Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Food Envy, Trust, and Radish Free Milk

I read a letter to the editor of my local paper last week and it really made me think about people and food.

Now I don't want to directly reply to the author of the letter because I don't know specifics about them or their medical condition, but it really made me think about the relationship some people have with food.

Food Envy

The author of the letter went from conventional food to organic to home grown. Unfortunately I think food has become the new status symbol, the new "mine is better than yours." People are going to extremes in order to prove they are buying the best (but perhaps not necessarily the healthiest) food for their family. First organic was the cool trend then natural foods. After you've done that, if you really care, then you have to buy local. Of course, your definition of local food's mileage may vary.

And what about specific foods and diets?  He's vegetarian but still eats dairy while she abstains from all dairy and chooses to be gluten free just to be on the safe side. Then there are some that only eat what doesn't kill the plant at harvest: apples, yes; carrots, no. And don't be a bonehead, go paleo. What if you were told that there were five foods to avoid if you care about the environment? Eat them and you are condemning all that we hold dear. 

I understand that some have dietary, medical, religious, or ethical reasons for their diets, but not everyone. Some are hopping on the current trendy bandwagon and now, instead of comparing who has the fancier car or clothes or jobs, we're bragging about what we are (or what we are most definitely not!) having for supper. 

Food Trust

The saddest result of this is demonstrated in the letter. The author has no faith in the food available for him to purchase. They are afraid of food for fear of what might be in it or how it was produced. This is a scary road we're going down as a result of food envy. 

Of course the marketers of food don't always do us great favors, either. How do they convince you to choose their product? One way is to differentiate on fear, like Chipotle does and has done, or like Whole Foods.

For example let's assume you have two identical gallons of milk to choose from except one of them has a label proudly proclaiming it to be "Radish Free." 
You examine them and finally say to yourself, "Heck, I don't like radishes so I better buy the radish free one." Despite the fact that all milk (and Dairy Carrie would also say ice cream) is radish free the other brands of milk now have to also label their milk as being radish free. Then when you get home you read on the internet how one man switched to radish free milk and his allergies went away, he lost weight, and he saw his libido improve. Tell me how that doesn't sound familiar? How easily we are manipulated by labels because no one will tell us any different.

The Emperor's Food Is Naked

So what happens when you mix food envy with a distrust of food? Obviously you are obligated to fix the problems with the food system. The first step is to start banning certain food production practices. You don't ban them because they are a detriment to the environment, are harmful to animals, or because the resultant food quality is poor. You ban them because their name sounds scary (like pink slime), or because you don't trust corporations (that create GMO's). It has been proven that you don't need the government to ban food practices you don't like, either. You can simply lobby a restaurant or food processor until they do what you ask. And they do. It reminds me of the story of The Emperor's New Clothes except with food. Lots of people know these practices are safe, but they would rather turn a blind eye or join in than face confrontation.

Now we have food being turned away not because it is unhealthy or unsafe, but rather because we've decided it is trendy to not eat it. Being trendy or elitist is not a good measure for developing food policy. It is like we are unilaterally cutting out certain foods or food processes with as much real sense as telling clothing manufacturers that we no longer want to buy blue shirts of any kind.

The only reason we're able to deny one particular food production method over another like this is because of our great abundance of food. I don't think many hungry folks would complain about getting some Cheerios with a microscopic amount of a GMO crop, nor would they argue about the ethical considerations of whether the beef on their plate came from an animal that needed antibiotic treatment at a time well before it entered the food chain.

I don't know that there are any easy solutions. I don't know what to tell the author of the letter above because I'm afraid they are too far down the rabbit hole to hear me even if the issues I brought up apply to them. 

There is no reason one person should claim superiority over another because of the food they eat, especially if both are choosing well balanced diets. There is no reason to use fear to make the food you choose to buy or sell to appear better than the alternative. I think consumers have to use their common sense and be wary of conspiracy theories.

I'm not against having a large variety of food choices. I think that is wonderful. I also think that there is nothing better than being an informed consumer. What am I eating? How did it get here? These are valid questions that deserve valid answers. There are great opportunities with social media to actually talk to farmers and everyone else involved in bringing food to the table. But why not leave the envy and fear at the door?

Okay, I have dropped the brush used to paint with broad strokes to the ground. I am slowly climbing down from my high horse with hands held up.

Did I miss the mark? Do you agree? Why do you eat the way you do?

No comments:

Post a Comment