Food Politics

Every once in a while I think about food as a political-social issue.  When I step back and think about it, I spend a LOT of time thinking about food.  What I’m going to eat, how it will be prepared, how to time it so everything comes out at the same time/temperature, who will eat it with me, what I’ll do with the leftovers….  When I’m shopping, I spend a lot of time thinking about where my food came from, how this impacts the price and how full of chemicals/pesticides/sodium it is.  Overall, food is a huge part of my life and it’s an even huger (is that a word?!) part of my thinking process.

I won’t get on a soapbox here but I will make a few short points:

1.  If you have very little money, it is much harder to avoid processed, less than fresh foods.  Partly because fresh veggies are expensive, partly because you probably have less time to cook and partly because these fresh, organic, “whole” foods are not marketed to you.  (Click here for an interesting story about a local farmer’s market that is now taking SNAP funds) What is stocked in, say inner-city grocery stores, are “convenience” foods- pre-cooked or frozen or just- add-water kinds of foods.

2. If you don’t have much experience with cooking and using food in its original form, you may not realize how easy it is to use under-processed foods.  You may naturally turn to pre-cooked, full of sodium foods and assume that it’s as good as it gets. There are plenty of programs and chefs out that that focus on this good food, fast concept- Rachel Ray comes to mind, as does Sandra Lee.  I’d say though, that while I don’t really care for either, I’d take Rachel over Sandra any day.  Sandra’s food tends to be (as her slogan boldly states) 70% store bought, 30% homemade– she generally starts with these pre-packaged, pre-made foods and sort of doctors them.  In my mind, it’s far better to use fresher, more basic food and spend ten more minutes than to use pre-packaged stuff.  Mashed potatos for example- boxed require you to add milk and butter.  Fresh would require you to peel potatos, boil them and then add milk and butter.  Why not do the minor extra step?  Increase in flavor, texture and health benefit.

3.  Making a committment to buying local food, healthy food, and fresh food is big.  It’s a lot of work and may involve going to several stores.  It involves doing research to know where your food comes from, what’s in season locally and who’s benefiting from your purchase.  It may involve finding alternative food sources- local farms, farmer’s markets, CSAs…  In short, it becomes about much more than just what’s for dinner.  (On that note, click here for a list of clean/dirty veggies so you at least have a place from which to start.)

4.  While movies like “Food Inc” and books like “Fast Food Nation” have been trying to put these issues in the mainstream media, it doesn’t seem to really be taking, at least not evenly throughout our society.  Again, I think it goes back to socio-economics, geography and your hierarchy of needs (If you’ve lost your job and are trying to hang on to your house, it may not occur to you to make sure you’re eating organic, locally sourced apples).

Why am I thinking about this today?  Two reasons.  First, money is tight around here and our last “splurge” is healthy food.  I hate that it’s framed this way- food, as a basic human need, should not be considered a “splurge.”  But where we are in my pay cycle and our bills to cash ratio determines what I buy and where we shop.  My definition of “wealthy” is going to include being able to shop for food each week where I want and being able to buy what I want.  Secondly, last night I made an extremely strange dish that was composed almost entirely of pre-made foods.  It was so out of character for me, that I started thinking about the Whole Food Thing.

It was a dish out of a crockpot cookbook given to me a zillion years ago.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never made anything out of it.  Last night I started too late- the baby is sick AGAIN, don’t get me started- and ended up just making it in the oven.  It was a sort of casserole that called for packaged stuffing, condensed cream of mushroom soup, pre-cooked chicken and a few fresh veggies.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to use the soup so I made my own (much like the last casserole recipe I posted).  In the end, I was not a fan but my husband was (which I think says something about our culinary upbringings).

We discussed it afterwards and, really, had I not used a store rotisserie chicken (which is one shortcut I do use but not often as I know they aren’t that good for you-lots of sodium and oil), it would have been all “fresh” ingredients except for the stove top.  I suppose I could even make stuffing of my own and then it would all be fresh.  For me though, that didn’t matter- it was still lacking a green veggie, something I’ve been conditioned to believe belongs with each meal.

It’s a shame that healthy food from “scratch” has become something of a rarity in our society.  Fast food, take-out, eating out, pre-made foods…. all of these have taken the place of homemade dinner.  It’s no wonder that we’re not as healthy a society as we might be.  It makes me sad.  As I think I’ve mentioned, I had a friend look at me in surprise once and say, “You cook a lot, huh?”  It’s sad to me that meal planning and cooking at home each night isn’t the norm for most of the people I know.  My reply to her?  “Well, yeh, once or twice a day.  Or else we don’t eat.”

No recipe today, just these thoughts.  Care to share yours?


7 thoughts on “Food Politics

  1. This was such a great post, I forwarded it along to some of my poor foodies. The state of the grocery store makes me so upset. Tonight I wanted spinach, and it was out of control expensive, but mac and cheese was every where, 2/$1. sigh.

    i hope babyG feels better soon.


  2. I didn’t cook as much when I worked a full-time job. I was too tired to think about anything but hamburg, broccoli, and grapes. Anything that didn’t take much prep. Now I’m at home and I enjoy cooking. I look forward to your recipes. Blessings to you…

  3. HC- I KNOW! It stinks. Plus, while I used to really love Mac n Cheese, I now can’t stand it. Unless I’ve made it and added butternut squash in which case, it’s the best. thing. ever. I could say a whole lot more about the politics of food, healthy eating and weight as related to economics and social class and geography but I figured it would get boring.

    Carol Ann- I completely understand. Cooking is about the ONLY thing I do aside from work and take care of the baby. I try to get to the gym as well but that’s about all my time. It takes an enormous amount of planning and prep-ing over the weekend to pull it off.

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  5. Love this post. I’m not sure about healthy always being more expensive. I stopped working full time in October and our food budget has been slashed by more than half. Most of the time the way I’m managing is by making food from scratch. Of course. I have more time now which is what many folks don’t have. It isn’t just the cooking that takes time. Its the thinking about what is in season. We’ve had a crap load of butternut squash soup and mushroom soup recently. It is the growing of herbs from season so I’m not paying through the nose for them. I’m not willing to say vegetables yet as that would suggest we’ve had success in that area. I think you can do healthy and cheap, I’m pretty sure local, eco friendly, frugal and cheap is near to impossible. At least here in Arizona.

  6. Tepary, I agree, it’s probably not impossible to eat healthy on the cheap but I do think it’s harder. And when you add in all the extra time to cook, shop, plan….well, most people who are struggling with money, I would imagine just wouldn’t have that kind of time.

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