Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On listening to my food conscience

So, in my June Books post, I left out The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan because I knew I wanted to do a separate post about it. Without being overly dramatic, I have to say that this book changed my life. Of course, I've read other books and articles and seen documentaries about the startling lack of diversity in the American diet and the cruel treatment of livestock, but for some reason, this one hit home with me quite a bit more. It's beautifully written and, for the most part, not too over-the top. (Although it does target McDonald's as pure evil. I don't get this. There are tons of fast food restaurants. And, confession, I love McDonald's.)

I've known for a long time that I need to make changes in the animal products I buy. But I'm so used to trying to save money on groceries that it seemed daunting to begin paying over $3 for a dozen eggs or $10/lb. grass-fed beef. So, I did basically nothing, except trying to cut back on my meat consumption in general. After reading this book, I decided I had to do something more. I had convinced myself that it was all or nothing, but I realized I could make changes gradually. So, I started buying milk from grass-fed cows and free-range eggs, both of which are available at Meijer. And I made a compromise on the meat. The University of Illinois sells beef and pork in its "Meat Science Lab." It sounds really scary, but basically its a butcher shop staffed by students. The animals are not grass-fed, but they are raised locally. I am assuming that conditions on the smaller university-owned farms are better than the giant slaughterhouses. And the prices are not too much higher than Meijer. I still want to switch to grass-fed beef at some point, but I think this is a step in the right direction.

Besides the meat issue, this book also convicted me of the need to avoid processed foods. I've always known non-processed foods were generally healthier (less sugar, preservatives, etc.), but I never realized how much of what we eat is basically corn. This lack of variety is troubling for economic as well as dietary reasons. Avoiding processed foods helps fight against the overproduction of corn. I feel like I do ok, as I don't eat frozen dinners and prefer homemade treats to storebought cookies and candy. But, I definitely have a long way to go. I've given up my flavored creamer in favor of half-and-half and milk. And I'm trying to switch from diet soda to water flavored with pure fruit juice. Eventually, I'd like to make my own granola, granola bars, and tortillas, which I consume regularly. Of course, I won't ever completely get rid of processed foods, but if I eat well most of the time, I won't have to feel guilty about my indulgences.

Anyway, I never want to be one of those preachy people who tells others how horrible their food choices are or doesn't let their kid drink Kool-Aid at a friend's house. So, I'm definitely not judging anyone who makes different food choices than I do. Obviously, I'm not doing everything right. But I feel good that I'm not ignoring my conscience so much anymore. And it might be years before I'm where I want to be, but at least I'm moving in the right direction.

I highly recommend the book, but be prepared: If you read it, you might become one of those hippie food people you've always ridiculed. It happened to me.

1 comment:

Mica said...

Oh my gosh, I *just* finished "The Omnivore's Dilemma" two days ago. (Ha, weird coincidence? No, I think not. I think it's a sign that we were meant to be friends.)

I also read "In Defense of Food" by him a few years ago, though I think there's a lot of overlap.

I was really surprised to find that a lot of vegetarians and vegans really dislike Pollan. I think because of the whole defense of meat consumption plus the shooting of the boar and such. However, I thought his analysis of the moral, environmental, and economic issues behind meat consumption were very interesting.

I think the same thing hit a chord with us--we're so used to paying so little for groceries, when really, that seems like such a habit. If we pay less for meat (or less processed food), we will be encouraged to savor and appreciate it more. Yay!

And I was also shocked by how much corn was in everything, like ketchup. :( Womp, womp.

Maybe we should do slow food dinners when I get back! Though I probably won't be foraging for my own yeast....