Food Politics

I recently listened to a lively call-in show on which experts (dieticians) and callers (complainers) discussed food politics. Among the many maladies that food and eating inflict on us are 1. the impact of food production on the environment, 2. the zealousness of vegans and those who challenge the vegan diet, and 3. obsession, hysteria, stubbornness and fear.

Without going into particulars or even science, I would like to say a few words about food. We need to eat to live. First I’ll get my own guilty concern out of the way. While we in the privileged West argue about the value of quinoa and acai berries, there are people starving to death in Yemen. There, I said it. Let’s get some perspective on this.

No, this will not be a blog about food insecurity, because we really don’t like to either think about it or believe it’s a thing.

Salad series 1

Let’s take the first point as above: the impact of food production on the environment, and subsequently, the human race around the world. Many foodistas will argue that factory farming of animals—beef, poultry, pork—is a resource-heavy enterprise. Lots of water, grain, fossil-fuels. Resources that could be better used producing food for the entire world. Except one has to ask oneself, if mass hypnosis overcame U.S. meat industrialists, ranchers, and chicken-moguls and they switched to producing emmer, wheat, barley, millet, and potato starch, would they also be inclined to sell to poor countries? That remains to be seen.

Chick peas and soy beans are already big here. Rape seed and grape seed (must be lots of grape seeds coming off wine-production, wouldn’t you think?) are cooking oil sources. Dairy products are of great concern for a variety of reasons. The lipophobe shuns butter, cheese and 4% milk! The idea of it! Manure is viewed as a smelly hazard when it’s an excellent source of both compost and methane—fuel, get it? All of Paris heats their homes with it! They eat horse meat over there, too, though. Non-fat yogurt will suffice, because my god, my microbiome is all out of whack!

Salad series 2

I’m sliding into item number 3 territory, so I’ll dial back to the vegan and the vegetarian diet, along with fasting and flushes. Or is it purges. Or colonic therapy. Oh, oh. Obsession again.

I gave up meat and poultry for several years. I ate fish and lots of cheese. I joined PETA. I did this because of a nightmarish movie I watched about factory farming and hunting. I had PTSD from it for years. So I was kind of a “vegedairian” as my husband called it. I couldn’t do that again. I love a good steak. Rare to bloody, prime cut, crusted with my husband’s special rubs.

Enough of that or the vegan reader I have will shun me forever. I just want to say that I totally get it. Food production to the point of obesity in some nations and starvation in others doesn’t make sense. But what also seems senseless to me is item 3: our obsession with a basic need like food that shifts from eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full—what an idea—to spending billions of dollars on dieting remedies, billions of dollars on preventable diseases and billions of dollars being the first to dine at the new hip restaurant before all the other foodies find it.

Salad series 3

I’m like every other normal American woman. I can’t get through a day, or even an hour, without thinking about food and worrying about my body. I think by now this is in our genetic makeup. We can’t help ourselves. Either we’re starving ourselves to the point of illness or were gorging ourselves to that same point, and all the iterations between.

I mean, we have endless choices in food here. Food trucks, food stores, food restaurants, food take-out, food delivery, organic, probiotic and fake food. We have food scientists who release contradictory data about food every year. We have gluten hysteria, migraine hysteria, lipid hysteria. We interview old people on Greek islands, trying to learn the Tao of Living Until Your 100th Year Without Cancer or a Heart Attack.

We worry about food. Most of us worry not because we don’t know where the next meal will come from, but because that pesto calamata olive bread is too fattening. Or when can I have my next grapefruit? I’m so hungry! Or, do you know how many calories are in that 4 ounce glass of Malbec?

Salad series 4

I think what I’m trying to get at is to say (to myself) and to every other food obessionista out there: Relax! Don’t “go on a diet”. Live on a diet. At diet is what you eat. What you live on. That’s a diet. Greek people eat olive oil and humus. That’s a diet. Protein, vegetables, grains, even butter. That’s a diet.

I’m not sure how to close except to say that food is, well, it just is. Think about that word for a while.




About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Food Politics — 4 Comments

  1. My daughter is vegan because she believes that food production–specifically meat farming–is killing the planet. Her somewhat-too-rosy-for-me belief is that if we all stop eating meat and dairy the problems caused by big agro will vanish. She may be right, and I have been attempting to reduce my meat consumption (although, as a baker, at this point I will say that they will have to pry butter and eggs out of my cold, clenched hands). But any solution that is this simple strikes me as inherently flawed.

    Meanwhile, I love to eat, love to cook, and am trying a new approach: to savor, rather than bolt. Since I am one of those people who does everything too fast, this requires an overall effort to slow down and smell the hummus (or whatever is being served). That, I think, is a good thing…

  2. I have tried to cut down on meat, at least to sensible portions. I hate tofu. I hate the texture. I hate the fake flavors they add to it. And don’t get me started on the texture and taste of chickpeas. I make myself eat fish at least once a week because my roommate likes it and I know it’s good for me.

    My big problem is bread. I love bread. I love breads of almost all kinds. I like Indian food but I love Indian bread. Poora, chapati, naan… I just try to be sensible.

    And then we go to the local Greek diner and the dinners could feed three people. We take the rest of it home and eat it for next night’s dinner.

    • Yup re tofu and chickpeas. The one of my kids still living at home is, along with s.o., on the vegan wagon (with the s.o.’s overlay of “Gluten is the Root Of All Evil/i.e.makes you fat”), so what with that and the spouse’s heart diet, no one here eats the same food anymore. I stopped eating meats other than fish and chicken years ago, but they’ll pry my fresh baked bread out of my cold, clutching fingers. Ditto cheese, eggs, and real butter.