You eat what you are, or who you are
From Jan 2009

You eat what you are, or who you are

For many food more than ever has become a tool of idealism and philosophy, people no longer eat for survival or sustenance. Instead we live in an era when people look to define themselves by what culinary tastes they have. It is not merely a case of ‘healthy’ eating or living off ‘fast foods’ it actually becomes a somewhat complex issue.

For starters, definitions are marred by perceptions garnered by misinformation and agenda driven propaganda. The idea of healthy food is often one that leads to many an assumption. What many consider healthy is often simply label based and ‘diet’ defined.

Health foods are often called such because they are deemed to be better for us than other types of foods. Now what makes them better is usually the fact that ‘health’ foods are less fattening, lower in sugars and more natural whereas ‘bad’ foods are often high energy but low nutrient value types.

What is healthy however should truly be defined by the individual’s situation, if one is trapped in the frozen Alps then surely a chocolate bar is healthier for that scenario than a low kilojoule salad?

Or look at the diet of an elite level athlete who needs a tremendous amount of energy to sustain their lifestyle. The foods that are good for them are not necessarily ideal for someone who seldom leaves the lounge room for the gym.

The trouble with any diet related eating plan is they all overlook the most basic element in loss and gain. The simple reality is that what energy is consumed needs to be matched by the energy expended. Through the many cryptic mazes of wonder diets and eating plans, one should always remember that what energy you eat now, you will need to burn later, or your body will simply store it for that proverbial rainy day. Furthermore contrary to the mystic alchemy of ‘diet science’ everybody is different – literally.  No two bodies burn or convert energy in exactly the same way.  Whether this is genetic or environmental varies as well because not only are we all different in a great many respects but we also lead vastly differing lifestyles.  As logical as this seems it is often whitewashed by generic marketing, State sponsored dietary planning or individuals looking to others for foodspiration.

And let us never forget what got us here as a species. Our adaptability and willingness to consume anything that does not kill us usually helps sustain us for a while, but even then we will still take a bite of that apple!

What we put into our mouths has spawned a tremendously profitable industry, not so much of exotic sit down restaurants and food based social experiences. But more a case of these so-called ‘lifestyle’ foods. Vegan, organic, toxin free, high protein, low carb and so on.  Whether these choices are made by the individual for reasons of ‘health’ or ideals they should be better understood by the eater. To decide that one will not eat meat has often been touted as a health choice, and now also an environmental one, when in fact it often is more a case of idealism and a desire that one is making the right choice by their body. Denying oneself the natural foods which helped us to evolve as a species is a choice only granted to those few living in a luxuriously opulent society. Selling this choice as anything other than a lifestyle philosophy is really just another way to capitalise on ignorance.

Next time you profess your vegan holier than thou attitude look up stearic acid and check to see how many ‘vegan’ elements you really have around you. Animal based products are not limited to things you put in your mouth. It is here that I am genuinely sympathetic to the ideology because it must be painful to live within the ranks of a society which, in your eyes and heart of hearts, commits so much wrong.  That being said it is really more about ideology and your moral code versus diet and that is the only point that I can seek to make.

The organic food craze is one that seems to be taken up with a great vigour by many an urban yuppie who thinks that they will change the world and themselves by only eating all natural, organic foods. The tricky thing about the term ‘organic’ is that it is simply a term. And to define what exactly is organic really differs from within the various food industries. The real question of ‘organic’ should be directed at the consumer that buys into the ideals of the notion that everything they eat is hand picked by the farmer and then placed straight into their wooden shopping basket.  Take for example broccoli or kale not to mention most other species of fruits and vegetables.  Are these organic or genetically modified? And what are the distinctions that one shall draw when it comes to being genetically modified organism (“GMO”) friendly?

The reality is that technology surrounds us in so many forms that it is often overlooked, and to be truly organic one cannot utilise some of these evil advances in food hygiene, preservation, safety… and pest control. These so-called impurities which are often a necessity to a great many communities have done well for many a generation. That they do not have the local alternative organic shop, like those with the ‘informed’ choice, is perhaps their loss. The world cannot live on an organic diet, it will always remain a niche self important market that will demand a high cost for those that can and will afford it.

Making money from selling ‘organic’ foods is easy on many levels for a great many from retail outlets, to suppliers to those doing the ‘auditing’ to make sure the food meets the standards so as to be defined as organic. But so long as we have those in society that crave such a thing, then so be it. And so long as we have fear mongering that our foods are polluted with toxins and poisons, then the wonder alternative of ‘organic’ will forever save many a life in their minds.

The attempts to ban Genetically Modified (“GM”) foods has taken on a great strength stirring from those who resent anything scientific to those with a legitimate concern of the loss of biodiversity. The trouble with the debate over GM foods is that many base their opinions on malicious disinformation often created by interest groups that seem more interested in battling a global conspiracy than defending your health.

