Thursday, March 29, 2012

One Last Argument For Food Control

As a part of this series on food, and my arguments for taking control of it back, I'd like to give you something else to think about, something to "chew on" as my Grandfather would have said. The food guides of both the U.S and Canada recommend certain serving sizes of fruits and vegetables, meats, grains and so on for optimum heath, right? Not many of us really try very hard to achieve those culinary goals, but some do. It takes some creativity to eat anywhere close to those food guides, and if you have a picky eater in the family, then you REALLY have your work cut out for you! But some of you may be surprised to find those fruits and vegetables we've been told to eat are NOT as healthy as we've been allowed to believe. Now before you splutter in protest, hear me out. In 1963, the USDA, or United States Department of Agriculture released a collection of nutrients found in all sorts of foods tested. In 2001 they updated their information as certain foods had been tested again. This is pretty much an ongoing process.
(If you're feeling especially brave, you can try and slog through all the government-speak and data yourself Nutritive Value of Foods) But to share just a small part of a near-overwhelming amount of information, our veggies ain't what they used to be.

From 1963 to 2000 the common field tomato has changed.  It is no longer a bastion of vitamin C. In fact, the tomatoes level of vitamin C have fallen by an alarming 41.66%, it's vitamin A has dropped by 29.75%, the calcium so important for our bones has dropped 33.3%, the potassium has fallen 3.5% and magnesium has plummeted 22.91%. Due to information laws, the U.S government isn't trying to hide this information, but I went looking and let me tell you, it's not easy to find either!

I find it a little disturbing that the National Academy of Sciences has issued a statement saying it now takes twice as many vegetables to get our daily requirement of vitamin A as it did before. But how many people know that? Did you see it in the news? I didn't. Neither your government nor mine want us to know about this, because then a good many of us would get upset and start demanding answers. They don't really want to be put on the hot-seat, so they don't make the information easy to find. They don't want you to know that vitamin A and calcium have plummeted by almost 50% in that serving of broccoli they say you should eat. Cauliflower isn't much better. It has nearly 50% less vitamin C, thiamin and riboflavin. That's why our breads are all enriched. The food manufacturers are trying to make us think they're looking out for us, but really, they're only putting back what our other foods are lacking!
This isn't news, I've written about this before.  Who Killed My Tomato? This is an issue that has some far reaching consequences. If your daily intake of vegetables is less than you should be eating, and the vegetables themselves are lacking vitamins, then how many nutrients are you really getting? Less than you think. You aren't going to start eating twice what the recommended value is if you weren't eating enough veggies in the first place. So you just go on with your life, wonder about it occasionally and carry on as best you can. There's no shame in this, most of us do this. But I'm calling on you today to do something different. Start asking questions. Go to the library or the internet, or both, and start reading all you can find on nutrients in your food. Find out how the food is grown, harvested, processed and shipped. Ask more questions. No question is too stupid. As hard as it may be, watch the Food Inc. video, or borrow the book. Read it. Try not to throw it against a wall when you become educated and enraged. And you will. As one good friend says, let me set your expectations early. You will not like what you learn. You will be appalled at how your food is raised, grown, prepared and shipped. You will be disgusted when you find out how your roasted chicken lived and died. You may swear, cry and throw up. I know one person who did.

But we all need to take this uncomfortable and painful journey. Going vegetarian is not the answer unless you need to be for health reasons. But if that is your reality, you'll need to know this information all the more. We all need to know what we're eating and how it becomes our food. We need to know the good with the bad. We need to know about the people that make it our food. There are some horrible labor practices that accompany that bag of apples you bought from the grocery store. We need to know about that too, because every time we remain silent, we allow those practices to continue. Practices such as

  • Working 12 to 15 hours without overtime or holiday pay
  • Denial of necessary breaks
  • Use of dangerous chemicals/pesticides with no safety equipment, protection or training
  • Unfair paycheque deductions for EI and other services in cases where workers get little or nothing in return

That's just the tip of the iceberg. That's not some foreign, visually oppressed country, either. That happens in Canada and the U.S too.

