I walked out of Trader Joe’s on Friday night with $96worth of groceries. A few moments prior, my boyfriend’s eyes had widened as he uttereda loud Lamaze-like “Whoo!” when the cashier finished ringing up my purchases.
“You could have gotten all of this at Walmart for so muchless,” he said as we walked, armed with brown paper bags, to my car. He’s theepitome of spendthrift, especially when it comes to, well, everything. For me,good food is not an indulgence; it’s part of my upbringing. It’s how I’ve been taught to keep myself healthy and happy.
I was raised by a mother with French inclinations and agodmother who worked for one of the forerunners of truly modern medicine. Weavingtogether allopathic and naturopathic treatments, this physician was committedto creative comprehensive and holistic plans for his patients, which includedmy mother at one point in time.. Needless to say, her work experience carriedover into helping my mother raise me. I’m pretty sure that vitamins were one ofmy first solid foods.
My mother made baby food for me before it was the hip orcool thing to do. You better believe I was breastfed. I used to take a wheatgrass shot in the morning beforeelementary school and up until high school. At home, our cupboards were alwaysstocked with rice cakes, quinoa, Ezekiel bread and other whole grains. Openingour refrigerator door was an adventure into Mr. McGregor’s garden.
The importance of whole foods, balanced diets, buyinglocal and being holistically healthy comes naturally to me because of how I wasraised. That’s not to say I don’t recognize that some people were brought updifferently. My boyfriend is a Walmart man; I’m a Whole Foods girl. The worldneeds us both. What the world doesn’t need are uninformed or malnourishedpeople.
About three weeks ago I read an article in The Week about America’sproblem with food deserts, “communities in which residents must travel atleast a mile to buy fresh meat, dairy products, and vegetables.” The U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food district a bit morespecifically: any census district where at least 20 percent of inhabitants arebelow the poverty line and 33 percent live over a mile from the supermarket. Isay this as I am within walking distance to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, HarrisTeeter, Bi-Lo and Publix. I am a bike ride away from two farmers’ markets.
As a side note, farmers’ markets aren’t included in thecalculation of food deserts, which is unfortunate for several reasons. First,farmers’ markets, in my experience, are less expensive than traditional grocerystores, which make them ideal for those living below the poverty line. Inaddition, quite a few farmers’ markets have begun accepting EBT as a form ofpayment, which makes it easier for those with less to buy more fresh produce. Finally,the economic implications of farmers’ markets include a greater percentage of dollarsspent returning to the community—which can improve job availability, schools,etc.
The U.S. government believes food deserts are contributingto the sad statistic that one third of American adults are obese by making itmore difficult to buy fresh foods as opposed to more processed choices easilyfound in fast food chains and convenient stores. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!”campaign has convinced Walmart, SuperValu and Walgreens to open 1,500 grocerystores in food deserts, making fresh foods more available.
Is accessibility is the real problem? While I do believethat, for some, accessibility is culpable, it’s only a small slice of a much larger,involved pie.
In addition to inaccessibility, we’re all addicts. Did youknow that studies have shown that the huge jolt offat, salt, and sugar fast food delivers can be almost as addictive as hard drug? One bite from a hot, freshly friedperfectly salted French fry sends messages along the same reward pathway in thebrain as cocaine, meth and heroine. Fast food restaurants also spend $4.2billion dollars on marketing; propagating idyllic images through our televisionsets, magazines and newspapers. No wonder we are a nation of unhealthy people.
As a country, we prefer the taste of junkfood. As a country, we have greater access to fast food or convenience storesthan supermarkets (that sad ratio is five to one). As a country, even whenshopping at grocery or health food stores are options, we sadly don’t know howto prepare fresh produce. As one southern Baptist pastor who outlawedfried chicken from his congregation, puts it, “We are in I-can’t-cook deserts.”
Yet again, I think there’s more to it.
Anthropologist Robin Fox, who teaches atRutgers University, argues that our relationship with cooking and eating has changed. “Making food is asacred event, he says in a TIMES magazine piece. “It’s absolutely central—farmore central than sex. You can keep a population going by having sex once ayear, but you have to eat three times a day.” Food comes so easily to us now,he says, that we have lost a sense of its significance. When we had to grow thecorn and fight off predators, meals included a serving of gratitude. “It’s likethe American Indians. When they killed a deer, they said a prayer over it, saysFox. “That is civilization. It is an act of politeness over food. Fast food haskilled this. We have reduced eating to sitting alone and shoveling it in.There’s no ceremony in it.”
How do we reintroduce ceremony into eating? How do we learn to appreciate what goes into our bodies?
The answer is simple: education.
Let’s reintroduce home economics into ournational curriculum, like this op-ed piece from The New York Times argues. Math and science are important, but howare you going to ace that physics test unless you’re properly fueling yourbrain? Let’s teach our elementary, middle, and high school youth about theimportance of good eating habits, good exercise habits and what real food tastes, looks and smells like. Home economics doesn’t need to be remembered only in movies; it needs to be remembered at the dinner table.