Amuse-bouche: Whole Foods, entire budget

March 31, 2011

When I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for a class last week, I violated one of the few rules I live by: eat in near-complete ignorance of where your food comes from.

As a rule, I don’t  want to know how my chicken was treated before it became a component of my McNugget, which species of fish are farmed unsustainably, or which vegetables are still awash in pesticides when I buy them at the supermarket. I don’t eat any foods specifically for its locavore … ness, and I just barely can argue that I eat healthy.

My number one goal as someone with a tiny food allowance is to eat cheaply, and it makes for a mighty struggle. Vegetables for dinner—unless they’re bathed in sodium, frozen, and microwaveable—take preparation, which takes time I often don’t have. And as Vincent Vega said—and he is just as content as I am to ignore his food’s foul origins—“Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.” I’m not in love with tomatoes, or quinoa, or carrots. I like butter, cheese, and bacon—things that carry moral and health-related baggage.

Of course, living near the inexpensive bounty of the Social Safeway, along with a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s also not too far away, I am keenly aware that I don’t live in a food desert—which makes it a crying shame that I don’t shop as healthy as I can. That, plus my liberal guilt, has given me a food philosophy. But it is composed of the vague notion that Trader Joe’s is better for the environment and/or my body, that fruit is good, and green is good, and that chicken is better than pork is better than red meat for the environment.

And that’s about it. I rationalize that because I drink red wine (antioxidants, right?), am no good at cooking chicken, often buy vegetables, am slightly allergic to red meat and eggs, and am wary of my genetically awful cholesterol, I come out on top both ethically and healthwise.

This, of course, is bad. I’m not writing in defense of my ignorance, and I don’t believe I have a right to eat destructively. Lazy consumers like me harm our environment and our bodies, and, as I learned from Pollan, help perpetuate some of the most useless, horrendously expensive agricultural subsidies in America. Great. The preachy priss in my mind reminds me that my poor choices are feeding into the monster cost of health care and are encouraging an expensive government apparatus designed to pump us full of cow, cheese, and corn in its various processed states.

And yet, I keep eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. My new go-to drunk food haunt? Five Guys. I make sound shopping choices when it doesn’t cost extra money or effort, but I cut corners in some bad ways, too—and I’m at least making a half-assed attempt at eating responsibly. What about the people who aren’t?

This is why, the more I read and consider what I eat, I’ve come to believe that there is a clear role for the government in our grocery stores. Treating your body like a garbage dump has become easy to do and rationalize in America. I defended my diet to my dad once by saying that I definitely eat better than at least half of my friends. “Is that going to keep your blood pressure low?” he asked.

He’s got an excellent point. Many big-hearted Americans are eating morally, but many more aren’t. The information about how the American food industry is incentivizing crappy eating and maiming our environment is out there. If we won’t swallow the lesson that all that gumshoe journalism is trying to teach, someone is going to have to force feed it to us.

Work off all the calories in that butter, cheese, and ham with Molly at mredden@georgetownvoice.com


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