Thursday, October 15, 2009

S.O.L.E. Food and Ethical Values

Interesting article here about one family's attempts to eat conscientiously on the cheap:

SOLE Food: Eating Organically and Responsibly on a Food Stamp Budget
For the past three years, following the typical Michael Pollan-fueled, now-I've-seen-the-locavore-light conversion experience, I've been trying hard to feed my family good food. It's more difficult than it sounds; the supermarkets are full of tempting, affordable foodlike products that ultimately owe more to industry than agriculture, once you start reading the labels. It took me an embarrassingly long while to figure out that buying foods so basic that they don't have a label is the key.

I found myself shopping less and less at the grocery store and instead buying directly from the farmers who actually produce the food, sometimes at the farmers market, sometimes at the farms themselves. Thus it is always local and usually also organic--in practice, if not formal certification--and, helpfully, affordable. I tracked down these farmers, and know about the food I'm buying, because I'm interested and I ask. In doing this I am, as Pollan urges, voting for systemic change with my food dollars, though in my case that's sort of a side bonus. This kind of conscious buying has come to be known as SOLE food, for Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical.

In case you've been living under a culinary and environmental blackout for the past couple years, here's why SOLE food is worth investing in: Our current meat-centric diet, with its reliance on highly processed fats, refined grains, and industrial inventions like high-fructose corn syrup, is literally killing us. This diet is the main reason why one of every three adult Americans is now overweight, and obesity--which parties with its morbid pals diabetes, cardiac disease, and high blood pressure--is drowning ever more of us every year. (A study in the January 2008 issue of the International Journal of Obesity estimates that, if current trends continue, 86.3 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese by the year 2030.)

Handing over our nation's nourishment to agribusiness companies that earn more from processing the food than by growing it is not only making us fatter and sicker, it's also degrading the environment. Monocultures of corn, wheat, and soybeans can thrive only on massive inputs of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, the manufacture of which requires massive amounts of fossil fuel. Once applied, these chemicals don't go away--the ones we don't consume directly in our food aggregate in our soil and water supply along with the antibiotics and hormones used in factory-farmed livestock production. Meanwhile, the industries doing this to us receive billions of dollars each year in taxpayer subsidies.
I couldn't have said it better.

Unfortunately the author, who tried to eat according to S.O.L.E. principles on a foodstamp budget, received some downright ugly comments, insinuating that she was an elitist yuppie playing poor.

Sorry, but I don't buy it. Because eating ethically is an investment and a sacrifice. And when it comes to sacrificing our vices for the sake of health, most of us aren't willing to make hard choices.

It hit me hard reading an article about Snowville Creamery, a local dairy offering minimally processed milk. They treat their cows well. They do everything right. Their milk costs $3 for 1/2 gallon.

But it wasnt' the article but one of the online comments that really made me think - this individual noted that many of the individuals criticizing the notion of spending that much for milk wouldn't think twice about plunking down the same amount of cash for a Red Bull.


When it comes to our vices and addictions, even the most financially strapped among us seems to open our wallet and roll out the red carpet. I have a friend who cites her husband's semi-employment as a reason she can't eat healthy. But I've had to point out to her that I've seen her plunk down over ten bucks on a fast food meal just because she wanted it. Being on foodstamps doesn't stop many people from smoking cigarettes, eating at McDonalds or getting cable TV. In other words, we all have financial blind spots that we can use as excuses to cheap out on healthy choices.

Eating ethically is about more than nutrition. It's about investing your financial resources in individuals and small businesses who are struggling to make a difference. Places like Snowville Creamery. As opposed to some giant agri-dairy that sells to Wal Mart, mistreats its cows and pumps them full of bovine growth hormone.  You have to wonder if that extra $1.50 is such a big deal, especially when there's other stuff that can be sacrificed like cans of soda or a movie rental at Blockbuster. It's all about choices.

So check out the sidebar (I've got a ton of links for local Columbus resources). Check out a farmer's market or a local food coop. Do something. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the positive connections you'll start making. Knowing your grocery money went to a good cause that keeps you healthy is a really wonderful feeling :)

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