Food Resolutions for Thought

How’s that New Year’s Resolution going? Perhaps you vowed to drink less or hit the gym more? Maybe you promised to eat healthier food.

f3b8The Washington Post must have resolved to knock it out of the park with food-related columns and articles this year. For instance, food isn’t healthy, NOT EVEN KALE. Before you toss the device you’re reading this on away from you in disgust, check out the article. Or read my summary: foods hold different nutrients. It’s how we nourish ourselves with them makes us healthy. The whole of our diet matters more than kale or bacon alone.

Moving on, this WaPo column, The surprising truth about the food movement, details the chronic over-hyping of the Food Movement, the fruit of self-sufficient ideas planted by Back-to-the-Land hippies in the 1960s. Their ethos grew into the ideologies behind bestsellers, such as anything by Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and the evolution of New York Times columnist Mark Bittman from a foodie to the founder of vegan-ish-ism.

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The Food Movement’s message is loud clear: people want real food. Real food is nutritious, lacks pesticides, local and doesn’t hurt anyone in its production. It’s also nice to the animals you’re eating. Wild is better than farmed. Foraged is best. (Note: This last point may be a sentiment confined to Wisconsin thing.)

But, in general, Americans aren’t so clear about whether they want a food movement. The amount of processed foods purchases barely budged from 2002-2012.

What’s more: it’s a bit of nostalgic fantasy that Americans in general have the time and money to buy, prepare and eat all whole, local, sustainable foods while living modern lifestyles. Who has time to prepare 21 fresh meals each week? Who’s going to give up their guilty-pleasure Girl Scout cookies and Bagel Bites? Luckily for today’s Americans, it’s that whole-shebang diet, not just an heirloom tomato or a Twinkie, that makes up our diet.

So, the column continues, food manufacturers are producing the next best thing to Food Movement-friendly, whole foods: processed perishables produced with more natural ingredients that are closer to foods than, as Polan would say, food-like substances.

Nonetheless, people are thinking more about food, and it’s grown into a conversation that’s taking root in public policy. SNAP money is redeemable at farmers markets. More insurance companies (at least in the Madison, Wisconsin, area) are offering to pony up for part of your CSA (community-share agriculture, which is kind of like a ritzy subscription to a farm). As increasing numbers of consumers seek sustainability and food transparency, the big players in an industry starved for profits are listening more closely.

Campbell’s Soup Co. announced it’s in favor of GMO labeling on products, a food fight that’s been raging nationally for more than a decade. Kellogg’s has resolved to remove all artificial ingredients in its cereals by 2018. Food industry consultancy and thought leader Euromonitor named sustainability one of the top trends of 2016.

The WaPo column says these food formulation changes are a pittance in regards to the big picture. But I disagree.

Food tells a story about how we once lived. The United States was, at one time, a patchwork of farming communities. But we’ve been uprooted. The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census showed that those who count farming as their livelihoods is decreasing rapidly as farmers age.

Humans, being the hunters and eaters that we are, have been disconnected from our natural habitat. Our bodies weren’t designed for a leisure-rich technological age. But reconnecting to our food, even if it’s just through naturally colored Annie’s Homegrown White Cheddar Bunnies crackers, is important. It reminds us of where we came from. Because that means we’re thinking about it. We want to be healthier, like nearly every New Year’s resolutioner.

Change to a more nutritious food system won’t happen overnight. But moves toward more natural products, ingredients and production methods help us feel more connected to the land that sustains us, the land we’re all joint stewards of. And that keeps us thinking.

So maybe you haven’t completely followed through on your New Year’s Resolution. But you’re thinking about it, right? An extra trip to the gym and a few fewer drinks or donuts each week make a significant cumulative difference. Small changes incrementally result in a new norm, leading to large and long-lasting results.

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