Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Are What You Eat

I recently had a discussion with a friend about food; grapes in particular.  He mentioned that he thought the organic movement was unnecessary and a mere marketing ploy, and he would proceed to buy his grapes from Walmart.  In summing up his argument he said, "A grape is a grape.  I'm going to buy the cheapest one I can find".  I think he has a point.  The word "organic" has become a loaded word that means far less than what it did when it was created, and allows producers and distributors to put a hefty premium on the price of food.  Walmart plays a key role in feeding a world that has recently reached 7 billion in population, and the price of food is definitely worth considering when shopping.  A grape however, is not simply a grape.  Or an onion, an onion, or a pig a pig.  When health factors are taken into consideration vast differences are discovered in farming practices, nutritional profiles, environmental impacts, and toxicities between one grape and another.  Is there a taste difference between a grape bought at Walmart, and one plucked from a small vineyard in Wisconsin after a rainfall?  Absolutely.   Is there a difference in nutritional value?  Absolutely.  Does it matter?  Absolutely.

Consider this experiment:  buy a green pepper from the local chain grocery store and buy a green pepper from the local farmers market.  This difference in taste will be phenomenal.  And that difference in taste often reflects the difference in nutritional profiles.  How many people go through life not knowing what a fresh vegetable, grown the way it was meant to be grown, tastes like?  The explosion of flavor from a vegetable grown with care dwarfs the experience of eating a vegetable grown half way across the world with chemicals and poisons intended to make it grow large and quickly, picked before its ripe, covered in preservatives, that ends up on your dinner plate, pale and bland.  No wonder children tend to dislike eating vegetables!  They haven't undergone the enriching experience of eating a fresh tasty vegetable from a local farmer, or off the vine in your backyard.  They haven't had the experience to see the plant grow and know where their food comes from.  Stock your freezer with a cow bought from a local farmer and you will never eat meat from a grocer again because it will taste like cardboard to you.  As kids we used to joke, "you are what you eat".  This was funny when somebody was eating a twinky or a chocolate bunny.  But what we didn't understand as kids is that you really are what you eat, as your food is the basic building block of your self, and the food that you eat influences your health, your mood, your energy and your experience in life.  Beyond being a clever way to call somebody a carrot, "you are what you eat" is a phrase that should bring conscientiousness to the dinner plate.

Going back to the conversation with my friend regarding grapes, I tried to explain my point that a grape is not simply a grape, by telling the story of what I had observed a few weeks earlier.  I was at a gas station filling up my tank when a man in a brand new yellow Corvette pulled into the lot and parked at the stall next to me.  This piece of machinery shined with spotless beauty and sounded like a chorus of angels humming.  It was truly beautiful.  As the man got out of his car, I noticed that he chose to put premium gasoline into his tank.  Smart choice considering the high performance of the engine and expensive technology.  I didn't get a chance to look under the hood but I imagine the engine was the cleanest engine I would have seen, and that he used the best high-performance synthetic oil he could find in order to care for his vehicle.  As he filled up, the man went inside the station to get some refreshments and when he came back to his car, I noticed he had a large bag of chips and a 20 oz. soda.  Now I realize that gas stations don't typically offer much in the way of health food, but the irony of his food choice struck me immediately.  A man who rightfully is very conscientious about an expensive and highly technical piece of machinery by keeping it meticulously clean and giving it the best fuel, completely neglects his most precious (and even more technical) piece of machinery, his own body, by filling it with low-grade crap.  Now as it is important to put good fuel into an expensive car to improve performance and long term maintenance, it is equally as important to do so for yourself with healthy food.  You truly are what you eat as it physically becomes your body, so it seems that eating should entail the same level of conscientiousness (or higher) that is given to prized material possessions.  A grape is not a grape any more than a gallon of gas is a gallon of gas.  One would not put water into the gas tank of a corvette simply because it is a liquid, and one should not put processed food and soda into the body just because it resembles food. 

Quality matters, and one cannot get quality at Walmart, but must look for food grown conscientiously and cleanly.  Walmart plays its role in food distribution to an ever needy populace, but as a matter of personal choice it is imperative that we each make the choice to search for quality food.  Does it cost more?  Yes.  However the cost of high quality food is an upfront investment that pays large personal dividends in terms of time, health, energy and mood both immediately and in the long run.  Can you afford it?  You can't afford not to.

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