Food and Health

By Jim Van Der Pol

We are what we eat. But in another way, we are what we think. And what we think is that we are consumers. Corporations call us consumers and we allow them to get away with it. In the same way, drug pushers have been advertising their wares on television saying to the viewer; “ask your prescriber about our drug.” And I wonder, have doctors no dignity? After many years of formal education, and a place of honor in American society, it has evidently not occurred to many medical folks to give the overdressed drug cartel shill the bum’s rush out the door instructing him or her never to return. Why not?

The ideal consumer is a feedlot steer. It eats great quantities of what it should not, such as corn and antibiotics. It defecates while it eats to make room for more of the same. It is headed for liver and kidney failure, but the plan of the feedlot operator is to get it turned into meat before it ruins itself. As meat, of course, it may well ruin the eaters, those who think of themselves as consumers. This is not part of the health care debate. No other part of health is either.

Nothing is more critical to good health than good food. And there are things we can do to move ourselves in that direction.

• Learn to cook. It is a necessary adult human skill. Teach your daughters and your sons. It will get you away from “convenience food” which is what the food industry thinks of as “profit.”

• Get away from fast food. Get it down to once a week, then once a month. From there it is easy to get down to several times a year and then to pretty much not at all. My wife and I are pretty much away from it and find it doesn’t even taste very good to us anymore. Because of how it buys, fast food sponsors an awful lot of human and animal misery.

• Be suspicious of a restaurant that smothers the meat in sugary sauce and puts it on a plate peppered with small chunks of salt. They are playing on your two major tastes and it probably means that the quality of the food is not good.

• Examine the labels in the store. Don’t buy anything with high fructose corn syrup in the first several ingredients. It is bad for your health. The food industry is making a feedlot steer of you.

• Garden. It will teach you what really goes into food and you will eat better. And pressure your community to provide space for gardens for any who want them, whether they own any property or not. It is unconscionable that most of our small communities have a government-sponsored community center in which relatively well off seniors may celebrate their 80th birthday but no space in which a poor mother may set out a few potato and green bean plants.

• Buy from farmer’s markets and can or freeze what you cannot eat. Make a community or family project of it. You will eat better in the winter, and you will know what you are eating because you know and can question the farmer you bought it from.

• Get some chickens in the backyard. Let them out on the grass. They will teach you about the real human cost of agricultural production and the silliness of some of your neighbors. And the eggs will be wonderful, full of omega threes, much healthier than any you can buy in the store. Watching chickens is great entertainment and you can see for yourself that you are not abusing an animal by putting six hens into a foot and a half square cage to produce eggs for you.

• Buy your meats from a farmer you know. This is the best assurance of quality meats that are grass fed and outdoor raised as much as possible. And insist that you want your meats processed by shops that pay a good wage to the help and handle the slaughter in a humane fashion. We do not do well unless we all do well. Be prepared to pay up. Cheap meat means human and animal misery.

• Find another recreational activity to replace “shopping.” Buying and ownership does not give meaning to a human life.

To change our health we will have to change many things. Business as usual cannot be allowed to continue over at the USDA as one farm bill after another rewards the wrong kind of farming. Our universities need to give up their single focus upon pushing as many farmers out of farming as possible, and instead begin to research real farmer friendly systems. Our meat inspectors must be allowed to shut down the assembly lines when they see something bad. Markets and processing systems must be opened up. Anti-monopoly laws need to be enforced. The list can go on and on. But nothing is as important as citizens beginning to rediscover the satisfactions of exercising some control over their own lives.

Jim Van Der Pol farms near Kerkhoven, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 1, 2010

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