So I wanted to talk a little bit more about our disconnect with food.
Food is everywhere these days. You can’t get gas or buy electronics or even go to the doctor’s office these days without being confronted with food. It comes in vending machines and bright displays, wrapped up in attractive packages. It’s advertised on TV and on larger-than-life billboards along our commutes. Even the grocery stores are set up in a way that encourages us to buy certain products. All of this is the product of the best and brightest in the food industry, and it has been carefully designed to get us to buy their products. The tastes have been carefully adjusted to get us to want more.
And most of these foods have had so much processing that they are almost unrecognizable from their original sources.
Is this a bad thing? I don’t know. There are some arguments that I have heard for processed foods. In theory, they could be engineered to provide exceptional nutrition at low cost. There are some definite supply-and-demand issues in todays farming and ranching industries, and it certainly is one way to make sure that nutritious foods get to low-income areas. I have to admit I have some serious reservations about this idea, but either way we aren’t there yet.
On the other hand, there are many arguments against processed foods, at least as they currently stand. Most of them are low nutrition and not very filling, devoid of things like fiber and proteins that might send the proper satiety signals to get us to stop eating them. They lack micronutrients and antioxidants that are likely important (if not essential) to our health. (I have a pet theory that micronutrients are important in weight regulation and prevention of obesity-linked diseases, but studies so far have been unclear at best.)
A big concern of mine is how these processed foods seem to absolve us from thinking about our food. With processed food being so inexpensive and readily available, and time being so limited, it becomes easy to rely on processed and pre-packaged foods. I Someone hands you a package of crackers, and, assuming you don’t read the label, you don’t really have to think about what you’re eating. It’s just a cracker. But see, crackers aren’t like bananas. If someone hands you a banana, you can be pretty sure it contains a banana. But the cracker? Do you really know what’s in it? That’s a little scary. Some of the ingredients in some foods I can’t even pronounce. Do you really want to eat things you can’t pronounce? OK, yeah, a lot of people can’t pronounce quinoa or rambutan, so I guess that doesn’t hold up so well to scrutiny, but the point remains that it’s nice to know where the ingredients come from and what they do. It’s good to be aware of any possible harmful effects, and even whether or not they are really necessary to eat. Like food coloring. Is our food really better if it is blue?
Even if you are pretty good about reading labels and understanding ingredients, do you really know where your food is coming from? Do you know exactly how flour is made whole or white? Do you know the process for extracting sugar from sugar cane, and do you understand what the difference is between brown sugar and turbinado sugar? These are processes that happen in some factory far away from us, so that you can pick up a pound of flour at the store, but they are far from simple. These days most of us don’t know how to churn butter or keep a sourdough starter or brew beer or preserve foods. Some of us do, for fun, which will be really useful come the zombie apocalypse. Or, you know, because it’s a great way to understand our food.
There are many ways to become more connected to your food. The simplest may be to read labels. You may choose to cook more foods from scratch or start a garden. You might want to take a trip to a farm and see how foods are grown. Grind your own grains. Read about the health benefits of spices and fruits and veggies. Being connected to your food can be wonderful. It might help you eat less (if that’s one of your goals) by making a conscious decision about everything you eat. It may inspire you to create new dishes by helping you appreciate the wonders of food. It might make you more likely to try new things because you know how healthful they are. It might make you a more conscientious consumer of food. Hopefully at the very least it will help you to find a new joy in food and take you out of your routine.
Now go eat, thoughtfully.