Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mom, Where does Dinner come from?

I was walking on a wooded path this morning and it occurred to me, when is the last time you, or I for that matter, made anything we use on a daily basis?  I mean made, as in, created or manufactured from the raw material? I didn’t make my coffee mug; I didn’t make my bath towels. I didn’t make my hot water heater, or my i-phone. I brewed the coffee, but I didn’t make the coffee maker, and I certainly didn’t pick the beans. I think they were picked in Guatemala or Dominica, and roasted in a U.S. factory. How the beans were shipped there is beyond me. By Ship? Cargo plane?  And who made those cute vacuum sealed cans?

Back in the 1700’s people like us made a lot of what we used. They wove linens, they sewed their clothes, they churned their own butter. they fed and groomed their transportation (horses), tooled their leather saddles, picked their own pumpkins, kneaded and baked their own bread. If one family didn’t, it wasn’t hard to find the person in town who did. So, people were much, much closer to the origin of the things they used every day. 

Today we suffer from a total disconnect from the origin of the stuff of our lives. And that emphatic detachment is mirrored in the way we eat. For the past 40 years we’ve been getting more and more isolated from our food sources. It’s hard to believe that most of our grandparents had at some point walked past the very chickens that laid their breakfast eggs. Never before were families disconnected from the sources of their food in anywhere near the way we are today. It’s like the Wizard of Oz makes all our ready-to-eat food behind a giant black curtain that 99 percent of us will never, ever see.

And we accept it, because that’s how we get everything, from our laptops and cars to our shirts and shampoo. They all magically appear in the store, neatly packaged and ready to consume. Quick, tell me the top 5 ingredients in your shampoo! You don’t know, right? But you trust that it will clean your hair, make it smell nice, not cause it to fall out, and not leave a sticky residue. Well, we have that same kind of blind trust about the factory farms and food processors that make our dinner. 

But then what happens? Along come ground beef recalls, the bagged spinach scare, eggs with salmonella, the GMO controversy, and the “pink slime” revelation*.  Along comes two whole generations of people who are more likely to be obese, to suffer from diabetes, from strokes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome than in all their ancestor’s generations. Now everyone has a finger to point and a fad diet to promote, and yet as a nation we’re not getting thinner or healthier. Why why why?

I hate to say it’s simple, because the solution won’t be simple. But the root of the simple cause is, the vast majority of us don’t have any idea any more where our daily food comes from, where it’s grown… or created in a lab, how it was raised, what hormones or pesticides it was given, what it originally looked and smelled like, how it was shipped, or what was added to or subtracted from it. There’s the disconnect. And from a nutritional point of view, that is a disaster.

Rule of thumb for eaters: If it doesn’t rot, it’s not real food. And it won’t work right, nutritionally, in your body. And a diet of unreal food may, over time, push you onto the wrong side of those public health statistics. Even walnuts will rot. So eat stuff that spoils (before it does!) and make something from scratch. Please… Reconnect. Find your inner sword forger.