The Politics of Food

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.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “The Politics of Food

  1. Beth

    Amen, Amen, Amen!!!
    PS Glad I found your “new” blog!! I miss you in… other avenues… 🙂

  2. Kat in KY

    Love your blog. It would be nice to have the luxury to eat locally, organic, and all that wonderful stuff. But I’m like you I have to buy food, and other things with what I have. Which is not much. Bless you for your website with ideas to do alot with a little.

  3. Well said, Miss Maggie! OK if I link?

  4. Cassandra

    Thanks for that post. I needed to hear that right now. :O)
    <
    Cassandra

  5. Kim

    I love when you talk about this topic. (love your new site, too)

    We can either eat, or eat with agenda. I trust the Lord to give us what we need…and I know He doesn’t want us fearful and stressful about what we eat.

    Great as always. =)

  6. Hi sweetie,

    Nothing profound…just saying Hi!

    from a country girl who eats good enough, too…

    much love,
    Maggie

  7. So well said Maggie! We can’t assume God is going to call all of our hearts in the same way, and it really bothers me when folks do. Being “‘political” just means that we want to see things actually get better and kinder doesnt it? And there are MANY ways to do that, not just material ways like “buy fair trade” etc. I’m with you, politically correct shopping just isnt my calling either. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, and I DO like organic food better, but its just not realistic for me (at least not shopping wise, gardening might be).

    Its more than that too though if i’m honest…deep down the whole politically correct shopping thing just doesnt ~feel~ right in my life. I can’t quite put my finger on why. But whatever that unnamable something is, its what pulls me into the whole “holy poverty” draw too. I think we all just have differnt things laid on our hearts here, different ways we are “political” …

    Peaceful Week : ) Wendy

  8. Nicole

    I for one am glad that you decided to share your knowledge. I am feeding only myself, but I am able to eat more nutritious balanced meals thanks to your efforts!

  9. There are religions that do not eat beef or Pork but do you know why? While some will tell you that it is for religious reasons the facts are as you stated in the first paragraph. They could feed more people with the grain than feeding it to the cows. Cows were also needed for there milk (Cheese and butter). It is also the same reason that the Jewish religion does not eat pork.

  10. Katrina

    I agree, amen 100%!

  11. lavonne

    I am glad to see you have a new website. Searching for something for dinner just wsn’t the same without you. Between your recipes and homeschooling website a lot of us depend on you! Anyway I couldn’t agree more with the idea of what would you be willing to dispatch in order to eat.Many of us like our steak but wouldn’t be able to do in the cow. Also even if you could afford to buy everthing local its almost impossible to find enough to feed a family.I know I tried anyway “Good Enough” is good enough with theories on what you should and should not eat changing daily.if you get the chance read Nourishing Traditions you will be even more confused.Sorry so long!

  12. K in MN

    regardless of choices about food, awareness of consequences should not be ignored. I am a firm believer in making myself heard – I contact legislators, food producers, and also talk with local growers at my farmers’ market to discuss preferences, environmental effects, etc. It is so easy to contact companies now, and someone there will read your message. If you like a product except for its preservative or colorings, let them know! If you think cows should be raised more naturally, let the beef producers know – and if you vote with your food dollars, be sure to mention that, too.

  13. Yes, it’s impossible to shop “perfect.” I have an approach that may appeal to you. I would like to support the development of local, organic, clean food systems, like we used to have. To that end, I TRY to shop local for at least SOME of our groceries, especially when I can find reasonable or cheap prices. Surprisingly, I have found some amazing deals. Sometimes I can get local eggs for $2/dozen. Also, local produce in season is a good deal. I choose to pay more for local milk, but economize in other areas, such as meat (we eat little of it), so that our total budget remains affordable. The way I figure, I am not trying to attain a purity in what we eat, so much as I am trying to help out a local businessman or -woman so that someday they can compete with the factory farmed food chain. (Local goods should be cheaper, it’s just that the distribution system has collapsed). I can do that without doubling my grocery bill. And actually, we are coming in quite a bit below “thrifty”–$350 last month for our family of 3.

  14. chandcar

    Comment to Wendy: I think that what feels wrong about buying “politically correct” food is that there seem to be so many PC zealots out there who try to make you feel bad when you make other choices – and I don’t want to appear to be one of those nasty zealots.

  15. Amy

    How timely to read your entry…I struggle with this constantly. At the end of the day, I figure that even if I buy at Aldi and not from the farmer’s market, we’re still eating better food than most simply because we’re not at the drive thru every day. Good enough…I like it.

  16. Vicki

    Maggie,
    Knowledge is power and just your passion for knowledge will affect all of your decisions on a subconscious level. So just keep trying to be as informed as you can, like you already do, and rest assured that you will do the best you can.

    That’s all anyone can ask of you – to do the best you can. No one can be perfect. There is no perfect diet as you said. We all just do the best we can, which is different for everyone. No one has the right to judge anyone else.

    I really relate to the suffocation of perfectionism, and I frequently have to remind myself of this.

    Thanks for all you do!
    Vicki

  17. Amen Mrs Maggie! I was reading “eat to Live” by Dr. Fuhrman today. I just can’t afford that way of life and I am so glad to see I’m not the only one struggling with this topic lately. I’ve decided, to battle the growing costs of produce this summer, I’m going to have my own little garden. Growing my own tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and spinach alone will make it all worth it. I’m hoping to even learn a little canning in hopes of saving a little money this winter. 🙂
    Blessings to you and your family.

  18. Carol D

    Miss Maggie,

    Do you now or have you ever bought food from Angel Food Ministries? They really have some bargains. Just Curious????????

  19. peachy_pie

    You are so right about this, I was becoming very stressed about the disparity between our need to budget on groceries and my desire to do the right thing. We cannot afford to buy free range chicken, so I have decided we will do without. However, my families health must come first for me before ethical beliefs, so if push comes to shove and we need some eggs or meat in the diet that I can’t afford to buy the ethical option, I can stop being so concerned about doing the ‘right thing’…

  20. I am glad that i found your new website…great post and i will have to look for that book. I have been reading Living More with Less and also trying out recipes in the More With Less cookbook and a lot of what you were talking about is stated in that book too.

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