Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Food Dilemma

I visited the family this week. As always, it felt more tiring than work simply because of the number of people I have to see on an individual basis. The visit was actually quite a pleasant one and I've discovered that my family isn't as awful as I used to think it was. All pleasantness notwithstanding, I ran into an interesting problem trying to explain my position on raw milk to my sister.

Granted, she is only 16 years old and a tad bit superficial (I don't suppose many 16 year olds are not superficial), but I was almost dumbfounded by the way I was unable to articulate, even after being so passionate about the raw milk debate, why raw milk is better than soymilk. I used to be a huge fan of soymilk. I was sensitive to cow's milk, and soymilk seemed healthier anyways. I drank the stuff for years until I started working on a goat farm and goat's milk made more sense to drink than soymilk for multiple reasons:
1.) Availability--no sense in paying for something when you can get a reasonable substitute for free.
2.) Energy--I realized that soymilk, though it may be lower in fat, is still a processed food requiring lots and lots of oil to produce.
3.) Monoculture--I've seen soybean farms, and they're just soybeans for miles and miles--great way to ruin an ecosystem.
4.) Health benefits--as I've said before, raw milk, when acquired from a clean, local source, is a great deal healthier than processed milk or milk substitute products.
5.) Community--can drinking raw milk be a community-building exercise? Absolutely. You quickly meet other people who are passionate about the issue as well and community-building begins there. Raw milk has a very grassroots appeal to it.

My sister is beginning to be conscious about her health, and understands that the milk you buy in gallon jugs in your average grocery store is not good for you. But she thinks that's because of fat, cholesterol, etc. What I tried to explain to her was that conventional cow's milk is bad because of hormones, antibiotics, and, not least, the manner in which animals--living things--are treated. Not to mention the way the dairy industry has become a corporate monster and the government's bitch. But all of this is very abstract. To a child who has grown up in the burbs, food politics means nothing. My sister probably never thinks about farms to begin with, and if she did she would probably only think of how smelly and dirty they are. She doesn't really care where her food comes from, only that it arrives clean and in a plastic wrapper and has not gone past the expiration date.

Good for her that she's becoming health-conscious. More Americans should do the same. But that's not going to be enough if we're going to alter the dominant food paradigm in this country. We have to understand that food comes from somewhere and that it matters where that somewhere is and what that somewhere is like. Is your food grown in the USA? If so, where? Even if your food was grown in the USA, did mistreated migrant workers pick it? Can you vouch for the sustainability of the farm your food was grown on? Have you visited it? Do you have a relationship with your farmer? This does not mean feeling guilty about those bananas you buy or that avocado or the cheese from France. Trade can be a good thing. Unfortunately it has become a monster that destroys the poor and benefits the wealthy. We must simply be more conscious of how our food choices shape the globe. You don't have to be as obsessed as I am, but a little concern would be great.

Now if I could only explain that to my sister.

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