I wrote a piece for our local paper in October. I've updated and added to it, hope you enjoy!
For centuries humans have connected with food beyond the “intended” nutritional connection. One of the earliest connections we learn about in grade school comes from the annual Pilgrims and Indian celebration. We celebrate with food during the holidays and milestone celebrations. We attend church dinners, community fund raising dinners, business open houses which all incorporate food as a way to celebrate and keep participants involved. Even business managers and owners understand that participation to meetings will be higher if you offer food. Some of the most important business deals have been made over dinner or by meeting for a cup of coffee. Need I go on?
During these celebrations we focus on the taste of food and the emotional high it creates. Our society has also coined the term “comfort foods”. We use this term to describe foods that “ease” the pain of emotional distress, stress, and just a little something to lift our spirits. Often the foods served at these celebrations/meetings are processed foods or foods that are high in calories, fat and sugars. We may consider for a fleeting moment that the donut we just grabbed near the coffee maker is not good for us. But, too many times that nutritional concern is related to the size of our waste, not the amount of poor nutritional value that food choice is providing.
As a result, we are an obese society. Obesity in our children is on a staggering incline, to the point schools are implementing farm to table lunch programs. Government food assistance programs now offer an option to purchase local produce. Our younger generation has little knowledge as to how the food got on the grocery shelves to begin with. Many have never visited a farm or know that it takes 60-70 days to grow that one head of broccoli they just ate while grazing at the Asian buffet. They have not been taught that the farmer who grew that broccoli worked from sun up to sun down to harvest that stalk. All of the farmer’s hard work being done while they sit in front of an I-Pad or I Just for kicks…the next time you are at your local super market, take a visual inventory of the grocery carts around you. As I’ve done this I’ve noticed buggies are filled with processed snack foods and sugary soft drinks. I then notice the physical appearance of the family members who “own” that buggy. If they are not obese, then at the least they look tired and worn down.
More and more research is being conducted on the relation to chemicals in our foods and our health problems. These studies not only site our physical health is at risk but also our mental health. Our environment speaks to us if we open our eyes to see the effects. A prime example is our declining bee population. Read a few articles on the effects of the over use of agricultural pesticides on our bees and you will want to know where your cucumber came from and why it’s so waxy.
I am not trying to discourage using food as a supplement to the celebration or event. I believe that we need more gathering around the table. A time to slow down from being a slave to a life of jam-packed calendars, technological dependency and extended working hours. More importantly, a time to have face to face communication and reconnecting with the human spirit. These “around the table” gatherings also foster healthier communities and social connections.
I am suggesting that we must change our food choice paradigm in order to foster a respect for food. In turn, we will have a healthier connection to that food that makes the food choices we make as important as event to which we are celebrating. When you incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet you are purposefully making choices. It causes you to think beyond reaching for the convenience item on the shelf. You might visually catalog the farmer planting a vegetable seedling and nurturing it through until it is harvested and sent to market. You will find yourself asking the question, “what is really in that prepackaged meal?” Reading ingredients on food labels will become second nature. Gathering the family for a day trip to the local farmers market or you pick farm will be on the family weekend agenda. Children who become actively involved in making family meal choices will be more inclined to participate in the preparation. Through this paradigm shift we gain a sense of responsibility to our bodies, the local farmer and to our environmental footprint.