Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Food, Inc.

I saw the most powerful movie last night: Food, Inc. This is without a doubt the single most important film about the single most important issue of our time. In an era when we're expending tremendous energy talking about healthcare, hospitals, crime, poverty, families disintegrating, and a failing economy, we need to be addressing the issues surrounding our food. All these other issues stem from a corporate corruption of our food supply.

When I was 11, I went vegetarian largely as a response to factory farming. Many people still promote vegetarianism and veganism as a solution for healthier living. While vegetarianism is preferable to diseased, processed meat from Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFO's), and I'm very glad for the 12 formative years I spent as a vegetarian, I don't think it's the answer anymore. 90% of the soy available in the USA is genetically modified and unlabeled. Organic soy has been contaminated by GMO pollen. Furthermore, there are far too many "meat-and-potatoes vegetarians" who live off packaged food. I love Morningstar Farms as much as the next West Coaster (and don't ever get between me and my mac & cheese), but this lifestyle does nothing to address the pollution involved in mass transport of flavorless, out-of-season veg trucked across continents and flown overseas, nor does it address the desperate problems faced by our nation's farmers.

I'm no longer vegetarian, but I love my vegetables. And lately I've been devouring certain fruits and vegetables I always thought I didn't like. Tomatoes, for example. I never really much liked them - mushy, mealy berries with no flavor beyond a faint whiff of watery ketchup. Turns out I just never had a tomato before. These past couple of summers I've been enjoying several varieties of fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes from local farms, and the experience has been sublime! Last year I tried my first one on a whim, sliced a little piece off to taste it, and wound up devouring the entire thing whole, leaning over the kitchen sink with the juice running down my elbows. Probably an odd source for religious ecstasy, but I dare you to try it.

I'm really starting to believe that salvation lies at the farmer's market. There are several here in Portland, with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits for a diverse, nutritious diet. If you think there's not a farmer's market near you, look harder. And failing that, go straight to the farm or grow your own. A patio or balcony can be surprisingly productive. Farms are happy to sell you chickens, beef, pork, whatever you want, and often it's cheaper to buy direct. If it isn't, the cost is worth it.

My grandmother often says, "I'd rather have a big grocery bill than a big doctor bill." Fortunately it doesn't have to be one or the other.

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