Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's Wrong With What We Eat

Mark Bittman presents on Ted Talks with a good summary of how our food habits have changed for the worse over the last century, how we got here, and how these changes impact our health and the health of our planet.

If you've never been to, it's worth a visit. Some of the greatest minds of our times have given presentations. All are available in the videos, free. There are so many amazing topics, climate change, the "cure" for aging, solving global poverty, how to be happy, arts, music, science. Incredible. is one of those places that makes me stop and wonder at the power of the Internet and the amazing information it can bring right to my desktop. Check it out.


Paul said...

Mark's historical perspective is limited, simplistic and too narrowly focused on changes in food eating habits, primarily blaming "industrial" agriculture for all that is wrong with our food production system. Not to mention pointing fingers at livestock for producing methane the way, 6.2 billion people create a lot of methane gas, too.

Two things he never mentioned has perhaps been more influential in the way food is produced, is, first, the industrial revolution, ie, the change from an agrarian society to one of industrialization, which revolutionized not only the workplace, but also agriculture. As people replaced the scythe with the reaper and the horse with a tractor, food production soared while the surpluses forced commodity prices downward. No longer able to make ends meet, many farm families began seeking work off the farm, or quit farming completely.

By the way, if it were not for the productive capacity of the American farmer in WWI and WWII, the survivors in Europe and Russia would have starved to death and our people in America would have been on the brink of starvation as well.

Second, the feminist movement from its earliest influences and women's increasing presence in the workplace(especially in WWII) necessitated a corresponding change in every home. No longer able to spend many hours gardening and preparing food for the family, this forced a change in the way families secured their food needs.

Neither of these changes were (or are) inherently bad, yet they had a dramatic impact on communities and on the economic impact, both on the farm and in the cities.

I don't believe anyone would suggest we roll back the feminist movement or revert back to the days of horses and mules, but in practical terms, unless there is a complete and horrific change in our economic structure, changing the current structure in any major way is unlikely to ocurr.

The best practical course for American agriculture that can offer good, safe, affordable food is a diversified agriculture that includes a mix of locally grown produce and grains like wheat, flax, rice, corn, beans, peas, etc, that is not generally grown near a large metropolitan area.

Expatriate Chef said...

I think Bittman's point is that the wrong foods are artificially cheap and the food system itself is out of balance (which it is, I posted on this issue over at Eat Local Challenge). Now. Here's the thing, I work full time, garden and cook every meal, including packed lunches. It can be done, especially if both parents are in the kitchen to help (not so much always the case). But, it requires effort and time and giving up TV (not a loss) and a bit of planning and organization. We just need to remember how to do these things and get back in touch with real food.

Paul said...

That's a great approach to the issue. Our family used the same approach when the kids were smaller. As empty nesters, we still garden, both work full time, my spouse is a college professor while I manage a business we own. However, meals cooked at home are not always practical or possible. We do manage to eat responsibly, however.

As for the issue of the wrong foods being too cheap, that's certainly a valid point to make. However, how does one encourage "responsible" consumption of foods that are healthier and yet are reasonably priced for everyone? That's the challenge.

I've always been concerned when I see healthier choices priced higher on the fast food menus. It's a marketing strategy of the fast food chains, of creating more value for "healthy" choices. It's amazing that a few lettuce leaves, carrot slices, bits of onion and peppers, mixed in with a few chunks of white meat commands a higher price than a third pound burger with all the trimmings, fries and a soda.

The "entrepenuerial spirit" within suggests someone or a group of like minded individuals take up this issue and create a menu of healthy choices that is also competitive and affordable for everyone, and give these greasy foods a run for the money. I'd rather see that than try "legislate" the morality of eating healthy or creating a mindset that shames people into buying something they cannot afford.

Expatriate Chef said...

We could skip the shame and make healthy foods more affordable. :) There was a recent program in LA with WIC food program recipients. They found the women would make and effort to get fresh, healthy foods when given the support.