One of my book purchases in Sweden was a book called Äkta Vara, which can be loosely translated as “Genuine Product.” It’s a follow-up to a book I read last December called Hemlige Kocken (or “The Secret Chef”). This ground-breaking book is investigative journalism at its best and outlines all the dirty secrets of the Swedish food industry. It definitely makes you think twice about buying/eating anything without taking a real close look at the ingredients list.
Äkta Vara is an A-Z guide providing information about 150 common foods with tips on how to find quality/organic varieties and what to watch out for. While reading the book, I had a really hard time stomaching any kind of processed food (I even said no to ice cream at one point…). It’s so insane what the food industry adds to our food to make it taste better, look better, and last longer.
It’s equally amazing how easy it is to forget that processed food is really bad for you and that eating whole, unprocessed food makes you feel fabulous. The food industry has got us figured out… We like convenient. In fact, we crave convenient because of our over-booked, stressful lifestyle. Like this morning I grabbed a “Chex Mix” bar on the way out the door, since we had run out of fruit for my afternoon snack. Gross! But I ate it anyway with its 30+ ingredients (including HFCS – gasp!). Because it was convenient.
Today, we spend less time purchasing and preparing food than we did 50 years ago. I don’t know if we have less time now or if we have deprioritized this activity in favor of other activities (like surfing the web and playing video games). The food industry now provides pre-made alternatives for almost any food. I remember when I first moved to the US and was shocked at the great availability of “mixes” and the fact that very few people make anything “from scratch.” Because we don’t have to!
(Check out the blog A Year Of Inconvenience for some from-scratch inspiration.)
The problem is that remotely mass-produced food requires a number of additives that simply are not good for us. Further, processed foods have been linked to behavioral problems (if you don’t believe it, talk to someone at the Appleton Central Alternative Charter HS). Finally, the reduction in time cost of preparing food results in additional consumption, leading to obesity and related diseases (see “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?“).
My philosophy is this: If the food I am buying contains ingredients that I wouldn’t use in my own food preparation, I won’t buy it. This leaves mostly the perimeter of the grocery store (produce, dairy, fish, meat) along with the baking aisle. Some organic cereal and pasta makes the cut. But that’s about it. I can feel the difference immediately when I eat something like the “Chex Mix” bar. I feel sluggish, my stomach hurts, and I feel like I just ate poison (OK, so some of that is probably in my head, but still!).
And we should make whole, nutritious food available to those who can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods or the local co-op. This morning, I saw a couple of young women at the Farmer’s Market who were collecting fresh produce for the local food pantry. What a great idea! Or how about those urban gardens? They produce fresh, clean food for people who otherwise mainly have access to convenience stores like 7-Eleven.
I’d like to conclude this post with the philosophy of the Slow Food movement, because I think it pretty much sums up my own philosophy on food:
We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. Our movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy – a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.
Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.
We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.