Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I vote with my fork

With the recent election in Canada and the upcoming election in the US, voting is on my mind. When I was a student I was a passionate voter. I truly believed in the power to change the world with my right to vote. I remember my first vote in Canada. I felt so empowered, so capable of making a difference. The positive messages about voting in the media recently reminded me of my youthful optimism.

Leading up to this election in Canada, I did not have that same optimism that I once had. I thought "this is a waste of time and money, the government will not be changed in this election, the political parties no longer speak to me, what's the point." It annoyed me to hear this cynicism in my head. But I couldn't help but think that this election was going to galvinize power for one party and fracture others. I thought it would do more damage than good.

I am not an overly political person in the traditional sense in that I don't belong to a party and I have voted for two different parties in my life. I don't talk about politics regularly and take my parents' marriage advice: don't discuss who you vote for if it isn't the same person, you just end up arguing.

I believe that every day, I vote for what I believe in with my food choices. The food I consume is a refelction of my values. My views of social welfare, environmentalism and sustainability, the world economy, human and animal health, and my role as a citizen is expressed with every food choice I make. It is a lot to wrap my head around. It can be overwhelming (well, its organic and its local but it has more than 5 ingredients- a Michael Pollan food rule). When do I prioritize nutrition over sustainability or carbon footprint? When do I take a stand against genetically modified food? When do I put quality over locally produced? It is very complex. And sometimes actually stressful.

What I tell people (hopefully before I start a rant about the food industry) is that food is my religion and my politics. I believe in my food values and they are very personal. I try not to shove it down people's throats. Sometimes I catch myself ranting about how people feed their kids (and I am allowed to rant on my blog, that's what it is about!) But in public, with people I don't know very well, I try not to express myself too strongly. My beliefs are mine and I have very strong opinions but I am not here trying to tell people how to eat. I observe, I reflect, and hopefully share my experience. I am not sticking lawn signs outside and buying advertising space. I am not campaigning.

Who is campaigning? Every company that benefits from my fork vote. Every major lobby group and corporation that influences the government, pharmaceuticals, health Canada, the healthcare system, the food industry. Remember doing one of those projects in school when you traced the journey of one of Canada's major exports- the farmers, the trains, the freighters? The complexity and enormity of the food industry goes much deeper than basic nutrition and supply and demand.

As an example, I will try to trace the path of an apple. An apple seems like a great food choice, after all, it is a whole food, nutritious, portable, requires no special packaging. But a conventional apple may be genetically modified (for shape, taste, color, uniformity) promoting agriculture with little or no biodiversity, sprayed with chemicals (manufactured by giant conglomerates that may or may not have your health and welfare in their best interest), harvested in an operation that uses fossil fuels and natural resources, packed, transported using fossil fuels, stored (for what could be months in cold storage, using natural resources in giant fridges), shipped (consider the manufacturing of trucks, pallets, etc), unpacked, unpacked again, sold by a business using natural resources, purchased, transported, stored, consumed. That's one exhausted apple! Now, I am a big fan of apples, have lots in the kitchen right now. But, is there a better choice? One that doesn't leave such a large footprint or cause harm? Perhaps. But what I hope to show with this example is that with one simple choice I have made a pretty big statement about a lot of complex issues.

Food has become really complicated. I don't often watch the Food Network and food shows but recently I was checking out the guide to see what is happening in the world of food television. On the one hand you have "cooks" showing you how to make a "meal" out of pre-packaged, processed food. On the other hand you have culinary competitions that are a spectacle and not exactly inspiring the home cook for dinner ideas. I think there is value in food tv entertainment, but we have more programming about food than ever before, and less people cooking.

While making my mom's great mac and cheese the other day I was thinking to myself, "why would you buy something in a box, this takes no time at all?" And then I asked myself, "what the hell are people doing while dinner is in the oven or on the stove that they can't prepare it from scratch?" They must be watching all this food programming. Because, as Jamie Olivier eloquently pointed out in maybe his first season of Naked Chef many years ago, you can make the sauce for the pasta in the time it takes to cook the noodles. Its a no-brainer.

Okay, yes, went on a rant. I do get worked up thinking about all of this. So I have come to some conclusions about voting with my fork. My priorities may shift, depending on what it is and what purpose it serves. But everything I feed my kids will be something of value and quality. Secondly, it seems like people are interested in food and cooking but aren't doing much of it themselves- I think this comes down to knowledge and skill. Finally, voting is a right that I feel so lucky to have and I wouldn't squander it but I don't have to wait every 2 or 4 years to be heard. I vote every day. I vote with my fork.

Who are you voting for?