Should GM foods be banned? No… that is stupid.  Traditionally a lot of the foods we take for granted from apples and carrots to breeds of livestock and so on were crossbred and cross pollinated, which in a sense is a primitive form of genetic modification. The GM foods we think of are highly scrutinised, well researched and are done for more reasons than to make those evil corporations money. So an absolute blanket prevention of ALL things GM is reactionary and based on populism and ignorance.  And never forget that we had a strictly organic diet during the Dark Ages.

Should GM food be separated to non GM food? Yes of course, it should be defined at a produce and retail level. Weaker strands are more likely to die off as they lose to superior GM crops in many cases and because of this we risk losing the uniqueness of many a natural species of plant.  So long as there is a market for an alternative to GM foods then one can be assured that so long as law and regulation does not harm this market place, that the non GM foods can be isolated.

Unfortunately, for a great many people on this earth the luxury of organic foods is not something which they can determine for themselves.  Both natural and human influences can savage and destroy regions which ordinarily would be ideal for productive farming and crops.  Droughts, war and governance often working together in an evil trinity can destroy human lives through starvation in parts of this world.  It is because of this that men like Dr Norman Borlaug have helped to come up with resistant strains of rice and the like so as to help people in terrible regions to survive and live.  While your ideology and personal philosophy is a right, like any such Utopian ideal when mandated by violence of law, it can destroy so many unseen individuals both directly and indirectly.

The trouble with GM foods is that like ‘organic’ it is ill defined in a great many people’s minds and sees all edibles that come under this banner thrown into the same shopping basket.  Everything GM is considered as some perverse Frankenfood mutation that will mutate and kill us all should we eat it. Whereas ‘organic’ are the pure foods which are as close to the fruits of Eden that man should ever come by. There are most certainly negative consequences to GM foods as will be shown I fear in the none too distant future just as there are also shortcomings when it comes to organic foods.  The trouble is that what should be a consumer’s choice based on a great many things has now become an ideological battleground where the fallout not only lands on your plate but the world’s over.  To simply be against or pro one or the other with absolute conviction is self-defeating, especially when this is all too often done from a philosophical or ideological perspective.  Exercise your freedom of choice most certainly but dishing up ignorance or stirring the pot of an uncertain stew of knowledge and then serving it up to others is in most cases giving out a belly full of fear mongering.

Now pretend you live in a drought starved, developing nation where the staple for a week is perhaps less than the average ‘westerner’ consumes in a day (or even an hour for some), and then imagine you not only have your family to feed but a community. Imagine there are people out there, not in your country, that are trying to develop high yield, salt resistant, drought resistant etc strains of wheat, rice, bananas and so on so that your nation’s economy can develop and sustain itself even during the harshest of seasons.

Then imagine that a group of ‘informed’ people, most likely YouTube scholars, think that these crops and foods are evil and are part of a global agenda to control and take over the ever important commodity that is food. I suppose when downing an organic non GM tofu sandwich you somehow know what is best for the rest of the world, as millions starve desperate to taste just a flake of the crumbs that have fallen from one of your ‘special’ cookies.

Was a man like Dr Borlaug who saved no doubt millions of lives with his genetic modifications to agriculture part of some evil globalist agenda?  Was the work that he did evil and wicked, because it did not serve the noble ‘organic’ movement’s perceptions of absolutes?

Perhaps they seem like silly questions. But they are not to those who are so ideologically inclined (or perhaps who simply believe themselves better ‘educated’) so as to hold the belief that human beings, especially those in the ‘poorer’ nations, are really an environmental cancer on this earth and should be left to Mother Nature’s mercy and therefore that Dr Borlaug and men like him are traitors to the ‘common good’. But alas, that shall be saved for another rant.

Within affluent societies we have the privilege of choosing what we want to eat, we literally have an endless smorgasbord of dishes and snacks to fill our ever-expanding bellies. This choice often taken for granted is sadly not available to a great many. We can sit back and decide what type of person we want to be, how we look, what music we listen to, what ideologies are in vogue for us at the time and what foods we can consume to define us. Eating is no longer a necessity but a luxury. Food is no longer something for which we have to hunt and scavenge, but something we can waste and with which we can bolster or damage our self-image.

So next time you look for that organic meat alternative burger and read about the next fad diet, just think to yourself how lucky you are that you live in a small part of the world that allows you such choices, while many millions have no idea from where their daily food will come. And remember those thoughts you have in that magical bio-chemical wonder we call a brain came about through centuries of evolution, greatly influenced by a diverse diet of plants and animals.

Serve up what you wish on your own plate but please leave mine alone.  Individual opinions however real or imagined they may be are fine and should be celebrated but it is in the policy enforcement of such things that all of us suffer however that may be. Remember sometimes a banana is just a banana.

Enjoy what goes in, and remember it is just food and not an edible politico-ideological banner to fly high so as to help serve others your daily dose of elitist smugness.

Kym Robinson, January 2009