The Politics of Food: Questions

I recently read a blog about vegan bullying.

Yep. You read that right. Vegan bullying is a thing.

It’s time for me to write about food.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a middle-class family with the standard education about the food pyramid, Food Commandments from the ADA, and a mother who was very concerned and conscientious about feeding her children and animals in the best possible way. Remember Adele Davis?

In my adult life, I was never a vegan or even a vegetarian, but I did eat mostly fruit, grain and vegetables. I bought organic whenever possible. I took supplements. I baked my own bread and desserts, made my own granola, and cooked gallons of stews, soups, chili and hot cereal over the years in my crock pot for my family.

Thanks to my mom’s good sense, my lack of a sweet tooth, and my income level, soda, fast food, candy, donuts and other mass produced sweets have never been a large part of my food intake.

All my life, I’ve sincerely believed that I’ve had a healthy, well balanced diet. I avoided white sugar, high-fat and junk food. I made smoothies with low-fat unsweetened yogurt. I grew my own vegetables and herbs. I’ve never been overweight. In fact, I’ve had trouble keeping weight on.

I have a family and/or personal history of rheumatoid arthritis; inflammatory bowel disease; fibromyalgia; constipation; poor circulation; restless leg syndrome; migraines; gout; chronic pain; chronic fatigue; muscle spasm; insomnia; depression; anxiety; asthma; skin and sinus problems; food, environmental and drug allergies; and hypothyroidism.

It’s interesting to note how much of this list has to do with inflammation.

The list is kind of daunting written out like that, but members of my family rarely go to the doctor or take any kind of medication. None of us are overweight. Mom and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. A lot of the above diagnoses are nebulous and chronic rather than acute. We take vitamins, exercise, try to eat well and control our stress, and do our best with the constant presence of chronic pain and discomfort. Conventional medicine can’t do much for most of this list except prescribe pain meds, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines and anti-anxiolytics.

Stepping back and considering our current social context in America, we have millions of people suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a dozen addictions, not the least of which is the current exploding opioid dependence. Millions and millions of people are suffering with increasing anxiety and other mental health challenges, exacerbated by the current political and social climate.  Weight loss programs, supplements, books and weight gurus make billions of dollars a year. We’re obsessed with food, and our relationship to it.

Food production is complicated and often unethical, to say the least. Monocropping practices by Big Agriculture annihilate the land, destroying the delicate, complex web of plants, soil organisms and insects. We’re exposed to artificial fertilizers, insecticides and other poisons, whether we use them or not.

Commercial animal food production practices have frequently been horrifically inhuman and unhealthy, both for the animals and for consumers.

Healthcare, to put it kindly, is in disarray. As a medical transcriptionist, I routinely transcribe medication lists that contain twelve or more prescription drugs. Exponential pharmaceutical costs are in the headlines. I myself have insurance,for the moment,through Obamacare, but it’s useless. The only insurance I can afford has a $5,000 deductible. I couldn’t deal with a $500 deductible. I never see a doctor unless it’s a dire emergency, and then I always have to fill out indigent care paperwork to get a sliding scale fee.

Adding to the confusion is the ever-present influence of money. Advertising. Food stamps. Fast food. Dating. Meeting friends for a drink or at the coffee shop. We struggle to feed our families.  We debate about vending machines in schools and school lunches. We deal with food-borne illnesses. We have no money and live on beer and ramen noodles, or oatmeal, or rice and beans. We know from advertising the right food can make us beautiful, make us strong, cure our ills, provide us with happy relationships, better hair, younger bodies, a perfect date, a more attractive body. We should eat beef. We should eat gluten free. We should eat organic. We should eat a pizza. We should eat vegetarian. We should drink milk. We know how to eat well, but we can’t afford to.  We know how to eat well, but the rest of our family won’t cooperate. We know how to eat well, but we don’t have time.

Yet all life must eat. A living body is a complex system of energy, organs, elements and chemistry, and we know a lot about how the complex system of the human body works. If we don’t feed our body well, it gets sick.

We all think we know what it means to eat well, based on learned information, our experience within our own bodies, our observations of others, and in some cases our spiritual and political beliefs. Of course, it’s hard to think clearly when in the grip of an addiction to sugar and carbs (this includes alcohol), but that counts only if we acknowledge our addiction and its power to drive our behavior, right?

We all know what a good diet is. Everyone knows. It’s merely a question of self-discipline.

If only it was that simple.

In fact, everyone doesn’t necessarily know what a good diet is, for themselves or anyone else. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of disagreement, a lot of conflicting “science” and advice. There are a lot of social, financial and political agendas, a lot of manipulation and brainwashing, a lot of misleading and frankly false “information.”

Why is one of the most basic activities of life so complicated? Why is there so much conflicting “information?” Why are we so unhealthy? Why are we so dependent on Big Pharma? Why are people in their late 20s having heart attacks and strokes? Why is there an obesity epidemic? Why is diabetes on the rise?

When did we get to the point of vegan bullying, or any kind of food bullying, for that matter?

Finally, lest we Americans forget there are people outside America, how is it possible that famine still exists in the world when so much food is wasted and discarded every day? What social and political dynamics allow people to starve to death in Africa or anywhere else, while other populations suffer malnourishment and metabolic starvation encased in obesity elsewhere?

This blog to be continued next week.

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Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

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