food has overshadowed the subtle tastes of natural food. Processed food with shelf lives longer than Methuselah’s life span are cheaper than good food selections because the manufactures don’t have to worry about spoilage. Fruit in my area is a premium. Apples, cherries, and maybe peaches on a good year are what we can grow here. Everything else comes from far away and has to be eaten within just a few days.

    Another thing I see in our culture is food perfection. People have been so trained from the retail grocery stores to buy perfect produce. Nature is not perfect. Much of the stuff I grow in the garden I have to eat because it may have a spot or not formed just quite right or something outside of perfection.

    Have a great slow food day.

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    • Lynda says:

      I agree with you, Dave.

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    • Bill says:

      I think you’re right. I once loved sausage biscuits from McDonalds. I’d drive thru and get them for breakfast. Now the thought of eating something that greasy and nasty turns my stomach. I’ve gotten used to natural sausage and I don’t want the other kind. Likewise I couldn’t eat a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal, but there was a time in my life when I ate them nearly every day. I try to convince people that if they just give good food an honest chance they’ll lose their desire for the other stuff. But it’s hard for some people to break those habits. Every time I’m in a grocery store and see terribly unhealthy people pushing carts filled with horrible “food” I’m just astounded.

      You’re also right about the “perfect food” thing. Our customers are certainly better about than the typical grocery store shopper, but we end up keeping all the ugliest looking produce for ourselves. It’s delicious, of course. Grocery stores want uniformity of appearance and unblemished produce with a long shelf life. That means bland-tasting food treated with poisons. If one flea beetle hole is found on a leaf, they’ll reject the entire shipment. So the industry has to grow produce bugs won’t eat (yet we do).

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  2. EllaDee says:

    All the reasons you state are valid. But the question I’ve come to ask myself is; is it because many of us don’t have a traditional [reasonably immediate] food culture to value, as say in Italy. I ask this because I watched an episode (I think #3 Regional Pride) of Two Greedy Italians http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2012/07/06/two-greedy-italians where even market gardeners growing non-tradtional Italian produce ie Asian were discouraged (and unwelcome…).

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    • Bill says:

      That’s an excellent and fascinating observation. Our regional folk cultures are being obliterated and our regional food cultures are being destroyed in the process. Our culture now don’t value food as an expression of cultural identity.

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  3. You are right on the money about the educational component of it. I recall reading about and watching several programs on tv about community pea patches and school gardens having a big impact on educating folks about nutrition. I think the concept of “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life” applies here as well. A lot of urban centers sponsor community gardens as part of an outreach program to help low-income communities have access to good food as well as to build community. There’s a very successful program here in Washington state called P-Patch.
    When I was very young, I spent a few summers on my grandmother’s farm in Alabama. She worked for the state dept of Ag and would take me with her when she would visit low income families in their homes and teach them how to prepare nutritious meals on a tight budget. This would have been back in the late 60’s-early 70’s.
    Knowledge is power…

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    • Bill says:

      From volunteer work my wife has done she learned that a shocking number of people have no idea how to prepare even the simplest meals. They’re completely dependent on junk foods.
      Teaching basic gardening, cooking and homemaking skills can make a big difference for people who are willing to learn.

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  4. […] blogged before about a project in Philadelphia that brought a fresh food market into a food desert, only to find […]

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