Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nutritional Extremes

The holidays are over now, and it means that I've heard my years' share of Christmas classics, including my favorite, Do They Know It's Christmas Time At All, by Band Aid. The song was first produced in 1984 as a fund raising relief effort for famine-starved Ethiopia. At nine years old, my friends and I begged our parents for the album, which we had seen advertised on MTV. I'm not sure we really grasped the concept of people starving while we admired famous rock stars. We even play acted the video, taking turns pretending to be our favorite singers.

I'm not sure that as an adult over twenty years later that I really have any better grasp on what it is to starve. Sure, I ate my share of Ramen noodles in college, but then again, I liked Ramen noodles, so it wasn't a hardship. After all, I had other choices.

However, I do live everyday in world where the question is not, "Can I eat today?," but rather, "What do I want to eat today?." I often find myself in the same rut - not enough time to shop or cook, grumbling instead about eating fast food for lunch, and then making just about the poorest choice possible, all the while feeling victimized by the lack of wheat-free choices at most fast food venues.

I think that as Americans, we face two major points when it comes to our over consumption. Firstly, we seem to feel entitled to our right of many choices, with many people feeling they deserve that high calorie, feel-good treat. Secondly, it has actually become more expensive to eat whole foods than it has to buy highly processed foods with minimized nutritional value.

I have experienced the first for years. "I worked hard today, so I deserve ____!" Before I knew it, I needed those rewards, even when my clothes didn't fit anymore. The second was brought to my attention when I went through credit counseling several years ago. After going through our budget, the counselor suggested that we could save money by buying less fresh produce and more canned or frozen produce, or perhaps eating less vegetables altogether! He was very serious that we could save money by compromising, in fact that is exactly the compromise that many lower income families are forced to make.

In Barbara Kingsolver's book Small Wonders she writes, "The United Nations estimates that $13 billion above current levels of aid would provide everyone in the world, including the hungry within our own borders, with basic health and nutrition. Collectively, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food."

What keeps us from spending that money on our our species rather than on pets? If the statistics are true, that we can produce enough food to feed all of the current hungry people, and assuming that we can affect a distribution system, then what is holding us back? I don't know the answer to that question any more than I can stop my self from eating wheat entirely. I can rationalize it, and still not make sense of it.

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