Monday, August 31, 2009

A Periodic Rant: Food Politics/Weight Politics

Do you ever wonder why weight is such a fraught issue in the English speaking world? I do. Weight is a problem throughout the first world, but more so, I believe, in North America and the English speaking world in general. We live in countries that have made a mockery of good food.

I'll never forget a story told to me by an American who had lived in Italy and then in England (she's been back in Italy for many years now). Some boxes of fruit from Italy arrived at her local greengrocer's in London. Each piece of fruit was lovingly wrapped in its own individual paper blanket and they were all carefully placed in neat rows, one on top of the other. My friend watched as the grocer tipped the box of fruit over into the bin, papers flying everywhere, the pieces of fruit bouncing off each other, getting bruised and broken. This is a sad metaphor for how we view food in the English-speaking world.

In our world, food is simultaneously feared and shovelled in. Guilt and greed. Quality is totally forgotten. If you can't get it cheap, why buy it? Three cheers for preservatives that keep this pseudo-food on the shelf in the grocery store for years to come! Let's hear it for fake flavours, pretty colours and excessive packaging. And let's keep it cheap.

We are driven by bargains. Most of the garlic sold in large supermarkets in southern Ontario comes from, wait for this, CHINA! Believe it or not, it's cheaper than local, Ontario-grown garlic. It's way cheaper to eat McDonald's than to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain products or high-quality meats that haven't been shot up with hormones. It's also a lot faster to go through the McDonald's drive-in than to prepare a meal of healthy foods. And let's face it: even stay-at-home moms are sometimes so busy that preparing a complicated, but healthy meal is more than they can take.

I'm going to go out on a limb here: think twice about all those great bargains you get at the big box stores and grocery stores. I'm not going to name names. You know them. They are masters at twisting the suppliers' arms to get the prices down. It's more than likely that the chicken you buy there is oozing with hormones. That's the only way that the suppliers can provide these mega-businesses with cheap, plentiful food to sell. The quality of the food is crap, the workers in the plants are treated badly and your local farmers and small mom and pop grocery stores are going out of business. It's a race to the bottom...and we're all participating in it. If you can, buy local, buy fresh, patronize local businesses. Just try. Make that choice once in awhile. I truly believe that if we all start making small, but good, choices, we can make a difference in our health, our lives and the state of the world.

What if we bought our food based on quality? Would we shovel it in as we do today? What if foods had more subtle tastes, rather than being inundated in salt, or fat or sugar? What if we had to work a bit harder to taste the wonderful, natural flavours?

I believe that all food is healthy. Notice that I say "all food". I do not consider Twinkies food and I have my serious doubts about manipulated foods that are processed to be low-calorie. For instance, what kind of preservatives/stabilizers do they put in egg-white only products to give them a long shelf-life? I recently asked someone who sells fine cheeses how they can make so-called low-fat cheeses. She couldn't really answer but did say that for everything (natural) they take out, they have to put something in. Ever wondered what's in the low-cal string cheese? And let's give a tip of the hat to sweets: a nice sweet is a truly joyful thing. Handmade chocolate, home-made banana bread...I see nothing wrong with this food. It's part of the food tapestry, just not all of it. I live around the corner from an artisanal chocolate store. One chocolate costs over a dollar, but I'd rather have one than buy a bar of sweetish sawdust from the grocery store. Am I weird?

Many of us live in areas that are ill-served or not served at all by public transit. No food in the house? Get in the car and go out and get a fast-food meal. It's a double-whammy: no exercise because you live too far from the grocery store to walk. There's no bus to get you there but there's a plethora of fast food outlets that feed our need for quick, "tasty" (high sugar, high sodium, high fat) foods.