So, over the past few days, I've offered a lot of reasons why we should take back control over our food. The next step is to DO IT. Do it politically with our votes, letter writing, making sure the food producers understand we want change. send the message with our money, with our voices and with every resource legally at our disposal. Do it with our actions by putting our money where our mouths are. A part of this includes learning how to access food that is raised humanely, sensibly and with care. Part of the solution is more education, at least in WHO to fight and why. Another part of the solution is to learn how to take back control by learning how to grow, raise and process our own food.

It's all going to be a long, bumpy ride, but I promise you, it's worth it. You'll feel empowered, educated, more satisfied and less worried about what we're feeding our families and each other. Are you ready?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Argument For Food

I've written here before about the declining to almost non-existent nutritional value of our food.  I've gone on at great length about the declining taste in our food, and my theory that this declining taste is the reason so many use so much salt. (Even if you cut back on the salt at home, have you read the sodium levels of "convenience food"? It's enough to make me stop eating at work!!) Yesterday I wrote about the need to go back to growing our own food. Not just for control over our own food, but also to control what we put into our bodies. Sodium is only a part of that. All this really started for me when a co-worker became pregnant and had to start watching how much sodium, caffeine and sugar she ingested. She was near-rabid about it, and the topic of nutrients came up repeatedly at work. Before long, we were all looking at those nutrient labels, and we were all appalled. In one submarine sandwich, there was 115% of the daily recommended allowance of sodium! In one sandwich! In a frozen, throw-it-in-the-microwave-and-zap-it meal there sodium levels ranged anywhere from 25% to 80%, depending on the producer. The conversations turned then to what we can do about this.

I've always said we need to express our wishes with our money, and this is no exception. Don't buy the frozen, high fat, high sodium meals. Bring your own lunch from home. Include in that lunch more fruit, more vegetables, more water, more juice. Last night's leftovers, maybe you made apple muffins or cookies, or your soup you made from scratch. Make your own submarine sandwiches, wraps are so versatile it's hard to get bored, roasted vegetables are always a treat. I know one industrious soul who makes her own bread bowls and somehow manages to fill them with stew and take them to work without making a mess. I'm not that talented, but I eat from home as best I can. Meatloaf, barbeque chicken, homemade biscuits and gravy, soups, stew, wraps, cookies...whatever we have available. Even homemade mac & cheese. Ever look at the nutrition label on a box of KD? I love cheese, even though I shouldn't have much of it. When I get the yearning for smooth, melty macaroni and cheese, 90% of the time, we make it at home. Very little, if none, sodium. There's no mysterious powder to wonder about, and I'm the envy of my co-workers. Even an ordinary sandwich can be livened up with a handful of clover sprouts that you grew. Full of vitamins, minerals and sunshine, those sprouts can take a sandwich from boring to cool in only a few days. The best part is that you don't need a southern exposure to grow them, either.

No matter how we grow our own food, controlling what we put into our bodies will have profound effects. More nutritious food, allowed to ripen in the sun if possible and not picked green, builds better bodies. When we started down this footpath of better health, I didn't notice anything at first. I didn't notice more energy or better skin or anything of that sort. But let me go on record right now as saying we're not perfect. We slipped a few times. It's cheaper to buy crap-food, I'll admit, and we've all done it. After a little while of nipping out for lunch, a few days of not having herbal tea but Coke and Pepsi instead and not paying attention to what I was putting in my body, I was draggin' ass. I was tired all the time, I had no get up and go, no zip, no pep. I wasn't interested in anything, couldn't concentrate... you get the idea. I suspected there might be a link. (Feel free to roll your eyes here) So I went back to drinking more herbal tea, more water and eating fruit and yogurt more often. I found I needed to nap less (I work late into the night, so my sleep schedule is already compromised), it was a little easier to concentrate at work and I wanted to walk more. As a side benefit, I was having fewer asthma attacks. Coincidence? I think not.

