Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What is Safe?

Every day I read about something new that I should not eat. I have no problem rejecting the traditional culinary battery of foods such as meat, since that's sort of a no-brainer among the environmental crowd. But then there came corn--the holy of holies for Mexican food, and a personal summer favorite. I am fortunate in that my grandparents are still able to grow their own, so I can indulge in the occasional corn cob without destroying the Midwestern grasslands. But there's also soybeans (currently taking over the Amazonian rainforest), which have come to be central to my diet, as commercially produced milk is full of hormones (and where am I going to get cheap organic milk until I start working on the goat farm again?) and so I rely on soymilk and sometimes soy yogurt. Not to mention the fact that many processed goods contain soy (just because soybeans have been hippie food does not make them sustainable to grow), corn syrup (is there anything that doesn't have corn syrup in it? I bought some cranberry juice the other day that, lo and behold, had corn syrup in it), hydrogenated oils, palm oil, etc. Then there's the banana issue, which is particularly painful to me since bananas happen to be my favorite everyday fruit only surpassed by local berries and peaches when they're in season.

So what is the answer to this? It isn't enough for people to buy local or in season anymore. I believe that in order to have a truly healthy relationship with the earth and thus our food, we must know exactly where and how our food came to be. Did that head of lettuce come from a huge field of lettuce plants or was it part of a polyculture? Were pesticides or herbicides used in any part of the growing process? Is the field this farmer cultivates used responsibly? We need to get behind the crop and learn about it. We need to know the growing seasons and harvests. We need to be a part of the harvests. We need to plant tomatoes and squash in our windowboxes instead of petunias so we can have some sense of where our food comes from.

I am fortunate in that I have grown up with farming. I have smelled barnyard smells and heard cows lowing and had the sticky residue of the tomato plant all over my hands and I have been up to my neck in yellow squash fresh from the garden. The act of growing something, harvesting it, and consuming it is probably one of the more satisfactory deeds I have done. Unfortunately, this intimacy with food is completely lost to most of our society. All the average American can say about vegetables is that they grew in the ground somewhere. This knowledge is not enough. If only we as a society were as hungry for the details of our food as we are for the food itself...

Ah, but then this revolution of sorts must start with me. Vive la revolution!

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