The Golden Rule of Eating

I watched this documentary a couple weeks ago and thought it was interesting.  And then a friend of mine commented about it on facebook after she watched it:

“Watching Vegucated—want to pull my hair out.  Totally agree that industrialized meat is inhumane and disgusting, but then the vegan filmmaker takes her “vegan converts” to a “small” family farm in an apparent effort to show them that even family farms don’t treat their animals humanely—this “small” farm had 3800 chickens.  Really?  Come on.  That doesn’t sound small to me!  Also, she doesn’t take her vegan converts to any soy farms where they might see farmers using RoundUp and GMO crops, spraying pesticides, and destroying natural habitat in order to monocrop.

She takes her “converts” to the grocery store and shows them all sorts of products, like Duncan Hines icing and Oreos, that are vegan approved.  No mention of how bad the hydrogenated fats, sugars, GMOs, food additives, etc. in these products are.  On the other hand, she makes a point to emphasize how bad sat fats and cholesterol are—no mention of the different types of sat fats or acknowledgement that we do, in fact, NEED cholesterol to function properly.

I’m all for vegetables and I respect different diet choices that people make based on culture, animal rights, etc., but I want to see more films/books that present various ways that a person can eat whatever their preferred foods are in a sustainable, healthy and humane way.”

 

In addition to my meager two cents thrown in, she had an actual small farmer (currently has 67 chickens) and a nutritionist weigh in with their frustrations, too.  The farmer objects to the notion that every animal farmer is cruel and tells a story of holding one of his hens in his arms as she breathed her last breath.  I’m quite certain Tyson chickens don’t get the same ending.  The nutritionist expresses her long building frustration with “self-righteous and often misinformed” vegans.

All of this got me thinking more.  We self-proclaimed foodies were voicing our frustrations over the fact that someone made a film that disagrees with the way we think people should eat.  Hmmm….

How SHOULD people eat?

This question has become incredibly popular in the United States and everyone would like to help you answer it.  You can’t pass a magazine rack without some headline claiming to have the best new diet for weight loss, great skin, more energy, better sex, bigger muscles, thicker hair, 6-pack abs, prettier toenails, etc. all while spending no more than 20 minutes in the kitchen.  Book stores have ever-growing sections devoted to cookbooks and diet books all making the same promises and more.

Who do we believe?  Famous chefsDietitians?  Our government, as in the USDA?  Researchers?  Our taste buds?

If you checked out all those links, you may be considering giving up trying to be healthy and tearing through your final stash of Twinkies.  According to Michael Pollan, perhaps grandma is our best point of reference.  In one of his books, he suggests this rule of thumb:  If grandma wouldn’t recognize something as food, don’t eat it.  This basically rules out most processed foods like fruit snacks, portable yogurt, and chicken nuggets.   But that rule of thumb will only last for a couple of generations until the chicken nugget-making-moms become grandmas and the memory of home cooked Sunday dinners becomes just an archaic weird scene in the movies.

Then what?  It struck me through the aforementioned facebook conversation that we are all talking about eating for different purposes.

Before we can answer how we should eat, we must first decide WHY we are eating.

In this country, most of us are not eating just for physical survival of the species.  Some are eating to satisfy hunger, which is a topic for another post.  But what about the rest of us?  Why do I eat what I eat?

Are we eating for optimal well-being?  Pleasure?  Minimal harm to the ecosystem?  Sustainability for future generations?  Observance of religious rules?  Cultural customs?  To minimize chronic conditions?  To make the most of a tight budget?  Another friend selects her food based on what will most benefit the producers who actually grow and raise the food, and the healthy diet is just a great side effect.  Can it be all of the above?

Consider these two conundrums.

1. Should I eat bananas?

PRO: They support health, I find them pleasurable, they don’t offend my religious beliefs, my culture supports it, and they are affordable.

CON: I live in Ohio, where bananas are not local so they must be shipped, likely overseas, to reach me.  This means more pollution for the environment than if I picked an apple off a tree in my backyard (I wish!).  I could purchase organic bananas to reduce harm to the ecosystem, but that would reduce the affordability aspect and still require long-distance shipping.  I don’t know if the bananas are being raised sustainably because that information is not available at the supermarket.

2. Should I buy local or certified organic apples, assuming they are the same price?

LOCAL: I would be supporting a local businessperson.  The apples did not need to be shipped as far, likely minimizing pollution.  I could investigate the growing practices more easily if I could go to the orchard itself.  Some smaller producers may use practices that are organic or nearly organic, but haven’t become certified for various reasons including cost.

ORGANIC:  Growing practices meet organic standards, which should be sustainable and ecosystem friendly.  According to some, organic is better for my health.  If shipped in bulk, the environmental impact per apple could actually be lower for items shipped from further away due to the impact of scale.

Conclusions?

This is the point in the post where I am supposed to provide some answers and sum everything up neatly, right?  Not so simple.  Much like in choosing a religion, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to what we eat.  That’s what makes this a topic interesting enough to blog about and read aboutOur selections say something about who we are and what we believe in.

I like to think that most religions/belief systems are 90% complimentary to each other.  Regardless of who, what, where, or if we worship, we can all pretty much agree on the Golden Rule.  Maybe within this food debate we can find the equivalent.  (It can’t be chocolate since some religions ban caffeine…)

Got ideas?

Now accepting submissions for the “Golden Rule of Eating.”

 

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