And as we gain weight, we feel more and more ashamed. We stop walking, biking, swimming, going to the gym, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. We don't want anyone to see us and point or laugh or sneer. I remember saying to my yoga teacher when I first met her that I didn't want a lecture on losing weight. At the time, I was just recovering from my third ruptured disc and feeling scared and physically fragile. I had gone several times to an acupuncturist--a very slim Japanese man who felt it his duty to lecture me on my weight. Do you think that helped me? Not! I am eternally grateful for having found my yoga teacher, who immediately reassured me that my weight was not an issue and that we would work together to get me healthier. And that's what we've done. She's helped me to get moving and to forget my tummy and my fat thighs. What's important is that I am getting healthier.

So what's the message here?

Stop feeling guilty! Stop shovelling the food in because that way, it doesn't really exist. Slow down and taste the food you eat. You'll be surprised to find that your favourite junk food actually doesn't taste very good. As long as you eat quickly, you won't notice that heavy, greasy taste in many foods, even the sweet ones. You won't notice the chemical after-taste. Try eating a few *** (insert brand name here) chips REALLY slowly. I'll bet you that they won't taste half as good as you thought.

Concentrate on quality. Eat tasty, but eat healthy. It's much easier to stuff yourself on high-sugar/high-salt/high fat foods than real foods. Eat what you want, but eat real food, food that is processed as little as possible.

Start loving yourself just the way you are right now! Buy nice clothes NOW, if that's what you want. Look great while you're losing weight (if that's your goal). And as your clothes get too big on you, give them away. There's someone out there who doesn't have the money to buy something new and nice. Give them a hand. While you're at it, get a nice haircut. You are beautiful NOW.


  1. I think eating patterns start very young, which is why our PTA has organized a farmer's market at the school two Fridays this month. If all goes well, we hope to expand. Slowing down eating is so hard for me, as I've been waiting until I'm genuinely hungry to eat. But I'm working on it!

  2. It's sad how we've come to view food, especially at restaurants where portion size has spiraled completely out of control. It's no wonder we don't have any sense of what to eat or how much.

    Excellent post. Very thought provoking.

  3. Amen sister! I have taken food back from the manufacturers and now prepare everything at home. That way I have complete control over what goes in my food, including love and care, which is sadly absent when surly minimum-wage workers prepare food. And believe me, I don't stand in the kitchen for hours! My meals are quick and tasty.

  4. Great post. I always like your posts, lady...
    @ Ms. Hanlie:Isn't the faster we eat the more we are going to add calories.. coz I heard by eating fast our brain still think the food we already consume as a snack...

  5. L.A.,
    I'll reply for Hanlie. I believe what she means is that meal preparation is quick, not how long she takes to eat the food! I think Hanlie's someone who takes her time and really enjoys what she's eating!

  6. Very nice post my friend. You speak the truth and it's issues like these that I look forward to really understanding. As my journey progresses, my choices evolve---and although I still do not eat "clean," I'm developing an awareness for better options that I never had before.

    Thank you for the time and thought you put into this,
    My best

  7. Another wonderful post Leslie! Full of wisdom. I am realising the extent to which I am self medicating with food rather than eating for nutrition. Food should be for nutrition and taste rather than to emotional dull pain. This is what I have to work on and your thoughts are very helpful.

    Thanks and Best wishes,
    Bearfriend xx

  8. Excellent post, you speak the truth. Quality beats quantity every time. I too despair when I see huge bags of Chinese garlic and other imported food in the supermarkets at a fraction of the price of the local produce. No wonder farmers markets are springing up everywhere.

  9. Yep, that's wonderful then... ^o^

  10. I agree with just about everything you said about food. though I really do like the taste of potato chips-mmm, salty fat. Both cartons of egg whites or fake eggs, and low-fat cheese make me cringe. I don't see the point of either, if you can't handle the fat or cholesterol, don't eat eggs or cheese. My sis was stunned that I eat real eggs, recommended egg beaters, had no answer when I asked why the &%^( I would eat those? I don't think anyone had ever questioned her on that, and she'd never thought of it. And for once, had nothing to say.

    Anyway, I buy some really expensive food, especially meat. I eat very little of it, but if I buy it, I make sure I eat it, it costs so much. I do overbuy produce, but 80% us consumed. That's expensive, too. Good food isn't cheap. Except beans, yummy and cheap and healthy