Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Far from Food

As Canadians, we have an abundance of available food but our demand for large quantities of low cost food has resulted in diminished food quality. The price we pay for this preference is steep: Plastic food is the result of the increased pollution that food processing requires and decreased nutritional value caused by mass farming, additives and processing. We must now take into account both the foods’ affect on our bodies as well as on the Earth to determine if it is healthful or not.

Commercials are constantly bombarding us with the message that there is no time to cook, and many people believe it; then they offer their magical solution: pre-cooked, pre-cut and preservatives. Bread of all sorts has been made around the world for millennia but because now we have ‘no time’, we can shop only once a week and the bread has to stay mould free. This notion of ‘no time’ is a compromise where work outweighs food and it is one many are not willing to make.

In the 1950s, more women were in the workforce and there was less time at home. Artificial preservatives became the norm and are still used in a vast selection of foods today. The problem is that many people don’t think they have reason to be afraid of artificial preservatives because they are seldom acknowledged. Fortifying foods, on the other hand, is just the opposite. Brands follow the trends and modify their food accordingly, so that their product can be high in antioxidants, contain sucralose, or Omega-3. The problem is that scientists and nutritionists have no clear data on whether or not our bodies are able to properly absorb nutrients when they are so far removed from their original source. Author Michael Pollan states that, “We know how to break down a kernel of corn or grain of wheat into its chemical parts, but we have no idea how to put it back together again." Companies use cheap products and cheap production methods for maximum profit and then fill the products with some of the vitamins that had been killed during the process as well as some trendy additions and call it “fortified”. Where traditional bread can be made with yeast, flour and water, WonderBread contains more than fifteen ingredients, many of which are preservatives. WonderBread actually recommends boys aged 14 to 18 eat seven slices of Wonder Classic White Bread a day, claiming that this will “ease them into whole grains”.

The food we are eating every day is so far removed from its original state that I have begun questioning the corporations’ right to call their creations “food”. Definitions of the term vary but common most common is “nourishment”; Plastic food is not nourishing.Vegetables can now be bought sliced and diced (often with a steeper price). Cutting a carrot doesn’t really take long, but ripping open a plastic bag is still faster. The hidden cost is that cutting vegetables and exposing them to oxygen results in a loss of vitamins (especially vitamin C). Pre-cut vegetables also come packaged in plastic, which won’t decompose for hundreds of years.

Some vegetables today have as much as half of the vitamins that they did just fifty years ago. Vegetables have been genetically modified to suit the producer. Tomatoes are picked before they have developed their vitamins naturally from the sun, and are made firmer to help protect them while buried under stacks of crates in the back of an 18-wheelers for hours. Then they sit somewhere else and wait to be sent to your grocery store and sold as cardboard impressions of tomatoes; they are the example of what Michael Pollan calls a “notional tomato, idea of a tomato” in Food Inc. We have to demand our food be changed back, and in the meantime shop local and get to know the people who grow your food.

Cooking a healthy dinner from fresh vegetables may take a few minutes longer than a frozen dinner in the microwave, but it will be healthier for you now, and in five years, when the waste from the un-degraded frozen dinner is still sitting atop a garbage pile hidden outside your city. When did adding more chemicals become the process of making something ‘fresh’? Chemicals for freshness: It is an oxymoron but accepted and mostly unquestioned.

Frozen food is a perfect example of real, nutritious food becoming plastic. The list of steps the food takes before reaching the store is extensive; to grow, to spray with chemicals, to harvest, to package, to ship, to store and to sell each produces (but does not have to!) pollution. Along each step there is a machine spewing toxins into the environment. Even when the product reaches stores, it is wrapped in layers of plastic (pollution) and then electricity is used to keep it “fresh”. By this point, I consider the food suffocated and dead.

Obsessed with cleanliness and mass sterilization we have welcomed plastic food with open mouths. By “plastic”, I am referring to: WonderBread, to produce that has been altered on every level; from its genetic structure to its leaves spayed with pesticides and to chicken nuggets that started as genetically altered birds, fed genetically altered corn and were then pulled apart, pulverized and pureed before being squeezed back together with more chemicals to maintain the nugget shape.

No matter how quickly it can get from the store to your mouth, I promise: This is not convenient food! It makes us lazy, passionless cooks and removes our connection to the Earth until we forget how fragile it is. There is now such a disparity between the animal and the products sold in the grocery store that consumers are also forgetting to think about the product before it was sprayed, packaged and shipped. This divergence has allowed corporations to maintain and feed their chemical addiction. Ingredients are listed amongst a code of acronyms: EDT (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) are just a few. BHT is also used in embalming fluid. Ironically, we are putting this in our bodies all in the name of “fresh”.

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