Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good Food For The Poor

(This post is copied from "Food Inc" which I wrote on my Steve Kimes, Anawim Esq blog)

My daughter, Nikki, was radically offended by a movie they showed in school a couple weeks ago. I would have thought that my son would have been offended by his school showing Sweeney Todd to his stagecraft class (I know I was), but he was fine by that. But my daughter had a real problem with the film Food Inc.

Honestly, she had problems with food, as it is, because she's such a picky eater. She doesn't eat most meat, not because she has a moral problem with it-- she does eat hot dogs and chicken nuggets-- but because she doesn't like it. Well, this movie sent her right to the edge of being a full vegetarian. She decried the abuse of chickens and was horrified at the brief shots of slaughterhouses.

I went ahead and watched Food Inc. myself, with the rest of my family going in and out of watching it with me. I hope that doesn't come back to bite me. So to speak.

Food, Inc. is a documentary that is basically presenting some of the more radical points of two books, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is a shame that some of the more interesting points of the second book weren't presented, but the documentary was more focused. It was concentrating on how the incorporation of the food industries have caused problems for both animals and humans.

It presents it's points well, having extensive interviews with the authors of the books as well as farmers and organic food producers. Interestingly, it isn't completely against incorporation, giving a more balanced perspective of the relationship between the organic dairy company Stoneybrook Farms and Wall-Mart. It shows that it is possible for customers to vote with their pocketbook, by purchasing food that is raised better.

However, and more realistically, it also shows that purchasing good food that is healthy for both humans and animals isn't possible for a large percentage of Americans. It shows a family who is just making ends meet because of health costs and time constraints, and so they are forced to eat fast food and cannot buy vegetables. If you've only got a few dollars and you want to feed your family in a hurry, you can either get each of them a hamburger-- made from unhealthy beef, encouraging horrible animal care practices-- or you can buy your kids Little Debbies and soda.

This is my family's reality. I've had doctors and others tell us what we should be eating, but the fact is, we can't afford it. Vegetables are expensive, even your basic lettuce. Last night, I wanted to buy a salad for the meal we were serving to the homeless, so I figured I could pick up a couple heads of iceberg lettuce and a bunch of romaine to mix it up. However, when I got there I found that this store switched to all organic produce and it carried the organic price tag. Smaller heads of lettuce cost twice as much as they would have regularly, and to add romaine to that was out of my price range. I ended up paying more for bagged lettuce, but at least I had a salad. But this means that I have fewer options for other meals.

Donated food is also problematic. The far majority of donated food is bread and other high carb options. Protein is difficult to get, and organic options are laughable. The non-profit groups, like our own, do our best to serve healthy, balanced, and tasty meals, but our resources are limited.

People wonder why the poor are fat. It's not because they are lazy or because they make terrible choices with their limited food dollars. It's because their food dollars won't allow them to eat nutritionally.

And why is that? Primarily because the government subsidizes corn products, but not more nutritious items like broccoli or spinach. They regulate meat to a certain degree, but not with an eye to the over all health of their nation. The government nutrition guidelines are a joke-- they recommend way too much carbs and way too little veggies. Now, I know why they do that. They are trapped between the two pincers of the reality of what is available to most Americans and the powerful food industry lobbies.

But until the government makes serious practice changes, the food industry won't change. The food industry, honestly, is giving us what we buy. We are addicted to addictive foods, which are bad for us. And so our addictions are controlling the market, making the bad foods cheaper and the good foods more expensive.

If the government subsidizes healthy food, then the poor will be required to change their eating practices. If the poor have more veggies and fewer carbs, then their systems will be less stressed and they will make better life choices. The whole of society will benefit.

However, we know how government works. They don't do anything unless they are demanded of. They continue to vote for immigration bills that they know-- both Republicans and Democrats-- that are bad for the economy. George Bush presented a balanced immigration bill to a Republican congress, but it failed because of the outcry of the American people. Healthcare will continue to be stalled because the American people are nervous about losing what they have. If the Farm Bill-- the main policy map that determined government subsidy of food-- isn't changed by the voice of the American people, it will be determined by the lobbyists. The American people must demand better food for all the people, not just those who are able to afford it.

For this reason, I wish that every American could see this documentary, Food Inc. Not because all of it's points are good, but until people realize there is a problem, they will never try to create solutions.

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