Tuesday, January 13, 2009

on eating

"Organic Oreos are not a health food." oops.

I spent much of the 2007 Christmas season engulfed in The Omnivore's Dilemma, talking to everyone who would listen about the great corn conspiracy and waxing poetic about how I was going to plant organic veggies in the old bathtub out on my patio in Washington, DC (utter failure). In September of this year I followed up with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver's look at eating local. After a failed attempt at a Thanksgiving meal supporting local farmers (people were way too freaked out about the size, recent aliveness and exorbitant cost of the turkey I bought from Blue Egg Farm), I decided the only changes I could really make were in my own diet.

After reading In Defense of Food, MP once again took me on a trip into eats-land, exposing nutritionism for what it is - a reductionist science that truly knows very little about how what we eat affects our health. We (myself included) all latch on to "food claims," and the Western diet is little more than a mix of government-led efforts to create jobs in the food processing industry by making us eat more crap. But really, isn't it obvious that Americans are a fat lot of people with high incidences of heart disease and cancer?

Here are some of my favorite bullets:
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket - stay away from the middle aisles, where all the processed foods tend to live, or better,
  • Stay away from supermarkets altogether - shop farmers markets or CSAs
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves (vegetarians live longer, and so do flexitarians - think like good old Thomas Jefferson - meat as a condiment)
  • You are what you eat eats too - this is where all that organic/grass-fed stuff comes in too - if you're going to eat meat, then your eating high up on the food chain, so consider the effects of what that animal ingested - all the antibiotics, toxins, garbage - that's all going to get into your system too if you eat crappy, cheap meat.
  • Be the kind of person who take supplements - aka be healthy and make educated choice, then ditch the supplements unless you're over fifty - get all the good stuff from your food instead.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner - YES YES YES...needs no further explanation.
  • Eat meals - getting even more common sense with this one, but it means sitting down at a table for a shared meal (not alone, if you can help it) - eating more slowly and mindfully, and
  • Cook, and if you can, grow a garden - the closer we get to the production of our food...well Pollan says it best:
"The cook in the kitchen preparing a meal from plants and animals at the end of this shortest of food chains has a great many things to worry about, but "health" is simply not one of them, because it is given."

At first this book made me optimistic about the coming move to Uganda, and all the whole foods I'll be eating there. Sadly, this is really not the case, even in the more remote and traditionally agricultural places in the country. Take, for instance, Gulu. The tailors-in-training this past September wanted to have a mid-day snack, so first we sent Lucy and Prisca off with this sticky-sweet HFCS orange drink and sugary biscuits. It certainly sent the ladies at Unyama Camp into giggle fits from the sudden burst of glucose - followed by a late afternoon lull. We switched immediately to spending more money but buying a meal instead - having the ladies take turns cooking a meal of rice or beans and vegetables. Notice I said spending more money. Even in Gulu, fast and cheap (and nutritionally worthless) food has pervaded the market, making me wonder how long it will take for Western diseases to creep up - obesity in the lead, followed by heart disease and cancers. Luckily the tailors all still seem to prefer rice, beans and g-nut sauce and tea instead of sweets.

The more I go on this tangent of cheap food in Uganda, the more I wonder how much this it has to do with the twenty years of conflict that have unraveled that part of the country. If the war had not forced people from their land, and food aid had not become the norm (not to mention the influx of Western aid workers), would this cheap processed food be so readily available?

MP: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

No comments: