Intolerants Rant: Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink (or: For the Love of Food)

Intolerants Rant: Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink (or: For the Love of Food)

I’ve been reading a lot the last year: titan-like narratives, a ridiculous number of news articles, gripping short stories, novels that bridge the divide between poetry and prose, and political non-fiction that unravels at the pace of a le Carre thriller. I’ve also been sticking my nose into books that deal with the subject of food, health and nutrition, though not in a Sunday afternoon–lite “I need to lose five pounds” kind of way. I’m talking about more the sobering issues. Some highly controversial stuff, the type of talk that revolves around what we eat, when we eat it, where we eat, who’s making what we eat, what is being sprayed on and/or fed to what we eat, and how what we’re eating is – or isn’t depending on where you’re sourcing your info from – increasingly making us fat, sick, dependent and impoverished.

I mean, given that I’m intolerant to entire segments of the USDA food pyramid, my fascination with food should come as no surprise.

Spinach, sprouts, spring onion and a fried egg. We do what we can with what we have.

Spinach, sprouts, spring onion and a fried egg. We do what we can with what we have.

From Pollan to Junger, Diamond to Thomas and Schlosser to Campbell, it seems a host of food-related issues are being thrust into the limelight at a time when the population of our planet is heaving with 7 billion+ inhabitants and many countries (particularly developing and under-developed nations) are trying to figure out how to fill all these hungry bellies without going financially or environmentally bankrupt in the process. The New York Times released two Op-Eds last year about how organic food isn’t any more nutritious than non-organic goods (an interesting piece that missed the goddamned point), and I’ve come across at least 40 books and articles in the last half year that talked about various aspects of food in the 21st century. Some authors conclude we need to continue investing in methods that increase food production regardless the environmental/biochemical/physiological cost. Some talk about the importance of adhering to the good old USDA food pyramid and bang on about why carbs are king and dairy rules. There are others – though a small few – who suggest ways of changing the way we farm, eat and live because our current habits are taking the joy out of eating, they’re pissing off the planet and – for lack of better phrasing – killing us.

Local. Fresh. Organic. Good.

Local. Fresh. Organic. Good.

So where do we begin?

While we are able to cultivate and produce more food at a lesser cost in order to feed the plenty, the reality is that quality of much of this said “food” is highly questionable and in some cases, it’s downright dangerous. Yet, rather than point us in the best direction and highlight ways to feed our almighty temples with food that will nourish, protect, heal and nurture, the battle lines are being drawn by a host of public and private actors and a flurry of nutritional fact, fiction and schoolyard bullying is used to sway citizens off the fence into one camp or the other.

The issue is compounded for those of us fortunate enough (read: not living on less than $2 a day) to frequent the grocery store or market on a bi-weekly basis and who have an abundance of choice about what we can put into our bodies. The simple task of making a meal has become increasingly challenging because – for the most part – we wind up overwhelmed with the options available and sometimes make choices that don’t do much to benefit our health or that of our families and loved ones.

If I don't know what I'm eating, I'd rather keep it simple. Boringly so.

If I don’t know what I’m eating, I’d rather keep it simple. Boringly so.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s tricky. It’s actually downright painful. It’s tiring to read all the labeling on packaged goods. It’s slightly mundane to research the activities of  companies that own the brands we’ve come to embrace. It’s no easy task having to sift through the available data and information on food, nutrition, organics, pesticides, genetic modifications, grass fed animals and slaughterhouses in order to discern between fact and fiction and decide what risks are worth taking. All of which rings particularly true when big business is lurking in the shadows and there are profits at stake and reputations to protect.  

In many countries around the world we're not want for choice. The options are - often - confusing and overwhelming.

In many countries around the world we’re not want for choice. The options are – often – confusing and overwhelming.

Do I spend an extra $2 on organic apples because they are locally sourced and have only been sprayed with 5 types of pesticides instead of 33? Do I completely cut out gluten products given the growing incidence of obesity, auto-immune disorders and cancer that may be linked to GMO wheat? Do I need to be concerned about additives that probably came out of a Chem 501 lab (such as the aptly named E216, aka: propyl p-hydroxybenzoate…say what?). Do I forgo meat unless it’s organically raised and ethically slaughtered because not doing so means I am passively condoning the use of hormones, genetically modified feed, animal torture and environmental degradation with every fast food burger, 2 for 1 special or wholesale bulk item I buy?

I don’t know about you, but I get perplexed and disoriented.

It’s a bleeding minefield out there.

Almost everything was locally sourced with the exception of that shrimp. Sometimes we have to choose our battles.

Almost everything on that plate was locally sourced…with the exception of the shrimp. At least it wasn’t farmed. Sometimes we have to choose our battles.

Yet, despite the effort it takes to wade through all the shit we’ve been fed and uncovering the shit we don’t know about, it’s about time we start taking the whole food and nutrition issue to heart so we can figure out how to strengthen our muscles and minds, put some slack back into our pants and stop relying on quick fixes (e.g. crash diets, major surgery, prescription drugs) to settle the score for us. It doesn’t mean giving up meat. It certainly doesn’t mean giving up dairy or carbs if that’s what you love and your body thrives on. It does mean getting informed and weighing as many sides of the issue(s) as possible. It also means giving credence where it is due and, once as much as possible is out on the table, making subtle lifestyle choices that are suitable to the individual and that take into consideration our neighbours and the planet as a whole since (kindly forgive the belittling tone) you’re not the only one living on this rock you know.

Sometimes the best meals are the simplest ones. A brunch of a locally sourced lentil burger with spinach and a fried egg (free running chickens). Accompanied by a rice cake with almond butter of course.

Sometimes the best meals are the simplest ones. A brunch of a locally sourced lentil burger with spinach and a fried egg (free running chickens). Accompanied by a rice cake with almond butter of course.

Because many of us are privileged enough to make more than a miserable $2 a day, we ought to take the responsibility that comes with that good fortune a lot more seriously. Not just for our lives, but because those of our children, sibling’s children, friend’s children and all their children’s children – depend on it.

We’re well beyond the 7 billion mark…remember?

What are your thoughts? Do you invest in organic/local/ethically raised/special types of foods? What does an average meal look like for you? Do you think we (society on the whole) need to pay more attention to what we eat?

Links worth checking out:

Organic Food vs. Conventional Food (NY Times)

The Food Chain: How Big Business Bought Up the Ethical Market (The Independent)

How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods: and Take Your Power Back – (Huffington Post)

Genetically Modified Organisms: To Eat or Not to Eat (NPR)

That’s not Natural or Organic: How Big Food Misleads (Salon)

A Gap in the Organic Food Chain (The Wall Street Journal) – Feed Needed by Meat and Dairy Producers Falls Short; Foreign Suppliers Required.

Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies Influence (NY Times) – Focus on the founder of Eden Foods and dealing with competition from organic companies under the banner of larger corporations.

Funding Sources of Stanford Organics Study Questioned (Huffington Post)

Uneasy Allies In the Grocery Store (NY Times) – regarding GMO labeling in California (Proposition 37) and the efforts of big business (both bioengineering companies and organic labels operating under parent companies) to block the motion.

Organic Food Might Cost More, But It’s Worth It (Toronto Star)

6 Surprising Facts About Organic Food (The Daily Green)

**Originally written for – and posted on – Empress Tea, an experimental and creative group blog that aims to inspire and encourage readers and serves as an artistic outlet  for talented women from across the globe.**