Why do we eat what we eat? How do we make our food decisions? Or, more important, who else is “helping” us make those food choices?
As consumers of food, we really need to understand how we got to our present food system from the marketing side, the forces that created our weak, subliminal attachment to food. Read these books and then walk down the aisles of your local supermarket (not around the outside where most of simpler foods are displayed). Take a few minutes and read the ingredients in most of the processed “foods.” I can promise you will never see food the same again.
In her fascinating look at the forces that created our present relationship with food, Kitchen Literacy, written by Ann Vileisis, the scientific, cultural and marketing forces that took us from a hands-on existence with food (unless you had servants or slaves) to one that is carefully controlled by today’s mega-food companies. She examines the arc from eating only seasonal and/or stored foods to the current supermarket cornucopia of “foods,” with their emphasis on calorie count while being made from a long list of industrial “ingredients.” I will take an in-depth look at this book on my blog at www.19thstreetfarms.com in the next couple weeks.
A complementary work is The End of Overeating by David Kessler, MD. He approaches from a different direction, looking at exactly how major food companies have developed foods that appeal to us. Their clever combinations of “fat, sugar & salt” have obviously worked. Just walk down the aisles in any major grocery store and they are there. Thousands and thousands of prepared foods, convenient to use, calorie rich, and seemingly less expensive. After reading this book, I cannot look at any food, commercial or not, without looking at how it matched up to that wonderful marketing triad. Kessler’s sub-title sums up his aim…”taking control of the insatiable American appetite.” Eating can continue to be a sensuous, satisfying, social activity, but based more on simple, seasonal foods prepared at home. The last section of the book explains techniques and strategies to regain our real appetites
While the first two books focused on the whys of what we eat, another new release, The Safe Food Handbook, concentrates on avoiding common contamination issues with food. The food industry has had to deal with numerous food-related outbreaks over the past few years…spinach, sprouts, meat, etc., etc. This has lead to an increased concern about food safety. Author Dr. Heli Perrett’s handbook gives a concise, easy-to-use format for consumers needing an overview of the issues, common problems and, most important, solutions and methods to avoid contamination and illness. It does not cover much new ground. Books like Marion Nestle’s Food Safety and What to Eat cover this area in more depth, with extensive historical background. But, for the average consumer, The Safe Food Handbook provides the crucial information needed to avoid getting sick from common foods.
The first two books can help us eat better but will not solve the upcoming issue…rising food prices. A perfect storm of bad weather, increasing demand from new economies and now the Middle East turmoil threatens to drive up all agricultural production inputs. With most food production and transportation being petroleum-based, so as gas prices break $4.00/gallon, food prices can only follow. And, food has been one of the driving forces in the Middle East uprisings. In fact, some say the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting the confiscation of his fruit stand, really triggered these series of falling dominos as “the people” speak up in country after country.
Meanwhile, the whole world will begin to deal with the cost of food, the availability of food, and should develop alternative plans for feeding people as the current system moves toward serious problems. More on this in an upcoming blog.
Tags:farmers markets, food marketing, Food Production issues, Food quality, gardening, home food production, Industrial Agriculture issues, local food movement, organic gardening, Urban agriculture, US Food issues, World food situation