Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Food for Thought

Today is world Blog Action Day, an annual event calling upon all bloggers to discuss one topic of global importance. The theme is always broad and bloggers have the privilege to write about any angle of the chosen topic as they see fit. Last year, the topic was WATER. (Click here to read the story I wrote for last year's Blog Action Day, “Ode to the Pila”, about my own challenges with water while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.) This year, the topic is FOOD, and my contribution to the conversation can be found below. 


Food for Thought: 
Top 10 Things That Have Made Me Change My Ways With Food

My choices related to food (what to eat, what not to eat, what I think is healthy, what I think is not healthy, where and when to buy it, etc.) have changed significantly as I have gotten older, more informed, more aware and more interested in eating in a way that makes me feel good on a physical, as well as a philosophical, and dare I even say it, spiritual, level. (Yes, I believe our souls have tastebuds too.)

I have to take food seriously. I work in a physically demanding job (as a massage therapist) and in close contact with other people. This means that food serves as my fuel. As I have become more aware of my own body through bodywork, I recognize that what I eat directly corresponds to how I feel. If I want to feel good, be optimally energized, stay healthy, avoid illness, and in turn, be able to do my job and help others heal, I have to eat good-clean-healthy food. Therefore, I also choose to spend more money on food than on anything else besides my rent – exponentially so – and not without sacrifice.

My current food philosophy goes something like this:

- Eat (real) food.
- Mostly vegetables and fruits.
- Mostly organic.
- Local when possible/affordable.
- Limit seafood, most especially tuna.
- Steer away from the middle aisles in the grocery store. (These are the processed food aisles).
- Try to shop primarily at farmers markets and cooperatives.
- Drink a lot of water.
- Trust that the money I fork over is an investment in my long-term health and well-being, keeping me one foot further from a doctor or hospital.
- Trust that my food spending choices make a positive impact on a socio-economic and cultural level.
- Limit eating out.
- Try to “Walk the Talk” or rather, “Eat the Beet – Not the Meat”.
- Repent & Amend when Fail.
- Repeat. Three times a day.

Each and every one of these choices has come from somewhere: something I have learned, read, felt, seen, or experienced. I find each of these choices challenging because the heavily southern rooted and carnivorous preferences of my taste buds push me towards easier, faster, cheaper and tastier options. However, I attempt to live by the above code for the most part because I believe that these choices, in the long-run, will have a better effect on my body, my mind, my conscience, my health, the well-being of others, and the planet.

To be clear, I am not writing this to tell others to eat like me because for one, I am still figuring out what even works for me, and like I tried to imply, I’m not perfect; I still occasionally break the rules. I also know that what works for me might not be right for someone else. What I am writing this for is to put forward some of the sources or things that have most influenced me to change my own ways and my tastebuds – at all levels for the better. After all, inquiring minds want to know. 

Top 10 Things That Have Made Me Change My Ways With Food

1. The Book - Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

I read this book many years ago and have never been able to look at fast food restaurants the same. In the very least, this book has made me pause to seriously weigh my options when facing the decision of whether to eat fast food.

In this book, investigative journalist Eric Scholsser exposes the untold stories behind the birth and rise of all-American fast food from the meat packing industry to risks of food-borne illness, labor standards, immigrant labor exploitation, and the aggressive, some might say dubious, marketing tactics by the leaders of the pack. The book is heavily researched, fact-based, educational, and easy to read because it is told in well-written, story format. You may recall that there is a movie by the same name, but all the book and the movie really share are the same title and perhaps a spirit that forces us to have to think a little bit more about our food choices. The book is far better than the movie. (There’s no comparison really.) And, unlike The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which was so fear inducing that it brought about a revolution of the meat packing industry and its regulations in the early 1900’s, this book is scarily non-fiction and set in present-day America.