So, in conclusion, taking back control of our food, how it's grown and processed and how we eat it is all within our best interests. Better health is something we're all entitled to, no matter what country we live in, our economic situation, or our family dynamic. I firmly believe that decades of nutrient deficient food has made us sicker, weaker and less vital. We can start reclaiming our health one meal at a time, one ingredient at a time, one person at a time. If you can't grow your own tomatoes because you face north and get no sun, like me, look into sprouts. They're the easiest green to grow ever. If you are able, start buying at Farmer's markets. Not only can you actually speak to the person who grows your food, but you'll be supporting local growers and producers. If you want a local food system, help create one. We need to take back control over our food, take back control over our health and in such uncertain times, every little bit of reclaimed control makes us stronger.

Tomorrow, a look at using food stamps in the U.S for seeds and food producing plants! (Thanks to Jacqueline for the heads up!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An Argument For Tomatoes

There was a prediction made by John Hamaker that by the year 1995, the temperate zone would become a subarctic zone, and the world would have lost it's food supply. The year that "Survival of Civilization" was written, the author stated that "the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is man's most urgent problem".

I disagree.

In my opinion, whatever that is worth, feeding people is man's most urgent problem. Feed the hungry, stop the famine and THEN tackle the air. I'm not just referring to the Sudan or the refugee camps in some far off country, but our own countries first. I think that it was quite noble of George Clooney to get himself arrested, it's admirable that he has been fighting for a long time to draw attention to a horrendous problem. He, and Angelina Jolie and all the other celebrities who use their fame for the right ideals are to be applauded. Now we must follow their example, in this one thing at least. But with so many hungry mouths to feed, how do we even begin to start? We start at the bottom, one family at a time. Obviously a Sudanese village will face different challenges than Terra Haute, Indiana, but the solution lies in each of us. The answer to feeding the hungry is multi-layered and yet simple.

We must learn to feed ourselves.

Nourish our neighbors and re-prioritize how we use our green spaces. Those of us who already know a little something about growing food should be allowed to. Scrap ridiculous neighborhood association rules that forbid anything except manicured, chemical-riddled lawn. It makes no sense to sanitize the soil until it cannot support even an earthworm, while there are children going to school hungry. It makes no sense at all to prosecute someone who wants to quietly grow vegetables among their roses and marigolds. while these would be vegetable growers are held captive by obtuse and inane rules, food banks are overwhelmed with need. Children go to bed hungry because they did not get enough to eat at dinner. Some pregnant women live on one meal a day so that their families can have more and even in Canada we have people that choose not to eat so that they can make their groceries stretch further. This is wrong on so many levels.

We must learn to feed ourselves.

We must grow tomatoes among the marigolds and tuck carrots between the pea plants. We must reach out and find people with fruit trees that do not use all their fruit, and encourage them not to waste but to donate it. We must encourage our politicians to pass legislation that encourages people to grow food. Whether that be on a city level, provincial, state or even at the village level. Much like the American government did during WW 2, we need every citizen that is capable to grow food. Not because we are in a world wide conflict, although that day is not far off, but because we are in a war against hunger in our neighbors.. There is a program called Grow A Row in which gardeners are encouraged to grow a row of vegetables to donate to their local food bank. I love the idea of donating fresh vegetables to people who all too often are the recipients of outdated, empty calorie food. I've been there and done that, and I can't properly express what a bundle of bright green broccoli or a bunch of crisp orange carrots can do for someone's morale.

The financially challenged among us are some of the most vulnerable in our communities. Often malnourished, frequently ill and the most powerless, it is for these people we need to grow food. We must not only learn to feed ourselves, but our neighbors as well. For us, for our neighbors, for our country and for the sake of humanity. But that's only one perspective. Tomorrow, another rationale for why we should grow as much as we can.