Saturday, July 17, 2010

Another Year as an Eater

This is neither here nor there, but a photo of the delectable strawberry shortcake from the strawberry social I attended.

My alarm goes off at 6:30am. I stretch my arms and legs as the early morning light filters in through my window. How glorious are clear, summer mornings! It’s my birthday (well, yesterday was), and I am only one year off from a quarter of a century. Perhaps it is just me, but birthdays seem to induce a bit of personal reflection and evaluation. Because my life invariably revolves around food at the moment, I can’t help think about how my own approach towards food has altered drastically in the past ten years.

Would it surprise you if I admitted to subsisting largely off of frozen yogurt and clam chowder during my last year of Junior High School? That I stopped eating fish after a video in my 10th grade biology class, but continued to rely on nutrition bars for after-school snacks? That I subsisted largely off of Boca burgers for protein until only a couple of years ago? It baffles me that over the course of ten, or even just five, years my attitude towards the production, processing, and nutrition of the food I put in my body has evolved so much.

Mmm...local strawberries...

There are now so many factors to consider in sourcing food that were not even on my radar growing up, nor mainstream knowledge until recently. If you want to be a conscious consumer, you can probably find a cause about which you are passionate that links to food.

Children’s health and school lunch nutrition has made headlines many times since the Obamas took over the White House. With the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity and the resurgence of her backyard garden, not to mention iconic chefs like Jamie Oliver putting in some time, this issue experiences a high level media attention. Grassroots activists in the form of parents and teachers (see Fed Up With School Lunches Blog). And as far as political leverage goes, the reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act this year could very well see some revamping of the lunches available for school-age children.

Links between Climate Change and food production have also gained steam and benefited from additional attention. Agricultural practices impact and at the same time are greatly impacted by climate change. Wow, as I was writing that statement, this video basically captured my words! Our ability to grow food also depends on the availability of water, how extreme our temperatures become, soil degradation, etc. While some regions in northern latitudes might actually fare better, most of the lower latitudes will experience diminishing yields from their lands, particularly in dry regions or areas prone to tropical storms. But agriculture is also part of the problem. Between land conversion, fertilizer and chemical uses, industrial animal production, and the transportation of products, agriculture contributes about 13% of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions worldwide. Though a bit simplistic, this little carbon calculator is a fun way to see which foods in your diet are most carbon-intensive.

You can also approach food from the economic and social side of things. Local Slow Food organizations and farmers markets celebrate the seasonal bounty of produce and promote the support of local producers. I attended Slow Food Seattle’s strawberry social, at which a farmer from the Puyallup Valley educated the attendees about the growing and selling of strawberries within Washington State. So while the season may only last a month or so, the berries in the region put pithy, unripe Californian strawberries to shame. Steven Colbert has even broached the link between farming and the economy by inviting a leader in United Farm Workers onto his show.

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But beyond my own personal dietary choices, I have come to realize that the world food system is so complex and convoluted that individual consumers are only part of the solution. Tom Philpott recently expounded upon this topic, noting the need for political action and likening it to our country’s effort to enact climate policy. There seems to be plenty of work whatever approach one chooses to take in our great food challenges, so take your pick!

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