2. The Movie: Food Inc: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It

Food Inc - Official Trailer [HD]

This is the movie that should have been the movie version of Fast Food Nation. I found this movie to be gut-wrenching, eye-opening, and palette-changing. I found it hard to stomach some of the things happening in farms and corporations across the country when actual footage, images and well-informed interviews are put forward exposing the dark side of what it means to provide food for millions and billions of people. Luckily, the film seems well-rounded because I didn’t leave it feeling hopeless, but rather more informed and capable of making better decisions

3. The Movies: The Cove and The End of the Line

The Cove - Official Trailer

The End of the Line - Official Trailer

I will be straight forward. I love eating seafood. I mean, I really. really. pero really. love eating seafood. You name it: sushi, tuna, salmon, lobster, crabs, calamari, shrimp. My mouth is watering just writing those words. If it comes from the sea, I love it so much I want to kill it and turn it into me. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. The point is that we must destroy life to live but at least I can try to do so consciously.

In all seriousness, I used to love eating seafood. Since watching these two movies, it’s become difficult for me to justify pleasing my greedy palette. These movies make it painstakingly clear that our oceans and world fisheries are in severe danger due to over fishing, grotesque industrial fishing practices, water pollution, and sky-rocketing demand. From exposing ocean trawlers with nets that drag up every single bit of sea life for miles on end to the awful practice of shark finning (just now banned in California), this movie does a terrible job at making viewers feel at ease with the state of our seas. Images, facts, and the truth are laid bare about what is happening far from our sight and close to home. The biggest point I drew from these movies was realizing that if our oceans and fisheries go down, well then, we are all going down on the same boat. (We, as in, humanity.)

There is cause for alarm. Indeed, I think The End of the Line has made a bigger impact on my life than perhaps any other movie or documentary. Here is another disturbing clip showing reality TV Food Sargeant Gordon Ramsey exposing the trade of shark finning.

4. The Writings of Michael Pollan 
I am a doubter. I, for one, find it challenging to know who or what to believe when every doctor, nutritionist, athletic coach, spiritual guide, book, magazine, and pseudo scientific or even scientific study offers contradictory guidance on what is good for us, what we should or should not eat, what nutrients, vitamins or energy content are contained in particular foods, etc., etc. Therefore, I was delighted when I found that Michael Pollan, critically acclaimed author and food historian, puts forward the extremely basic (and reassuring) idea that, “Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated.” For example, in “In Defense of Food,” his call to action is simple and evolution based: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His messages come from a place of understanding that humans did not evolve eating things like twinkies, snickers bars or McDonald’s burgers. His books are thoroughly investigated and easy, fast, informative reads. I have not read all of his books, but every book, article, or essay that I have read written by him has made me pause, think twice about my food, and do something a little differently. Click here to visit his website and read about his books. 

5. The Big Picture

They say a picture says a thousand words. My impression is that this picture actually screams those words instead.

South Africa Photographer Kevin Carter took this photo in famine stricken Sudan in1993. It won the Pulitzer Prize and a few months later, Kevin Carter took his own life, at 33 years old. It is not known what happened to the child in the photo, but it’s not so hard to guess. Even if this emaciated child survived, the developmental damage done to her body and brain was likely so severe that she could hardly be a well-functioning adult.

I stare for a long time at this photo, ignoring all the words written around it. My stomach turns. My body and my mind are physically affected. I feel repulsed and I feel guilt at living such a life of luxury and abundance while other human beings and children are starving to death, even stalked by creeping vultures.

I know there is a connection between that child and 
my own choices. 

As far as food goes, it makes me ask myself things like: Do I really have to eat the steak that alone needed anywhere from 2,000 – 13,000 gallons of water by some estimates and who knows how much land (for grazing and feed production) to be produced? Do I really have to contribute to the demand for products that come from halfway around the world, when I could eat something that was grown nearby, using a lot less energy and limited resources to be produced?

Right now, east Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years. 30,000 children have died in three months and more than 12 million people are at risk of starvation. Click here for ideas onhow to help and watch this video below from One.Org to see what Bono, Pat Buchanan, Clive Owen, and many other famous folks have to say about putting a F***ING end to famine.

"Drought is an act of nature. Famine is man made"

6. The Practice of Yoga
Yoga endlessly and effort-full-y transforms my life, my body, my mind, and my world - for the better. As a wannabe yogi, I am a follower of the words I hear in my practice because I know to my deepest sense that they frequently hold powerful and profound truths. But given that I actually do still do non-ideally yogic things like occasionally eat meat or struggle with staying present, at very best, I have years to go in my practice. Regardless, the practice of yoga also helps me become acutely aware of my body’s limits and needs, perhaps especially when it comes to food.

