Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Responsible food choices

What's the difference between a frozen processed packaged "healthy" meal and a home cooked meal made from fresh locally grown, organic produce and meat?  Well, that's a loaded question.  Many eye-opening books have been written on this subject.  I could quote Gandhi, Drew Carey, or any one of the hundreds of experts on the subject.  Of course, each source has something different to say about it.  I attended a yoga and raw foods retreat years ago when I adopted my own opinion which is:  your body will get more nourishment from food when the food is grown naturally and is eaten immediately after it is harvested with as little processing as possible. 

A peach grown in a natural environment, picked off the tree today, and eaten today will have more taste, color, flavor, texture, and, most importantly, more nutrition than a peach you can buy at the grocery store.  When was the last time you had a peach that fresh?

We can't all live next door to the orchard.  However, if you look around, you can find fresh meat and produce grown near you, but it is unlikely that you will find those in large chain grocers and will not find it in processed food or fast food.  Even though I live in the Houston metropolitan area, there are markets nearby where locally grown produce and meat can be purchased.  In the Texas Hill Country, I have met several small farm owners that grow and sell through local markets. 

Check out the Farmer's Market in Fredericksburg, TX.  It is famous for fresh produce from local Hill Country folks. Farmer's Market in Fredericksburg, TX on Facebook

I know it is more convenient to go the corner grocery store.  On the other hand, going to the grocery store does not allow you to talk to the people that grow the food.  If I buy a peach has a sticker with a commercial food company name, then I am relying on that company to make choices for me - choices of food safety, nutrition, packaging, taste, and so on.  A decade ago, I wouldn’t have questioned that choice, but today I do.

A typical piece of fruit available in the grocery store has been through quite an ordeal before you ever see it.  The fruit could have been picked weeks ago and sprayed with color enhancers and decay preventing agents.  Then the fruit would be packaged and transported.  Trains, ships, trucks and planes carry food of all sorts from every corner of the world to your corner store.  Only the best looking produce goes straight to the grocery stores for selling as fresh produce.  The rest is sent to processing factories that make frozen dinners, bottled juices, sauces, condiments, boxed meals, and others. 

It is such a convenience to have meals that can be microwaved in minutes.  It is a modern day miracle to walk down the isles of the store and marvel over the access to colorful, summer fruit and vegetables all year long.  Who do we thank for that? The companies that grow only the produce that looks good and lasts a long time?  The makers of the chemicals that make fruit bright, colorful, and shiny?  What about the shipping companies that transport our produce from in containers marked "safe for food".  Should we thank the trucking companies for their carbon footprint?  The factories that chop loads of food at a time without checking for fungus, bacteria, or decay?  Or, maybe we should thank the companies that have learned how to make produce that kills living organisms that eat it?  

Actually, we are already saying thank you to those companies because we buy what they sell. 

Some time ago, I realized, I have been deferring to large corporations with smiley faces and sunny imagery in their logos to make food choices for me.  When I ask, "is this food the most safe, nutritious, and tasty?", the answer is no.  In a country where almost every person over the age of 11 will spend at least one hour a year determining the best cell phone plan, why are we content, thankful even, for inferior food without question?

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