Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ruining Food for People

A newly planted pistachio orchard near Ducor in California's Central Valley.
Photo credit: Matt Black
A nut farm in California
Last week I ran into a woman I've known for years. After we exchanged pleasantries, she started asking about food. She wants to start eating healthier and asked my opinion and recommendations. She then proceeded to mention celebrity food "experts"and the types of foods and supplements they recommend. As she talked of specifics, this thought ran through my head:  Should I ruin those foods for her? This thought came to me for a variety of reasons, including health and ecological issues. In the end, I did tell her I could ruin a lot of foods for her but suggested she do some research by reading Food Rules by Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and maybe watch the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh. I explained there were lots of good resources out there but these were the ones I could think of off the top of my head.

While local and seasonal foods can satisfy all the the nutritional requirements for most of the population, media has taught us to go to the store and buy the products that has been touted as the latest "miracle" or "super" food.  It's as if we all need the same food du jour in order to stay healthy. These foods, we're told, should be consumed on a daily or weekly basis, despite the fact that they are sometimes not in season, have a hefty transportation cost as they don't grow in the region (or even in the country), and are often devastating to the environment.

Take almond milk, for example. It seems to be fast replacing cow's milk for breakfast. What many people don't know is that almonds, grown almost exclusively in California, take a tremendous amount of water to produce. Water that is in scarce supply in the West. In fact, the water situation in California is so bad that the state is experiencing the worst drought in centuries. Strike one for almond milk.

In addition to the water issue, these large groves of almond trees require that beehives be trucked in from other parts of the country for pollination. Since they're monocultures, the growers can't have permanent hives. Once the trees loose their blooms, the bees no longer have a source of food and would die. Strike two.

And then there's the issue of processing the almonds into "milk" and then transporting it nationwide. Strike three.

I'm not saying almond milk is bad per se. And I also understand there are individuals who want cereal or other grains for breakfast but cannot have dairy products. What I am saying is we need to stop blindly following what celebrity doctors, nutritionists, and chefs tell us to eat and to understand the consequences of our choices. When buying food, we should always keep in mind:
Season - Location - Environment

And we must ask the question:  How can we feed ourselves in a healthful way that is also good for the world? 

For more details on almond (and other nut) production in California, here's an article from Grist


Shona~ LALA dex press said...

I have been in similar situations and question how much I want to "ruin" food for someone.

I have not heard of the doc "Fresh" will have to investigate. Thanks for that.

David said...

Cherie, the article that you refer to in your post is a real eye opener. I knew that California was having water issue but didn't know it was that bad. Through my blog reading, I have come across a couple commenters that are not very supportive of Capitalism and state that it ruins the resources of the world. I can kind of see that in the California situation with water. Who would have thought that we as a country would run out of water. I live in a part of the country where water is plentiful and pretty much the entire state of Nebraska sits on top of an aquifer. There's starting to be concern about the amount of center pivot irrigation water being pumped out of the aquifer to sustain the over 200 bushel per acre corn harvests. The sad part about corn production is that a substantial percentage of the corn now goes to the producing of ethanol which has to be government subsidized just to stay in business. Corn prices sky rocketed when the plants came on line as well as food products that use corn. I'm not really a proponent of ethanol and won't use it in my truck unless there just is no other choice which is slowly becoming more difficult to do.

Have a great local choice food day.

Anonymous said...

As an aside - one of the issues I come across every year - a shortage of seeds for anything that has been labeled a 'super food'. Three years in a row now kale seeds and beet seeds are instantly sold out. People who don't even like kale are suddenly growing it and hiding it in smoothies because it's a super food. It's daft - people like myself who have been growing the stuff for years, are suddenly left out - fortunately for me, I've been able to source some from gardeners that save their own seed. This year I'm going to try letting some of my garden go to seed and try to save my own.

Cherie said...

Val, yes fads do ruin things for people who actually like or need certain items. A friend in the natural health business gets annoyed when Dr. Oz decides to promote a new-to-the-audience supplement and suddenly that item is backordered. Too bad for the people who need that item for health reasons. We're working on saving seed but have run into problems when we have two or more varieties and they cross.

Cherie said...

David, it's sad when Big Ag says it feeds the world when in reality much of what is grown in the midwest goes to feed animals or to produce fuel. The reality is that 90% of the world is fed by small farms.