Ever since I read Frances Moore Lappe’s book “Diet for a Small Planet” in the mid 1980’s I’ve been aware that my food choices have political ramifications. She points out that some foods, like beef, require a lot more resources than they provide in return, making it a luxury food. To make a pound of edible beef requires about 20 pounds of grain. She suggests bypassing the cow and eating the grain ourselves, which will feed a lot more people than a pound of beef. Especially when you consider that grain increased it’s weight and volume when cooked, while beef decreases in both. She recommends eating lower on the food chain. While she’s not against eating meat on a philosophical level, she has chosen not to eat it herself. She goes on to explain that poultry, chickens and even turkeys, require fewer resources to make a pound of edible meat than larger animals such as cows and pigs. Thus choosing poultry is better for the environment and frees up more food for the rest of the population. Choosing a vegetarian diet uses up even fewer resources but some folks aren’t willing or even interested in taking that step, so instead we choose what’s best for our comfort zone and what’s best for our family. Like so much in life, it’s all about choices.
Well, anyway, after reading Diet for a Small Planet I tried to make better choices, more humane, more responsible choices, especially at the supermarket. The only problem is that I’m a perfectionist and I quickly realized that choosing a “perfect” diet is just about impossible. There are too many variables. A “perfect” diet would have to take into consideration all of my family’s likes and dislikes. All of their health requirements. The suggestions given to us from health agencies such as the ADA, AMA, AHA, NHL&BI and the Pyramid. Plus I’d have to condense all of the recent nutritional advice regarding the Glycemic Index, low-carb, high-carb, good-carb, bad-carb stuff. Then I’d have to choose our sweetener, which is another can of worms. Regular sugar has all of these terrible things associated with it. Sucanat, which was supposed to be a great panacea, is now claimed to be processed using less than natural methods because different batches are combined to create a more uniform product. Rapadura is now the only granulated sweetener that meets ethical and moral standards.
In order to use any animal products I would have to personally tour the farms/facilities where the animals are raised and make sure they are meeting my personal standards of humane treatment. Since a perfect diet means everything’s fresh I’d have to eliminate all food preservation methods and only eat fresh food. What about spices and seasonings, they’re usually dried? What about pasta, it’s processed and then dried. What about bread? No frozen veggies. No frozen fruits. No canned goods. Good grief, there is no end to it all!
So, for me and my family, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. We aim for something I like to call Good Enough. Do I meet all of my family’s nutritional requirements at every meal? Nope, I don’t. If I’m worried about it then there are chewable children’s vitamins in the medicine cabinet and they are welcome to take one whenever they like.
Do I buy local most or all of the time? Nope, I surely don’t. Is that because I’m a bad person? Is it because I don’t care about my fellow man or because I want my local economy to fall apart? Nope that’s not the reason why. I don’t buy all of my food locally because it’s usually too expensive. If I did buy mostly or only local then I’d have to choose which meals we would omit from our weekly budget because I couldn’t buy enough food for the entire week. My kids are willing to eat low on the food chain, but I am not willing for them to go hungry 3 or 4 times a week.
The bottom line is that I am allowed to keep food and politics separate. Every choice I make at the market doesn’t have to be a political one. It’s not putting my head in the sand. It’s setting emotional and political boundaries that allow me to keep grocery shopping, budgeting and preparing 21 meals a week manageable. I don’t vote with my grocery budget. I vote with my ballot. Other people can afford to vote with their food dollars. I cannot and I won’t be pressured into believing that I must.
So in my own way I’ve tried to keep food buying as simple as I can. What can I afford? What are my family’s likes and dislikes? How can I use up leftovers and reduce wasted food? What are my family’s nutritional requirements and how can I meet them while maintaining my budget?
These questions are more easily answered than the larger political questions. You know how in airplanes the flight attendant explains that if the oxygen masks drop down that the mother should affix her own oxygen mask first, and then her child’s? I see grocery shopping like that. First I have to make sure my own family is nourished, then I can help others achieve the same goal. If my own family isn’t well nourished then I’m not in a solid position where I can assist others.
I understand hunger. I lived it. I struggled, counting how many meals I could get from what was left in the cupboard, worrying about how we’d make it through the week. I’ve prayed daily, sometimes hourly, that the Lord show me how to make the best I could of what He provided. For me, sharing this knowledge with others, teaching them how to eat well on an itty-bitty budget, contributes far more to reducing hunger than doubling my grocery budget (yeah right! as if that’s even an option) so that I am buying locally grown, fresh, organic, humanely raised, pesticide free, politically correct groceries.
Combining politics and food is an expensive luxury. Just like my family lives with out a lot of luxuries that other people seem to consider necessities, we can live without the luxury of combining food and politics. Price, not politics, determines my food choices and that is a perfectly legitimate position to take.