The Importance Of Becoming Your Own Food Advocate
In 2001, the USDA food pyramid was cited for portraying an imbalanced food plan grossly influenced by the dairy and meat lobbyists. This pyramid instructed decades of nutritionists, medical professionals and school food plans. As a result it wreaked havoc on the average American body. The new pyramid, while slightly improved, sadly still reveals an unclear and unhealthy approach to diet and lifestyle and is still influenced by Big Agro.
It’s no secret that food is big business but the far-reaching effects on our health as a populace is just now becoming clear as we witness increased illness and obesity within our nation. Recently I read a comment on facebook stating that the baby boomer generation is not aging well. I agree with his statement and feel we’ve come to expect rapid deterioration and disease as the given way “out” of life. But this need never be. Baring unforeseen incident, we can truly live “Happy, Healthy, Dead” (my favorite mantra), determining a time to lay ourselves down to final rest. This requires reverence and respect for our bodies and that means getting proactive rather than deferring to politicians and marketers to feed us the healthy food that I believe is our birthright.
Often on the go, with easy access to seemingly infinite food choices, we sometimes lose track of how these foods came to be available to us 24/7, year round. But if we take time to get informed, we may find our food choices and lifestyle changes as a result. We may find what we thought was abundance of healthy options packaged with labels reading “whole” and “natural” are really masked empty calories, chemicals and nutrient-raided fair similar to fast foods. By taking the reins out of the hands of others, we become our own best food advocates.
Least Footprint Eating.
I’m a big fan of “least footprint eating”. This means growing and buying as much local, seasonal, non-packaged, non-processed foods as feasible. It means the closer the food is to its original form and natural casing, the better. Shop farmer’s markets when possible and find the best food co-ops or organic markets in your area, preferably those that support local food procurers and farmers. You’ll generally find that employees working in these markets actually know about whole and healthy foods and can do more than point you down the donut aisle. This is a sign that management educates its employees, taking seriously the business of healthy eating and not just the business of food. Remember, bigger is not always better. Unless a food store shows true response to product inquiry and concern and implements programs that illustrate the use of third party checks and balances to verify the quality of their foods, steer clear of its aisles.
Do your best to avoid large food chains that offer little organic fare and avoid organic brands that produce solely for large scale commercial chains. These brands have a history of recall for items that do not meet USDA Organic standards.
While “least footprint eating” is a good guideline I understand some packaged and prepared foods are hard to avoid. That said, always choose organic when available, though keep in mind the term “organic” has become grossly compromised over the years. Today, for example, under the label “organic” certain levels of arsenic in organic chicken meat are permissible according to the FDA. Non-organic casing for use with organic sausage was recently approved; you will not see this on the label. The list of infractions goes on and on. A modicum of familiarity with the product lines from which you buy and the quality of their ingredients is advised.
If You’re Unsure About Something, Don’t Be Afraid To Ask.
If you question the use of an ingredient or food preparation method, don’t be afraid to call or email the company directly to investigate. I’ve had great success with this kind of outreach and have even managed to persuade one bread maker to switch to organic ingredients and another dessert company to investigate the source of its chocolate chips.
Responsible food producers will respond with honesty; Chino Valley Ranchers recently confirmed to me by email that yes, their eggs were washed with bleach before making it into the marketplace. But don’t fault Chino Valley Ranchers, this is an FDA mandated measure for all pasteurized eggs sold in markets. Learn about egg purity and benefits and see if you can locate a local farmer that has pastured, unpasturized chicken eggs from chickens who are non-grain fed.
Some years ago, Ben and Jerry’s was faulted for stating their ice cream contained dioxin. Unfortunately, dioxins (toxic or carcinogenic hydrocarbons that occur as impurities in herbicides) have proliferated our lands and migrate in the fatty parts of animals. They are in every animal product, organic or not, so I applaud Ben and Jerry’s for disclosing this fact, though the general public misunderstood their good intention and some boycotted their product in reaction. What I would like to know is whether Ben and Jerry’s will use the supposed latest in technology: “edible antifreeze” designed to thwart ice crystals that form on ice cream that sits in the freezer and not requiring labeling. Personally, I’d want to know if I was consuming this protein, called gelatin hydrolysate. But the FDA does not mandate labeling of genetically modified foods. Again, going back to the “least foot print eating” approach, I would suggest making your own ice cream. A delicious recipe combines raw milk from grass fed cows, seasonal berries and BE stevia. And a dairy-free option can be made with coconut milk. It’s simple and fun to make and the best part about it is that you can remain confident of the ingredients you’re ingesting.
Beware also that many brands may read organic but this does not bar the foods from being produced or packaged in other countries. Recently I noted that Alaskan Wild Salmon sold at Vons was packaged and sauced in China. Consider this: the shipping time, the many hands on the foods, the varying temperatures…In the end ask yourself: What value am I really getting from eating a food that’s been through this kind of handling? And it’s not just with commercial companies if you consider Whole Foods an alternative market. In 2008, Whole Foods was exposed for producing their “California Vegetable Blend” frozen vegetables in China. Whole Foods Organic Certification Manager, Joe Dickson, assures that China adheres to strict organic standards commensurate with America. Having had a lavender sachet company that made items in Shanghaii, I can say I’m dubious of this claim. Aside from fumigation or other food safety shipping regulations effecting foods shipped across borders, there’s the simple concern for food that travels this distance; I just don’t think this is what nature intended and it certainly steers far from my “least footprint eating” methodology. Always check packaging for the “Made in America” label.
Large non-organic food producers now own many smaller organic food-producing companies. This new merging may affect the quality and types of ingredients in products you’ve used in the past so never stop reading labels; you could find a favorite marinara sauce once sugar-free is no longer.
By following the “least footprint eating” approach you might choose to make a healthy tomato sauce at home and forgo the burden of keeping up with potentially changing labels or compromised quality. Even your organic pre-cut oats, having been cut four months prior, present rancid PUFAS. This could prompt you to find organic whole, uncut, raw oat groats that arrive in burlap and have not undergone complex packaging and processing procedures before reaching your table. By using the “least footprint eating” method as your compass to a healthy diet, you may eventually discover a minimized dependence on pre-packaged and processed foods overall.
Being Your Own Food Advocate Goes Beyond Super Market Doors.
A recent alarm spread through local farmer’s markets in Los Angeles when several farmers whom advertised their fare as being organic were spotted purchasing and reselling commercial produce. I recommend getting to know the farmers you procure from, ask them what methods of pest diversion they use and how they treat their soil. If they choose biodynamic farming over organic farming, find out why. Most farmers who truly practice organic or biodynamic farming are eager to share their methods and knowledge and are usually proud of their farms. If your farmer claims he doesn’t know or is reticent to speak about his practices, keep walking. And if a farm is close enough for a visit, ask to come by sometime and see where the food you are eating is being grown. Again, a farmer with nothing to hide should welcome the request.
If you procure from farmers who are not certified for growing organics ask them why. They may not be large enough to carry the expense of a certificate or they may have valid alternative growing methods that do not fall within the organic guidelines and can share their practices and beliefs. Unfortunately, due to wind transported pesticides and genetically engineered seed cross pollination from surrounding commercial farms, some farmers find their produce compromised and can no longer qualify for Organic certification. Ask questions, investigate; know your local growers.
Being your own food advocate is the gateway to an abundance of health and well-being. Whole, enzymatically intact, real and delicious foods are thankfully available to us if we only know how to identify them.