Thursday, February 26, 2009

Philosophy of Eating - Part 2

Before I continue with this "Food Manifesto", I'd like to clarify a few things stemming from Part 1.

First, what I am attempting to do here is to lay out, in some logical format, the tenets that drive my food actions (purchasing, cooking, eating, etc). These are not intended to be prescriptive in any way, but more of an exploration into the way I currently view food and an attempt to explain, as best I can, why I do things a certain way.

Second, these tenets are my ideals. They are not always realistic and are therefore not always realized. Given a choice between 'A' and 'B', I will choose the one that best fits with my food philosophy. But sometimes 'C' is the only option - whether because of economic, geographic, medical, or practical constraints.

Third, each principle here is a result of some conscious thought process that involved some sort of "cost-benefit analysis" - some decisions are more informed than others, but none are merely arbitrary (for the most part anyways) - I've thought about each of these and have my reasons for leaning one way or another. I'd love to have a stack of research articles to back up my beliefs, but sometimes I don't (though I'm convinced they're out there if I just had the time/inclination to go looking).

Lastly, I'm not an expert on any of these matters. I'm just a guy who thinks that the way we approach food has important consequences for our health (in all senses of the word), as well as the health of our land and our society and who has decided to spend some time thinking about these consequences. Now, where was I?

To summarize Part 1 - I try to adhere to the following tenets when dealing with food-related decisions:
1) Home cooked foods/meals are best
2) Variety is good
3) Eat locally

Now, on to #4

4. Avoid as many pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones as possible
Basically, this means buying, growing, and eating "organic" foods. However, "organic" is such a snake's-nest of a word that I think it's best to be more specific. For something to be certified as organic it must meet a set of standards controlled by the USDA. On the face of it, these standards ensure that anything labeled as "organic" meets some minimum set of criteria that precludes the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics, among other things. However, there are numerous farmers out there, particularly small, local farmers, who grow crops or raise livestock which are not certified organic, but which meet or even surpass the USDA's standards. So, even though they have not gone through the certification process and cannot therefore be officially labeled as "organic", they are "organic" in the original and important sense of the word . Also, it might be "better" to buy something from a local producer who is mostly organic, but not certified than from a mega-farm 3,000 miles away that is. Again, it's about choices, but "organic" or not, I prefer my food without the added chemicals

5. Eat meat from farm-raised animals
And by 'farm' I mean the type of place that first comes to mind when most people hear the word 'farm'. Farm-raised livestock eat a more natural diet - i.e. the diet they need to be healthy. I'll go into this more in a later post, but I am fully entrenched in the idea that beef, pork, chicken, and eggs from animals that live on a farm are about a billion times healthier for you than anything raised in a feedlot (by the way, I think this should be self-evident if you've ever actually seen an industrial cattle or pig yard). I keep looking for the definitive science to back me up on this, but it's difficult to figure out what is real and what is "spin" - most websites out there on the topic seem to start with a conclusion in mind, one way or the other, and then work backwards to find the data to support them. What I need is a good nutritional science review article on this subject. But for now, it makes sense to me that healthier animals make for healthier food and farm conditions are more conducive to producing healthier animals. So, I'll choose my locally farm-raised meats (which are also "organic") over the meats available in the supermarket.

6. Avoid artificial ingredients, preservatives and otherwise overly "processed" foods
This one should come as no surprise. Artificial ingredients can do some important things - they keep food fresher, longer, they can increase nutritional value, and they can make food taste and look better. However, they can also do some nasty things - some have been linked to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder in kids , others are linked to obesity, diabetes, and liver disease and processed meats have been linked to prostate and pancreatic cancer. I won't even pretend to think that a few scientific articles makes my point or even that all food additives are toxic. But clearly, they're not all benign either. My point is, given two similar food items, one with artificial ingredients and one without, I believe that the one without is a healthier choice (notice I didn't say that I would always choose that one). Food additives cannot be avoided and our pantry has plenty of items with them. As with many of the previous tenets, the amount of artificial ingredients in our food comes down to a matter of choice and compromise - ideally, I avoid them as much as possible; realistically, I avoid them when it makes sense to.

Still more to come, but it's late and I am out of steam. Hope these ramblings still make sense when I read them in the morning.


Doug Taron said...

Your post prompted me to put in another request with my supplier of raw milk. It's from an Amish farm that raises Gurnsey cows, and it makes amazing cheese. Thanks for the reminder.

Jim Lemire said...

Doug - you're welcome! Linda's begun making cheese - started with a basic mozzarella, but has had a hard time finding the right milk - she's had two failed attempts that she attributes to over-pasteurized milk. I'll have to look into getting some raw milk.