Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spam Alert: The Theft of Simplicity

In my mind, the following ideas seem related. I am hoping that this post actually makes sense once I put it in writing.

During my morning commute into Boston, I read the first half of the Boston Metro (saving the Entertainment and Sports sections for my evening commute home). On two different pages of yesterday's paper were callouts that I found disturbing, particularly when juxtaposed:

Callout 1

Callout 2

Not to oversimplify here, but it does seem as though the rich are getting richer, while poor people are turning to mystery meat in attempts to meet financial, dietary and time requirements.

It was about seven years ago that I began to experience a gradual food-related awakening. (For this, I feel I should give props to two people I really hate—Rachael Ray and my ex-boyfriend—both of whom underwent frightening personality changes during that time, but both of whom also made real food and cooking accessible to this kitchenphobe.) I am quite sure that my taste buds finally gave in to a steep 25-year learning curve at that time, as well. All good things (in retrospect).

I became very aware (read: judgmental) of other people's groceries that shared the conveyer belt with mine, because I understood that cooking with real ingredients did not have to consume significantly more time than heating a frozen processed meal. I also discovered that real food tastes better, that there is great satisfaction in preparing a meal, and that being completely in control of the ingredients in your food is fundamental.

fundamental (adj.): serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function (Merriam-Webster)

Our society has become numb to the existence of processed foods—they are ubiquitous in the American grocery store—and, in our buy now-pay later culture, we are rarely concerned with the long term health and environmental effects of artificial and unnecessary ingredients. (Instant gratification always comes at a cost. See? Judgmental.) Similarly, we have become oblivious—perhaps even disrespectful—to the amazing process of growing food. We have been given an essential, reusable gift from a source far more creative than we are. I mean, who could have thought this up? Here, I think oversimplification is appropriate: if you shove a tiny piece of a plant into the ground, that spot in the ground will provide you with said plant—only bigger and better! That's craziness! (This, from the girl who can't keep plants alive.) Essentially, apart from the water and sun provided by nature, all you need is patience.

Ah, patience... This is something I am very good at (my mom will happily tell you that I wasn't even in a hurry to get born), though I find that most people are not. On a larger scale than the anticipation of a single plant's fruit, we aren't able to wait for seasonal produce to grow. Eating local, seasonally-appropriate produce is not a new idea, but we have been conditioned to the point where it is an inconvenience. If I want to bring homemade pumpkin pie to a Fourth of July picnic, then, dammit, I'm gonna bring pumpkin pie!

Here is my point: we have gradually had natural, healthy foods and food-processes stolen from us. I mean this both literally and figuratively—most of us are unable to grow our own food, and most food has to be physically transported to us over great distances. The majority of products carried in our neighborhood food stores are far from what we should be eating, and the proliferation of these overpackaged, overprocessed "convenience" foods (driven largely, I believe, by the need for two working parents in a household) has destroyed our human connection with real food. (Don't even get me started about breastfeeding perceptions...)

As more people have realized this, a business opportunity is born: Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods (which is certainly not the first of its kind) in the way that most women seem to love Coach, and I could have bought many a "luxury lifestyle handbag" in place of the food I have purchased at Whole Foods. But the idea of paying more (thereby decreasing accessibility) for a less processed, more natural product is absurd—it has been touched by fewer hands, has required less machinery, and is closer to its natural state! Real food has become a luxury item, and somehow, the desire to eat real food is seen as elitist and...white? (Oh, how great. You can buy the book now.) Something is fundamentally wrong with this model.

Yesterday, I met with a nutritionist at Harvard-Vanguard. John and I have pretty much been adhering to the Weight Watcher's Core plan, which involves eating whole grains, lean proteins, lowfat dairy, and all the produce you can consume. I had been keeping a food log for the two months prior to my appointment, and as the food shopper and meal cooker in our household, I wanted to make sure that I am forming good habits. We talked quite a bit about the benefits of cooking meals at home, avoiding artificial ingredients. (I visited the Spam website yesterday, and was a combination of amused and appalled. Is it possible to take Spam seriously? Should shaped meat in a can be taken more seriously?)

Coincidentally, yesterday was the opening day of the Boston Farmers Market at City Hall Plaza. These opportunities for local farms to sell their products directly to the consumer—a great alternative to buying from corporations—seem to be proliferating. They seem novel (especially with an urban backdrop), despite the fact that they are a throwback to times of sensible food distribution.

There weren't many vendors at the market yet, but I was able to purchase several convenience foods: potted basil, dill, and my first tomato plant. What could be simpler than growing my own food? I'm doing what I can.

Addendum: I just wanted to add that Jamie Oliver's new show on the Food Network, Jamie at Home, is a great example of cooking simply (he has a fire pit!) with a few basic home-grown ingredients. It is, in my opinion, a wonderful show...with a great promo.

1 comment:

Cami said...

This is a really good post. I've been thinking about this more and more as the economy shifts, too. (Although things are different down here, especially for me.) You've hit a really important point that I haven't heard articulated this way before- how real food is now a luxury, like a Coach bag. It's so true.

In a way, crafts are like that, too. No longer a simple means of making what you want/need. Now rather, something people do in their leisure time with expensive supplies.

I was thinking about it, and I feel like kids today will have no idea where food really comes from. I mean, seriously. Even plants come from the supermarket. Urban kids won't even see the orchards and cornfields we saw growing up.

Also, as an aside, I am deeply disturbed by the "Things White People Like" blog. It seems like it's supposed to be tongue in cheek, etc., but ugh. I'm glad you seem to feel the same way.