During the Reagan administration, a significant amount of press was invested in articles discussing the real possibility of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. In 1984, when arms talks failed, the Doomsday Clock was moved to 3 minutes to midnight. At the time, as a teenager, it was deeply troubling to hear people talk seriously of the costs and practicalities of building their own nuclear fallout shelters. Then I learned that even if one survived the 'nuclear holocaust' as it was called, the nuclear winter that would follow it could go on for years.
Reading through the articles about our dangerous global situation, I became painfully aware of the lives of our 'enemy'; of those living behind the Iron Curtain; and of the shrouded world of Communism. I saw the photos of the bread lines. I discovered that as one, the Soviet population universally accepted their fate of a lifetime spent in communal poverty. I heard about the majority having to live on stipends that barely covered one's essential needs, no matter what their employment. I learned that entire families - sometimes up to three generations - were crammed into apartments too small for even a family of four. It seemed unbelievable that in our modern times people could live like that. More than once, I felt blessed to be born in North America where we were free. Where we could do, be or think anything we wanted. I couldn't understand why there was a conflict between the West and the Soviet Union in the first place. It all just seemed terribly pointless and sad. It was clear whoever fired first would be responsible for ending all life on earth for a very long time. This was a war no one could win.
Back then, a friend of our family had managed through great effort to move a cousin of hers from Poland into our country, as her sponsor. She told us about how one day, soon after her cousin arrived, that our friend had gone on some routine errands and had invited her cousin along. When she walked into the grocery store, our friend headed straight to the produce section to browse the vegetables. After a few minutes she noticed that her cousin was not with her, nor had been for a while. She looked around for her and noticed that her cousin was still standing near the entrance, rooted to the spot, tears staining her face, her expression a mix of shock and despair. Our friend rushed back to her and put her arm around her. "What's wrong?" she asked her in Polish. Her cousin was silent for a long time, but eventually she replied, "I have never seen so much food in one place in my whole life. I did not know such a thing could even exist." Overwhelmed, she began to cry again.
Our friend told us afterwards that her cousin was devastated by the realisation that she had lived her life forced to queue up for hours to wait to pay for an overpriced fresh loaf of bread. That she had been betrayed by her country because she was led to believe that the situation was the same everywhere in the world. She said that if everyone at home knew what she now knew, there would be a revolution; and that she felt guilty for her new, wonderful life when she knew others in her family still suffered.
It's a tragic thing to realise that a government would suppress its people so harshly; to deprive them of their basic needs in such a needless way. Of course, the Soviet regime has long since passed and a new, invigorated Russia and Eastern Europe has emerged. Only in North Korea does such hardship persist in our present day world. All over the world, people in Westernised societies are spoiled for choice, food is varied and abundant and with the only constraint being our personal finances, we are free to eat as we please. Indeed, we have so much food available that obesity is now considered to be at epidemic levels both in the US and in the EU.
But here is the question that begs to be asked. How much of what we eat is actually good for us? How much of what we eat contains chemicals and preservatives that are not natural for humans to ingest? Furthermore, what is being fed to the animals that we eat? Like a glittering gold ball, the perception of abundance dazzles us and we are perhaps blinded to the truth of what we are eating. We eat food in brightly wrapped foil, the label tells us it is a cookie, and we believe we are eating a cookie, but would our grandmothers have been able to create such a 'cookie'? I rather think for her to make the majority of pre-packaged cookies on the grocery store shelves, she would need the keys of a chemist's lab (and the education to go with it). Sadly, there is a deeper issue at stake here than convenience foods not going bad anywhere near the same time frame as traditionally baked food with basic ingredients - and it has to do with greed.
For all the marvelousness inherent in living in Western society, there is a catch. As enlightened consumers in our rapidly changing world, it is no longer our purview to just mindlessly consume without consideration to what our consumption is doing to the animals, to the environment and to us. What it comes down to is that with every ill-considered purchase we make, we are unwittingly lining the pockets of a handful of mega-corporations who own most of all the brands you find on the supermarket shelves. It's shocking to realise that all that variety is not that varied after all. Most non-fresh food is mainly manufactured to produce different combinations of the three triggers humans are programmed to crave - salt, sugar, and fat. The scientists of the labs these corporations own work around the clock to create new versions of 'non-food' to market to the public to help them satisfy these cravings. As disturbing as this reading must be, there is worse news. We have allowed this to happen. We are not innocent victims, it takes two to tango and we are whole-heartedly choosing to do the tango. This post is not about making anyone into an evil arch-enemy, rather this post is to encourage all of us to become aware of what we choose to eat. Our choices have massive ramifications on the food industry, and so long as we do not educate ourselves to what we are consuming, nothing will change.
A good metaphor would be the behaviour of a dog. Dogs are notorious for testing the boundaries. If the dog's human companion does not enforce the boundaries, the clever dog will quickly learn to exploit that weakness and take full advantage of it every opportunity it has. Just so with our food manufacturers. If we do not enforce the boundaries, they will take every opportunity available to them and laugh all the way to the bank. Taking responsibility for one's choices may sound archaic in our technological world of blame culture, but to be brutally honest, it is our weakest trait as a race. If you were running a money-making empire, what would you rather have - a race of well informed, well educated people who cannot be hoodwinked or a race of lazy, indolent people who would rather suffer from health-related problems like diabetes and obesity, blaming anyone but themselves for their situation?
We live in a world our ancestors could only have dreamt of, where we have a wealth of information freely available to us at the touch of a button. There are excellent, well researched books by the dozen that outline in great detail the reality of how the food industry operates. For those just starting out, there are three critically acclaimed films that are worth watching - Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, and Supersize Me - each offering compelling information that could change the way you look at the food industry forever. Every one of us has the power to ask questions and search for answers. Our bodies deserve to be protected against the opportunism of corporations only interested in their bottom line. We hold within us the capability to stop ourselves and really look at what we are putting into our shopping cart. It's possible some of the items in our cart we have been eating since childhood - never once having thought about what was in it. Our world is changing very fast, and this blog seeks to harness these changes and empower people. It is about opening a chink in the wall and letting in some much needed light. Not everyone will wish to become responsible for what they buy; or to consider what the impact of their choices are doing to farmers, animals or the environment, but for those of you who are ready, I applaud you. You are the pioneers of a new world. A world where you choose how you live your life; where you decide what is fit to be eaten and where your buying power changes the objectives of those that everyone believed were controlling us. Without us, those corporations are nothing. Nothing. The people have all the power. So let's stop eating garbage.
Originally posted on Paradigms Bend July 22 2011