FOOD FOR THOUGHT
April 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
A couple of evenings ago Victoria and I finally sat down, girded our loins and put in the DVD of Food Inc.
I had the nauseating pleasure of reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (co-producer of the film and featured throughout) a few years ago. It told me what my stomach and central nervous system already knew: that most of the packaged, industrialized food we eat is really just a bunch of rearranged chemicals. Then it proceeded to educate me on subjects I knew very little about, such as how most of our food reaches our plate.
The interesting thing is that the book didn’t change my behaviour. The jury is out on whether the film will. This is not a criticism of either- they are both outstanding pieces of work and couldn’t have done more or pitched a better tone to achieve their goal, namely to raise consciousness. The reasons behind my lack of action in changing my eating habits have everything to do with me. I suspect it all comes back to denial. Ernest Becker, an American cultural anthropologist, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Denial Of Death, where he postulated that all civilizations were basically a buffet against a deeper awareness of our own mortality. Certainly in our western society we see it in the way we treat our elderly and an all-conquering lust to stay ‘young’. We can all fall victim to the idea that we’ll do whatever the hell we want today and deal with the wreckage tomorrow- that mentality is the very dynamic that allows us to pollute our planet and endanger future generations.
In the case of our eating habits, that denial is also very much in effect. The more obvious manifestation of it is seen every day: grossly unhealthy people continuing to indulge in everyday habits that later on in life will threaten their existence. These people, although terribly unwell on an internal level, will not change their habits until that internal sickness makes itself known to them in a catastrophic way, with doctors warning them of imminent and mortal danger if they don’t alter their diet.
The less spoken of denial, one that is just as important on a daily basis, is the denial of our emotional and spiritual wellbeing that takes place when we constantly put toxic materials into our bodies. The problem here is that the denial of our own feelings will probably take place before we eat junk food, because if we were in contact with those feelings as we made a decision on which foods to eat, we might consistently go in another direction. I have experienced in my own life the sensation of rushing to eat junk food; it’s as if I knew that if I stopped, cleared my mind and considered the choice, I’d probably turn away from it.
Just as a key to not overeating is to have a sensual awareness of how we feel when we eat in order to know when our stomachs are telling us we’ve had enough, the decisions we make long before the food is on our plate or heading to our mouths must come from a more heightened state of awareness. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, unless we were claiming ignorance of the physical symptoms that arise every single time we eat chemical garbage. I won’t go into what some of those symptoms can be; they will be obvious to anyone checking in with their bodies after they gorge on processed food.
This is something that I’ve needed to practice more in my own life. Although no one would ever diagnose me with an eating disorder, that doesn’t change the fact that I am indeed a binge eater and that binging habit is directly connected to how I feel. When I find myself feeling too much discomfort, sadness, fear or anger over a certain issue, I will often turn to food to assist me in burying those feelings. Food (almost always combined with television) has been a way for me to become unconscious. I have often said facetiously that I wished I had a sexier addiction, for make no mistake: food has been (and still is, on occasion) my way of ‘blissing out’, of getting high- immersing myself in what a former therapist called ‘the feelgoods’. As I recline on my couch, turn on the television on and surround myself with pizza, soda, chips, ice cream and anything else I can fit on the coffee table, it is clear that I am drugging myself into oblivion with food. And considering the fact that they are filled with chemicals, ‘drugging’ (although a clumsy word) may be more appropriate than we know.
The other problem is that even when we do manage to turn to supposedly healthy food, it may no longer contain the enzymes, vitamins and other essential nutrition that it should. I have noticed, especially here in the US where farming regulations on pesticides and soil erosion have been gutted in the last 30 years, that no matter where I eat, whether it be at a high-priced gourmet restaurant or my local cafe, that everything tastes the same. Or more accurately, it tastes of very little at all. Only when I buy from farmers markets or organic purveyors do I rediscover the satisfying flavours and aromas that can be found in fresh, healthy foods. Growing up in Australia my father would always throw a carrot at my brother or me to eat and we were happy. I’ve tried eating carrots from the supermarket here. I guess carrots are no longer meant to be sweet.
But enough about carrots. Food Inc is a terrific documentary, taking its cues from An Inconvenient Truth in its clever, creative use of graphics and its tonal balance: the movie introduces just enough horror to hopefully spur the viewer into action after it’s over but not too much to lose its audience halfway through. Just as I’ve long believed citizens need to have greater involvement in and awareness of how their garbage is disposed of and that disposal’s ramifications for the environment, I also think it’s time for people to know exactly where their food came from, how it was delivered to their area and what the hell was put in it or on it. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to eat that strip of bacon if we knew how the formerly alive animal it came from, with intelligence superior to our dog, was killed. We should also be better informed of the practices related to chemical processing that take place in our frozen food. The frozen ‘food’ section of our local supermarket becomes a terrifying place with a little information in our back pocket.
I urge all of us to read Fast Food Nation. To watch Food Inc. To go to the website. To pay just a little more for organic food. To eat a little slower and be a little more mindful of how different foods (and their quantities) make us feel and maybe to redefine what we consider to be a ‘treat’.
Your dietary choices in the supermarket and in restaurants are a vote. Let’s kick the junk food merchants out of office.