Give Me Food and Give Me Freedom

As is no secret to this blog, I underwent gastric bypass surgery in January of 2010, as an option of last resort to help me get my life and my weight back under control. Going through the process of it, I had to do a lot of learning about nutrition, macro- and micro-nutrients, and what really counts as food (hint: large swaths of the typical American diet don’t count). Ten years ago, as a college sophomore, my diet consisted mainly of Mountain Dew, E-Z Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, Lucky Charms from the Dining Hall (verboten in my childhood, and now I understand why), and a pack of cigarettes a day.

Is it any wonder that I underwent a life altering surgery before I was 30?

We have a serious disconnect in our country with food. It is a basic necessity. A common factor between all humans. We all have to eat. How and what we eat is an individual choice for each of us. But we also have emotional factors relating to our food. Sometimes we use it as a treat: “I will treat myself to some ice cream after this bad day at work.” Or we punish ourselves with it: “I promise starting Monday, I will give up the McDonald’s drive through and eat oatmeal every day until these last 10 pounds are off.”

In a country with a severe obesity epidemic, with a First Lady who is on a mission to help prevent obesity in our nation’s children, you would think that our top priority would be finding ways to make it easier to get fresh, whole, healthy, and natural foods to more Americans.

You would think.

But our Country is run by money. And big agriculture and big pharmaceuticals have the money. And they have the ear of our government. And you and I don’t.

Our Country allows things like Olestra (a fake fat that also serves as an industrial lubricant and paint additive, aside from a cooking oil for “lite” potato chips) to be legal for human consumption, and despite well documented gastrointestinal side effects, it can be used without a warning label. But heaven help you if you choose to consume raw, unpasteurized milk, which is outright criminal in some states, forbidden to be transported over state lines, and is the target of SWAT-like raids and regular undercover operations.

Seriously.

People have lost their farms, their homes, their incomes, and more for daring to sell or distribute raw milk or cheese products. Here is a new example today of a woman facing felony charges over her raw milk. If she is convicted, Californian tax payers will be footing her “3 squares a day” in some penitentiary. I mean, really, is it worth it to the State of California to incarcerate her?

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating a small farm’s meat, dairy, or produce? If you know one, I would be interested to hear about it. I can show you a few cases of individuals with documented illnesses related to raw foods, but only a few.

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating meat, dairy, or produce from a large Big Ag company? Well, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey on August 3, only 3 weeks ago, due to salmonella contamination that resulted in one death and at least 76 reported illnesses. Jennie-O recalled turkey burgers for salmonella contamination in March and April. Last year, 2000 people reported illnesses related to the massive 500 million eggs recalled for salmonella.

Anyone else remember when fresh spinach was impossible to find because it killed 3 people and sickened almost 200 in 2006?

You can check Wikipedia for a list of some of the more egregious examples.

How many of those big operations saw people go to jail I wonder? Oh, I am sure a few heads rolled, but did any SWAT teams break doors down and bust in like it was a cocaine raid? I would be sure they did not. And people died in some of those cases.

I am not saying that eating raw foods like milk or cheese doesn’t come with an inherent risk; sure it does. But so does eating food produced and processed by those big corporations, and you don’t see them getting the same treatment — raids, busts, jail time, etc., for the same risks.

My source of frustration is the criminalization of any food, the FDA’s heavy handedness with small farmers selling to people who are 100% aware of the potentials with their purchases, and the FDA’s willingness to overlook “unfoods” like Olestra, HVP (can you imagine any food being boiled in hydrochloric acid being edible?), cheese “analogues”, and so many other things, while demonizing whole, fresh foods, consumed the way humans have been consuming them for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In the intervening 10 years since my “college diet” that I described above, I have learned what really counts as food, and what does not, and while I have room in my diet for some “unfoods,” I believe we as a Country would be much better served if we worked harder to make whole, fresh, raw, and nutrient dense food more accessible, more palatable, and less threatening. We should be able to choose and we should be able to make informed decisions with honest information, not industry-funded studies designed to sway your opinion towards the industry in question. We should not allow foods like sugary and nutritionally devoid cereals to be marketed to children and parents as “part of a balanced breakfast.”

I also support the right of people to eat those sugary cereals if they want them, in the same way I will defend the rights of a smoker to smoke, even if I don’t smoke anymore myself. If someone wants to eat cheetos and a 32 ounce cup of cola for breakfast every morning, they should be free to make that choice, and they must assume the risks of eating such things (diabetes, hypertension, etc.). If I want to eat a slice of raw milk cheese on home baked bread, I should be able to, while assuming the risk of something like listeriosis. (At least the listeriosis would be temporary.) If a vegan wants to eat cheese analogue that should be their right. If I want to eat a chicken raised and processed on someone’s farm that might risk campylobacter or salmonella, I should be able to, and I should be responsible enough to cook it thoroughly, just as I would a bird from Tyson or any other Big Ag farm operation (because, guess what, those Big Ag birds come with exactly the same risk!).

My whole feeling on the matter is that I should be able to choose foods I feel to be healthful and nutritious without worrying that the person selling it to me might be risking jail to do so, or I might find someone knocking on my own door if I committed the crime of sharing such food with my friends. I simply do not trust the people who promise that Olestra is safe to consume to tell me what is not safe to eat.

If the freedom to choose you food and its source matters to you, I encourage you to look more into this issue. Get educated on all the risks and benefits of raw milk, and other raw, organic, and seemingly “risky” foods. In a perfect world, everyone would know where their food came from, what is in it, and what the associated risks are.

If you think the government might be going a little overboard in its prosecution of small family farms serving and feeding their local community, I encourage you to check out Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund to get frequent updates on legal actions.

Whichever side of the matter you find yourself on, I encourage everyone to educate themselves, though. Learn the facts (both sides), and make informed decisions about the food you eat and the reasons you eat it. Try new foods. Try fresh foods. Find new and interesting flavors and textures. But do not let fear mongering by the government and the food and pharmaceutical industry (or supposed miracle cures from the other side either) pigeonhole you into one side or the other.

And every once in a while, enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms or a Pop-tart, or some other thing that hardly counts as food, because that won’t kill you either. That is what freedom should be.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bdb on August 25, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    This really moved me. I mean it. I have no idea why it affected me so, but it did. it’s a very good Op/Ed piece. I encourage you to send it to the RTD.

    Reply

    • Posted by laruse on August 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM

      Thank you for the encouragement. I don’t really have the nerve to send it on to the RTD, but I encourage anyone to forward it or pass it on to people or outlets where it would be well received.

  2. I really enjoyed your article. The more time I’ve spent reading about nutrition, food, and where our food comes from the more concerned I’ve become about the hold industrial agriculture has on our government and how much they shape food policy. You are right. You should be able to eat what you want. And I think that you should also have access to all the information you want when making those choices without having to wonder if the information you’ve been give is biased or not.

    Reply

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