Day 79: Food, Food, Dubious Food

It seems that with my blogs on the subject of food (one of my favourite subjects, in fact), I have opened a can of worms (very good for your composting bin). Lots of comments. Thank you for those.

I’d like to add a bit of clarification to what I was saying the other day. I wasn’t suggesting that the “nanny state” (is that a British term? or international?) should dictate what we can and can’t eat. I like my naughty calories as much as the next person, and am all in favour of personal freedom to choose.

What I was really talking about was not the range of foods available, but how the ingredients in those foods are produced.

John, you say that producers are responding to what consumers want. But did consumers say they would rather have high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar in their Pepsi? Did they say they would rather have GM than non-GM foods? Did they say that they would like their McDonalds burger to come from cows that have lived up to their ankles in their own waste in a feed lot, and been fed on an unnatural diet of GM corn, ground up animal parts, growth hormone, and antibiotics? I don’t think so. Yet the big food companies can get away with all kinds of dodgy practices because consumers don’t ask questions, and food regulators don’t argue with Big Money.

In most American restaurants, the protein choices are: beef (see comments above), chicken (even worse), farmed salmon (also full of antibiotics and colourings, and disastrous effects on local marine environment), and shrimp (extremely damaging fishing practices, basically bulldozing the ocean floor of sponges, corals, and other species). So that leaves me with the veggie options, but eggs and milk products are usually contaminated by the same unnatural inputs as chickens and cows.

I am not saying that other countries are above reproach. Maybe I am just better informed about the US food industry, as there is more information available in books and films and online. But I don’t think that the food industry in other countries is quite as rich, nor as powerful to influence food regulation, as in the US.

At the same time, the nutritional value of even unprocessed food is plummeting. Broccoli had 75% less calcium in 1991 than it had in 1940. Carrots lost the same percentage of their magnesium. Potatoes lost nearly half of their copper and iron. A Canadian study comparing 1999 with 1951 showed that potatoes had lost all of their vitamin A and 57% of their vitamin C, while oranges had their vitamin A content slashed to an eighth of its former levels. Pre-industrialisation, crops used to be rotated to allow the earth’s mineral levels a chance to recover. Agricultural practices evolved over the centuries to ensure the quality of the long-term food supply; what one crop took out of the soil, the next year’s crop would put back in. But intensive farming has swept away those centuries of accumulated wisdom in order to feed our ever-growing population – and to make a few fortunate people very rich indeed.

Just like the fossil fuel industry, we are robbing from the future to feed the present.

Other Stuff:

A mixed bag of weather today. A procession of clouds with legs (squalls) meant I was forever adding and subtracting garments and waterproofs. Fortunately the forecast 20-foot waves didn’t show up (yet). Two little techno-hurrahs:

1. As my 2011 iPod finally died (battery refused to recharge) I rather nervously retrieved my precious MacBook Pro from its waterproof case in the fore cabin and synced it to my 2009 iPod, so now I have all my audiobooks again. Hurrah 1!

2. On impulse, I decided to try my Sanyo Xacti video camera, which had been languishing in a Pelican case since the on/off button stopped working last month. And it worked! Hurrah 2!

Cynthia Kruger – thank you so much for your input on organic farming. Great to hear from somebody who (unlike me!) really knows what she is talking about from the sharp end of the farming business. I do hope that the tide is turning, and that one day very soon the infrastructure will be in place to make it viable for more farmers to go organic. What else is needed? Subsidies (or at least an end to subsidies for big agri-business)? Advice for aspiring organic farmers? Some other form of centralized support?

Claire in LA – thanks for the book recommendation. I have made a note of it and will look it up when ashore.

Stephanie B – good for you and the Relay for Life. I hope it went well. Who DO you send the lighters to from the beach cleanups?

John H – the ultra-nutritious potato sounds handy, although in fact we already have enough food to feed everybody. It’s just that about half of it goes to waste.

Julian Hapel – I’ve met Mark Lynas a couple of times. He also featured in the thought-provoking film, “The Age Of Stupid”. I would generally give him credence, as I know how thorough he is in his research. As to “Stress Down Day”, what a great idea. Stress is a toxin, and will affect health just as surely as the toxins I was talking about above.

My prescription for Stress Down Day: Live simply, eat local, and always look on the bright side of life!

Quote: “There is no duty we do much underrate as the duty of being happy.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Photo: my pre-Jetboil days: boiling up water in my little red kettle in La Gomera in 2005.

Sponsored Miles: Today we thank the following people: Mark Reid, Sam Miller, Wayne Batzer, Catherine Thomas, Bruce Gervais, Larry Grandt. Some of these people have waited a long time for their names to come up!