But I haven’t shared as much as I’d like to about how I (and my husband) think about the food we eat. This is a social and health issue that I am crazy-passionate about, so I thought I’d shed a little light on it. Here are some guiding principles and insights into how we eat!
We don’t follow food trends.
Americans are finally realizing that the Western diseases (heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes– to name a few) have gotten the better of us, so there about a thousand different food philosophies to choose from.
Veganism. Vegetarianism. Paleo. Atkins. Locavore-ism. Raw-foodism. Gluten-free. Freeganism. Dairy-free. Pescatarianism.
Perhaps the one thing these philosophies all have in common is their relative high cost and low convenience. You just can’t eat at McDonald’s (or Costco, Walmart, or the food court) when you’re on one of these diets.
But ultimately, I think these food trends woefully miss the point. For us, it’s less about cutting out certain food groups, and more about asking this question: where does our food come from? Who makes it? And what is their end goal?
There’s a systemic problem within our own food industry.
If you’ve read some of my earlier food-related articles, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Michael Pollan. His famous book The Omnivore’s Dilemma brought to light one of the major culprits that has led to all of trending diets I named above: industrial agriculture.
At the risk of sounding like an 8-year-old, I’ll come out and say how I feel: I HATE INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE. It’s cruel. It’s unsustainable. It’s killing the poor and it’s killing us. It’s impossibly lucrative and deceptive. And it’s ruining our planet.
So what is a food-loving flexitarian to do? What is the problem with eating whatever we want?
Let me rephrase that. What’s the problem with the Western diet?
Our problem is agriculture. The advent of agriculture transformed the human experience. And while most people still think of this as progress, one look at Food, Inc. and you’ll think differently.
Agribusiness, especially in the US, is ridden with drugs, patents, corporations, advertisements, and misleading research.
It’s also where a lot of the cruelty comes from. It’s cruel to our planet, it’s cruel to our food, and it’s cruel to many of its own employees. And it’s cruel to its own patrons (you and me).
Ultimately, our enemy is the way that agriculture has developed into an unsustainable, expensive, highly-medicated and insensitive practice.
So my food philosophy revolves around what’s natural, whole, good for the community, good for our planet, and good for our food.
So how shall we eat? A few guiding principles
The problem is that we can’t escape industrial agriculture by following any of these trendy diets. At the very least, we’re going to have to get a little more specific. Here are a few guidelines that we follow:
1) Wholeness. You’ve probably heard the diet tip of shopping only on the perimeters of the supermarket: where the whole foods are. You won’t find soy lecithin lurking in that bunch of organic kale. I eat whole foods as much as possible, in their natural state. This means avoiding packaged foods of all kinds: frozen meals, snacks with a long shelf life, sodas, pre-made sauces, canned soups, lunchables, and more.
2) Cleanness. As I wrote above, so much of our food– animals and plants– is severely medicated. Think that vegetables aren’t as medicated or altered as industrial meat? Think again! Plants and animals raised in an environment that requires antibiotics and pesticides because those environments just aren’t natural: instead, they’re dirty and chemically contaminated. The soil is depleted of nutrients. Natural energy is going to waste. So to me, clean eating means buying organic and local as much as possible. And yes, it means avoiding all industrial meat, animal products, and fish.
3) Seasonal. This is where the farmer’s market comes in! Did you know that different plants are naturally ripe and delicious at different times of year? Some people don’t, because you can buy the bounty year-round at the supermarket. But take a trip to a farmer’s market and you’ll realize that this year-round bounty is not natural. Tomatoes are a summer fruit. Apples ripen in the fall. Eating seasonally means creating meals out of whatever is in the height of its growth that time of year. It’s so fun!
4) Humane. I don’t consider eating animals to be cruelty to animals. We live on a planet where wild animals eat animals. However, I do believe that industrial farming practices are incredibly inhumane. And they’re not just inhumane to cows, pigs and chickens– they’re inhumane to earthworms, grasses, local birds, marine life, and even the humans who work there. If you have access to pastured animals where you live, I encourage you to check it out. These small farms are run by people who feed their animals well. Cows eat grass, not corn. Pigs forage as they do in the wild. Chickens eat what they find in pastures, not chicken feed. This is the type of farming practice I can get behind: where animals are raised in natural environments that would please and sustain their wild ancestors.
A note about eating meat…
If we had a lower weekly grocery budget, I think we would be vegetarian. Possibly even vegan.
In order to uphold our standards for animal products (from dairy and eggs to ground beef and fish), we purchase from suppliers who have been transparent about their ethical standards.
This goes beyond “organic,” as food corporations are starting to own that industry anyway.
I bought a half-chicken yesterday. It was raised by DeyDey’s, a local farm that pastures all of its animals. With much fewer than 1,000 animals, it is teeny-tiny compared to big meat producing farms. Their animals run wild and eat off the land, cultivating it as they go.
This chicken was $6.75 per pound and I paid $11 for it. I’ll be roasting it, boiling it for broth, and then making a delicious chicken tortilla soup out of it this week.
We also eat grass-fed ground beef, which usually sells for $5-$8 per pound. And we buy these sustainably-harvested sardines from Wild Planet.
As far as eggs and milk, we look for brands that are reputable for their treatment of animals. Here is a chart comparing companies that produce organic eggs, and a chart for organic milk, that have evaluated the quality of conditions (and therefore the quality of product).
So you want to eat more real food. Where do you start?
- Prioritize natural farming and sustainable harvesting practices when you shop, and request for your local grocery to stock more organic, fair-trade and/or pastured products.
- Most of us have to mix and match, especially at the beginning. Do what you can.
- That said, we need to rethink why we want food to be our cheapest expenditure. What can you do on the cheap instead? Would you cancel cable TV, go out less, or give up Starbucks in order to eat real food?
- Reconfiguring our grocery budget was the first step. I’ve mentioned this before, but we spend 50% or more of our budget on fresh produce alone.
- Cut out packaged foods and learn to cook (again, slowly).
- Find some more resources. Look for your local CSA (community supported agriculture) to see how much their subscriptions cost. Read any book by Michael Pollan— most are available on Kindle and you can download them right now! Or check out my favorite real-food blog, Live Simply.
There is so much to say on this topic and so little space on a blog! But I promised to write more about myself and things that are important to me, and this is one of them. Let me know if you’d like me to write more often on this subject.
This is how we can love the earth, love our food, and love each other.
How do you decide what to eat, and where to shop for food? Are you willing to try (or do you already love) a real-food diet? I would love to know!