I have consulted the modern bible on yoga, "Light on Yoga", with a curiosity about yogic wisdom and guidance on what to do about food, and I will copy directly from the book below:

Besides purity of body, thought and word, pure food is also necessary. Apart from cleanliness in the preparation of food it is also necessary to observe purity in the means by which one procures it.

Food, the supporting yet consuming substance of all life, is regarded as a phase of Brahman. It should be eaten with the feeling that with each morsel one can gain strength to serve the Lord. Then food becomes pure. Whether or not to be a vegetarian is purely personal matter as each person is influenced by the tradition and habits of the country in which he was born and bred. But, in the course of time, the practitioner of yoga has to adopt a vegetarian diet, in order to attain one-pointed attention and spiritual evolution.
Food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life. It should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Avoid foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean.

Character is moulded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it. Men are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather than eat to live. If we eat for flavours of the tongue, we over-eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throws our systems out of gear. The yogi believes in harmony, so he eats for the sake of sustenance only. He does not eat too much or too little. He looks upon his body as the rest-house of the spirit and guards himself against over-indulgence.

I must admit that I still often eat for flavors of the tongue, and to be fair, I know living like this requires real sacrifice and discipline, in our day and age especially. (I mean really, how can any human – yogi or not – living in India avoid flavors of the tongue.) But still. The main thing that I draw from all of the above quoted text is that yogic script speaks of developing a deeper connection to one’s food, and all I can say to that is, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

7. The People in My Life
They say that we should choose our friends wisely and I think they are right. I must include my friends on this list because I know that they have had a tremendous influence on my food choices. In observing my friends make culinary sacrifices, try new things, cook up amazing recipes, pass along interesting resources, books and movies, and make choices with strong will, I am inspired to do what I can as well. My vegan friend makes me stand in awe of her culinary prowess and self-control. My ayurvedic guru makes me realize that I can cook up healthy and hearty food like dal in a dash. My raw food experimenting friends make me crazy because I just cannot understand how they can do it. My vegetarian muscular friends make me feel empowered to reduce my meat consumption. My creative friends inspire me to cook things I never dreamed of cooking before at home. My completely opposite-from-me brother makes me grateful to recognize that I have no right to pass judgment about food. But, they all make me realize by their own sacrifices and choices that another truth is written in "Light On Yoga" when Iyengar says, “Actions mirror a man’s personality better than his words.” (Btw – happy birthday to my brother!)

8. The Body: My Body
Our body knows. The body can tell us when we have gone too far, when we need to do more, when we need to do less. Through the practice of bodywork, I have found it to be possible to connect on a deeper level to my health, my well-being, and even my own place in the world. If I decide to eat something that I know to be bad for me or unhealthy, my body gets me back later and I feel sick to my stomach. Granted, the body can also fool us into desiring foods that are unhealthy, but what I have learned is that the more closely I listen to what my body is actually asking for, the less often I choose to make the food choices that make me sick later.

9. The Mind: My Intuition
Another thing I have learned to appreciate through yoga is the emphasis on trusting our gut, that inner voice that has a sense of who we are, what is right, what is true, and who we want to become. If I have two heads of lettuce to choose between, one certified organic and the other non-organic, it’s pretty apparent to me that eating the organic version seems healthier and more natural. Of course, I have to assume that a lot of others are doing their part when it comes to the production and certification of organic products. But if one product was grown with fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides, then my gut tells me to stay away. Perhaps this comes from the knowledge that we did not evolve eating those things either so therefore I should use whatever means I have to avoid putting them in my body as well. For more on Organic Food and a listing of the Dirty Dozen foods that are most highly contaminated, click here.

10. The Truth (As We Know It)
At our most basic, physiologic level, science has taught me that what I eat literally determines how well my cells function, how fast my neurons synapse, how easily and strongly my muscles contract and how my genes, those little blueprints that hold the unyielding power to make or break us, are even expressed. 

Turns out, we do have some serious influence over our future. Here is a very informative video explaining how the choices that we make, our lifestyle, our diet, and our environment change the way our genes can be turned on or off. 

Watch Epigenetics on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.

So there you have it. Ten things that have made a difference in my life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment