The Burden (and Liberation) of Knowledge

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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Hello, my friends.  Long time no post!  I know, I know… I really shouldn’t neglect you like this, and I am terribly sorry.  It’s just that I was going about my business, trying to put things in order, getting distracted by this thing and that, when I turned the corner and ran smack into summer!  I can’t believe it’s here, officially, really here.  The Summer Solstice was just this past Monday and the days have been hovering in the mid-90s, with heat indexes soaring high above that.  Welcome, Ra.  Your time has come.

What has been my distraction, you might ask?  What is my excuse for being so absent?  I blame two things – education and Harry Potter.  Because I’m quirky like that (and because it’s the shorter of the two), I’ll start by explaining the latter.   You know, I’m sure, that the first part of the last Harry Potter movie (which you probably also know has been broken up into two movies) comes out this November.  In honor of this bittersweet event, my friends and I have started a little reading group, intent on re-reading the entire series, one book per month, before the movie hits the theaters.  We have just started Goblet of Fire.  But I’m sure that, because of Distraction No. 1, I am behind everyone else.  This seems to be my lot in life right now, consistently behind.

And now, onto Distraction No. 1.  Education.  See my last post and you’ll get an idea of where I’m headed here.  Due to my recent studies, I now know too much about the industrial food industry.  I can hardly stand buying food in grocery stores anymore, because I so vehemently disagree with our society’s food system.  What I knew before as abstract, bigger than me, concepts has now become too personal to ignore.  In a nutshell, this is what I’ve found.

Produce is grown on huge industrial farms, full of pesticides, the soil stripped of nutrients so drastically that these fields are only viable with the addition of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers.  Then the produce is shipped thousands of miles to the “consumer”… i.e., the people who eat it.  Meat, on the other hand, the stuff you get in the supermarket, is raised primarily on feed lots where the animals (mostly cows, pigs and chickens) are confined to pens, standing without being able to turn around or lay down, knee and belly deep in their own feces, eating diets that they were never intended to eat, causing not only a horribly sad diseased existence for these animals, but also causing their meat to be unnaturally unhealthy for us, leading to outbreaks of e. coli, mad cow disease, high cholesterol, etc.  Yes, I’m ranting.  This is only the very vaguest tip of this iceberg. 

On top of that scary picture, farmers, regular farmers, are losing and have lost their livelihoods.  Industrial farming has all but obliterated them.  Small farming is making a comeback, thanks to the local food movement and the slow food movement, but most of these farmers would go out of business if it weren’t for the farmer’s markets.  Am I freaking out?  Yeah, a bit.  Because all of this education has led me to look at myself, to look at all my talk and wonder what it amounts to if I’m still buying genetically modified corn and a hamburger that was once a cow who very likely was so sick at the end of its short life cycle that it could barely walk to the slaughterhouse. 

If we are what we eat, and we’re eating this, than what, as a nation, as a people, as a society, are we?  Are we sick and used and imprisoned?  Are we stripped of our soul like the nutrients of the soil in which our industrially farmed vegetables are grown?  Are we thieves, like the corporate food giants that have stolen a way of life from not only our nation’s farmers, but from farmers in countries (usually the poorest ) all over the world?  Do we have no sense of honor?  Do we have no standards?  This touches on every level of every issue this world currently has.  This is about human rights, animal rights, the economy and the environment.  This is about public health and war and national security.  This is about people dying of starvation in third world countries.  This is about people dying of malnutrition and obesity in the United States of America.  This is bigger and more important than I ever let myself see before.  And this is something that we can change.

I know no one wants to hear about it, and I know I’m supposed to shut up and just buy my groceries at Wal-Mart like everyone else, because who really cares?  It’s food, and buying stuff that’s produced in another way, a more NORMAL way, circa pre-World War II, is more expensive and a hell of a lot less convenient.  But I do care, and I can’t just ignore that fact anymore.  I can’t keep eating the crap they’ve been feeding us, justifying it with “it’s easier” and “it’s cheaper”.  If I was Jewish, and I had to eat kosher, you would understand.  Instead, I’m just another human, trying to recognize where I came from and what that means, with no other reason for my choices than to say that I am trying to take some responsibility, to live up to my own standards.  They say ignorance is bliss, and maybe they’re right.  But once you know a thing, you can’t un-know it.  At least I can’t. 

So now I am working through my current biggest conundrum – how to feed my family without supporting the industrial food industry, without going hungry this winter, and without going broke.  I’m hitting the farmers markets, buying up seasonal produce and anything else I can find and afford.  I’m freezing however much I can, socking away food like a squirrel, preparing for winter.  I’m meeting local farmers and trying to keep track of what’s in season when, so I can plan our next meal.  Food has taken over my life.  And, I have to tell you, it’s one of the happiest “sacrifices” I’ve ever made.

Here are some links, if you want to learn more on this yourself.   

And if you're prone to dig deeper, you might read these books:

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming The Locavore's Handbook: The Busy Person's Guide to Eating Local on a Budget The Real Food Revival
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Please note, I have read all of these books but the last.  I am including it here, however, because The Omnivore's Dilemma comes highly recommended by others who share in my quest for a better relationship with food and I do plan to read it very soon.)