Monday, January 18, 2010

Corn, Corn, Corn

I dreamt last night that everything was corn.  I was eating corn, and the ingredients list on the boxes I was looking at read: "Corn, Corn, Corn, Corn, ..."  It was kind of like that scene in Being John Malcovich, when John Malcovich goes down his own portal and winds up in some alternate reality when everyone (and all anyone says or can read) is John Malcovich.  (If you haven't seen that movie, please watch it as soon as possible).

I know exactly why I was dreaming of corn - I've spent most of the day yesterday reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  I'm now through the first section, which is basically telling me that most of what I'm eating is corn (or some by-product of corn), and part way through the second section, which is telling me that most of the "organic," "range-fed," and other natural foods buzzwords are misleading and not really indicative of food that is any better.  I'm starting to wonder what the heck I should be eating.

And I'm getting mad at the government.  It seems like they keep trying to fix things, and it just makes everything worse off.  I've long been frustrated with the ongoing subsidies to farmers, but apparently I didn't even grasp the extent of the damage.  To both our economy and our health.  The depressing part is I can't see a way to reverse the damage that doesn't involve a very difficult transition.

The health crisis is particularly interesting to me.  Not the healthcare crisis, although I find that interesting too, but the rise in obesity and the general lack of good health observed nationwide.  I am convinced the cause of this is rooted in what we eat and how much we eat, and that until we make a conscious effort to improve our diets, we will only continue getting fatter, our health will continue to decline, and our nation's spending on healthcare will continue to spiral out of control.

I found this passage particularly damning: "Since 1985, an American's annual consumption of [high fructose corn syrup] has gone from forty-five pounds to sixty-six pounds.  You might think that this growth would have been offset by a decline in sugar consumption, since HFCS often replaces sugar, but that didn't happen: During the same period our consumption of refined sugar actually went up by five pounds....  It fact, since 1985 our consumption of all added sugars - cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, maple syrup, whatever - has climbed from 128 pounds to 158 pounds per person."

For the last few years, I've been really trying to eat better.  Not diet, per se, but to eat healthy.  But what that means seems to vary so wildly depending on who you ask.  I've never really accepted any of the recent dieting trends, such as the low-carb plan, but I did seek out ideas about food that made sense to me.

Some things are easy - I've never heard anyone argue that sodas, junk food or fast food are healthy, or that vegetables are unhealthy.  These are pretty much given.  Some very simple logic/research indicates that vegetables are normally lower in calories than meats, dairy or grains, and that whole grains have more nutritional value than refined grains.  And that I really don't need to eat nearly as much meat as I do, especially if I consume as much dairy as I do.

Dig a little deeper, and you learn that animals that have been raised/caught in a more traditional way tend to have higher nutritional value than their industrially raised/farmed counterparts: grass fed beef, eggs from chickens fed grass and insects, and wild salmon just have more of the good stuff.

So... more veggies, smaller and less frequent portions of the right kind of meat, smaller portions of grains, and less sugar overall.  But that's harder than it seems.  First of all, I don't usually eat alone - I'm cooking for Bobby and myself, and sometimes Emma and Erica too.  Bobby fancy's himself a carnivore, and though he'll eat the vegetables I make, he has this need to eat mostly meat in every meal.  Emma doesn't particularly care for any vegetables - she'd live on bread and cheese if you let her.

Then, there's the fact that grass fed beef and free range eggs and wild salmon not only cost more, but are more difficult to find.  My only option seems like Whole Foods, but it takes 30 minutes just to get there, not to mention the idea that I can't really tell if the free range chicken actually spent its days outside, or just the last 2 weeks of its life.

So I'm frustrated.  More so now than I was before I began reading this book.  In some respects I feel used and lied to by the food industry, including the organic food industry.  But the really frustrating part is that I don't really know what I can do about it.

No comments: