Friday, June 19, 2009

What should we eat?

I have been called on/out by a friend in her discussion of local and simultaneously there has been a lively discussion occurring on the ASFS listserv (Association for the Study of Food & Society) regarding what sustainable means.

I don't see local, organic, sustainable as all or nothing scenarios. In fact, I probably exemplify Danielle's farmshare + Market Basket pseudo philosophy on eating. When you can, eat locally/organically/sustainably, but those words, rules and guidelines cannot be fixed. I think that might be my biggest problem with Michael Pollan is that he [attempts to] offer(s) universal rules that people in America should follow. But for ever rule that he, Alice Waters, or [insert food critic/chef/nutritionist/food movement/diet trend or fad HERE] offer up, the food industry can quickly subvert and/or capitalize on.

Remember when the word natural meant something?
Then came ads like the 7-up bunny burp and the Now 100% Natural commercials, which now have been replaced with Snapple's better stuff commercials that imply they have found new and better ingredients, sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. (Pepsi throwback is following suit.)

So natural is out.
Organic has been co-opted by the USDA to mean something, but not really in the true spirit of the word - not to mention the fact that most small farms cannot afford the fees required to obtain that green circle of approval.
As much as I can disagree with Mr. Pollan on many things, his "everything is local somewhere" comment rings true with the confusing and manipulating usage of the word. (Is something really local if the feed/soil, pesticides and insecticides used to create it were created elsewhere and shipped across the state, or the country?)
Is sustainable just the latest fad word or marketing gimmick that is going to battle it out with "bio dynamic" or "minimally processed" for some sort of food authenticity?

QUESTION: What should we believe and eat?

ANSWER: I don't know.

Ok, that is really unfair. I eat, you can tell because I need those calories to blog. I have the free time to blog, so you know that I am able to collect enough food to not be spending this typing and thinking time working or procuring food. Yet I have to think about food and what I eat 3+ times a day because eating cannot be a mindless act when there are foods and food additives that can make me very sick.

Do I think about food more than most people? Probably.
Can I afford to eat the way I feel I should? No.
Does this mean I throw up my hands when I cannot afford a $35 chicken? No.

So, how do I eat?
Before moving to Chicago for the summer I had a diet is not easy to categorize, but here goes:
-greens, I try to eat these at least three times a week
-cheap, I shop at 4-6 different grocery stores and co-ops
-June-October/November I visit 3 different weekly farmers markets - my egg consumption rises during these months
-fish, I try to eat it once every week or two
-meat - I eat it about 2+ times a week. The Austin Farm family bring their meat to the Central Square Farmer's Market in Cambridge, MA and its the best beef I have ever tasted. I probably eat more meat in the summer for this very reason.
-dairy - I don't eat a ton of this, but Kate's butter is my favorite and worth the price
-processed foods - if its a new gluten-free product AND its on sale I have a tough time not buying it and trying it out. I probably eat more processed foods now than before I had to go gluten-free
-organic, I buy it when I can (availability and price); but this goes out the window when the farmer's markets come into town
-coffee - I love it. I drink it daily and it is not grown in New England, nor are most of the spices or gluten-free flours I use.

Are my dietary habits local or sustainable?

+I buy from a co-op & farmers markets
-Most gf products are not made in New England
+Buying more gf products might make their cost go down and make them more of an option for those that need them, thus more sustainable for the gf community

See how it gets into that tricky "sorda" area real fast?!

While it is endlessly complicated and perhaps there are no simple answers, I love talking about these problems. It is probably the biggest thing I miss about not being in school, but I am glad for it to be happening if only in cyberspace.


  1. Coffee, lord, one of my current ultimate examples of life being compromise. I used to buy Equal Exchange French roast (comparatively cheap at Harvest in Cambridge) but then a friend turned me on to Café Bustelo. Quite delicious. So damn cheap. >shrug<

  2. Ha! I just picked up some Cafe Bustelo yesterday. I have been drinking the Equal Exchange French Roast from Harvest as well, but the last batch wasn't that great and has prompted me to stray.