The Plant-Eater’s Dilemma

“The world is a fabric of suffering and pleasure; in every action, good and evil dance together like a pair of lovers.”

Alejandro Jodorowsky


Earlier this year I joined some colleagues for lunch, and they decided to try out a local poke restaurant (poke, if you happen to have missed the rise of this ultra trendy cuisine, is a raw fish salad made popular in Hawaii). I eat a plant-based diet, but hoped that—since this was southern California—there would be a tofu bowl or other veggie option.

When it was my turn to order, I asked my waiter if they had any vegan options. He seemed unsure what I meant so asked his manager, who responded that they could make me a seaweed bowl. Then, the waiter asked me tentatively, “You know seaweed is alive, right? Is that okay for you to eat?”

My first response was to laugh out loud at the fact that he didn’t realize seaweed was a plant, not an animal. But then I thought for a second. Although it wasn’t his intention, the waiter’s question hit a deep philosophical nerve inside me that all vegans and vegetarians must confront at some point—what truly is the difference between eating plants versus animals? As if he was channeling a Buddhist monk, this man’s question innocently drove to the very root of our human dilemma: by our nature, we must consume other living things and thus cause suffering in one form or another—so where do we draw the line of “allowable” suffering? Well played, sir!

Of course, each of us creates our own moral boundaries, and no two are exactly the same. Nearly all religions evolved to address this very question of how we conduct ourselves in a ‘savage’ world, and most include at least a few dietary taboos. For example, the Jain religion of India, which dates back to the 6th century and is still practiced today, asserts that humans should not eat the flesh or eggs of animals, and should avoid any injury to sentient beings—even by stepping on insects (the most ascetic Jains carry a broom to sweep an area before they walk or sit on it to clear away any bugs etc. that could be harmed). However, many Jains, while avoiding meat and eggs, still consume dairy products, wear leather or silk, or partake in other activities that directly or indirectly cause suffering to animals. As with all of us, even Jains have to draw a line somewhere as long as they exist in this world. That line seems often to be drawn at ‘intent’; doing your best to avoid intentional harm while accepting that by living and breathing we will inevitably cause unintentional harm.

In a similar vein, most vegans and vegetarians choose to avoid animal products for ethical reasons, whether out of a desire to reduce animal suffering, or to reduce their environmental footprint. I am not going to go into the topic of sustainability in relation to large-scale agribusiness and meat production in this post, but I’ve covered that topic in some of my past blogs including this one.

The most dedicated vegans not only avoid consuming animal-based foods, but also clothing and other products either made with or tested on animals. Side note: this is more difficult than it sounds—I only recently found out that most wine isn’t technically vegan, because the filtration process usually involves some sort of gelatin (sourced from fish, cows or pigs), egg whites, or casein (a milk protein). But even the most hardcore vegans can’t avoid causing suffering on some levels: eating plants still involves the killing of insects and microbes (not to mention the killing or ‘harming’ of the plants themselves) and has a carbon footprint. And if you choose only to live on air? Well, you would still inhale microbes that get destroyed by our own immune systems. You can’t win.

Thus the unavoidable conclusion: life is suffering.

How do we cope with such a conclusion, as beings that are blessed (or cursed) with the ability to feel such strong compassion? Alejandro Jodorowsky, whom I quote at the beginning of this blog, has spent the majority of his life and career as an artist exploring this uniquely human paradox. One of Jodorowsky’s childhood memories, which he recreates in surrealist style in his film ‘The Dance of Reality’, illustrates his inner turmoil. He recalls a time when, as a boy of 6, he wanders down to the beach and witnesses huge numbers of sardines washing ashore and dying. He tries to scoop them up and throw them back into the sea, but they keep washing up in greater numbers. Seagulls start to gather and snatch sardines out of his hands.

“The world was offering me two options,” Jodorowsky writes. “I could suffer with the anguish of the sardines, or I could rejoice at the good fortune of the seagulls. The balance tilted toward joy when I say a crowd of poor people—men, women, and children—chasing away the birds and gathering up every last fish with frenetic enthusiasm. The balance tilted toward sadness when I saw the gulls, deprived of their banquet, pecking dejectedly at the few morsels that remained on the beach.”


This one scene encapsulates the whole of life’s joy and sorrow. What nourishes one, depletes another—at least in the physical world. To cope, many philosophers would argue, we must find a higher purpose or cause that gives meaning to the suffering. Some find this through religion, others through charity or vocation.

The biologist and philosophical thinker Ed Ricketts (author John Steinbeck’s close friend and inspiration for the character Doc in his classic Cannery Row) spent years developing his concept of ‘breaking through’ to address this same dilemma. Similar to the concept of enlightenment, breaking through referred to the ability to move from a state of suffering to a state of peace and joy. But Rickett’s version took a more intellectual slant; he described ‘breaking through’ as reaching a heightened state of understanding that could lead to solutions for a given problem—including societal problems such as poverty and racism. As Sagarin and Crowder (2007) write: “Ricketts acknowledged that breakthroughs were driven by passionate conviction and adherence to a cause or belief. He wrote, “Its most common vehicle is love, love of a cause, of people, of a person”.”

It all comes down to love. It’s the simplest truth we know and yet the hardest to adhere to. If we do our best to act out of love, than we can reduce suffering and perhaps even reach our own breakthroughs, spiritual or otherwise. For some people, acting out of love means avoiding all animal products. For others, it means making thoughtful choices about what they eat or what they buy or how they act in other ways.

If your main goal is to have a low carbon footprint, you may choose to avoid meat and dairy but still eat mussels and oysters, since bivalves can be sustainably cultured with little energy input or harm to other organisms; plus, there’s evidence (though not definitive) that sessile bivalves don’t feel any more ‘pain’ than plants when harvested. Others would argue, however, that plants do have some of the capabilities of sentient beings, such as the ability to communicate with each other and respond to danger. Without central nervous systems, however, its unlikely plants have any sense similar to ‘pain.’ In my opinion, it all comes back to making thoughtful choices, and showing gratitude and respect for the resources available to us—whether they are plants, animals, soil, rock, or water. If we could revitalize more widely the ancient practice of paying respect to the food we consume, perhaps this gratitude would spill over into other aspects of our lives.

I’ll admit that sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that many of my friends are passionate about conserving the ocean and saving wildlife, but still choose to eat unsustainable seafood, or beef and pork from factory farms. But then I remind myself that I often drive a regular car that runs on fossil fuel instead of riding a bike, and I buy foods wrapped in plastic when I could choose to avoid them. Rather than developing guilt complexes about all the things we do ‘wrong’ or finger pointing at others who do so, we could put that energy towards building empathy and compassion for each other as well as other living things.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

So ultimately, was I okay with eating seaweed? By the time my order arrived, I wasn’t so sure. Ironically, I was mistakenly served a poke bowl filled with raw fish, and had to send it back for the seaweed bowl. I had to hope that although I didn’t eat the fish that had been prepared for me, it wouldn’t go to waste. I had inadvertently caused undo waste and suffering by ordering the vegan dish. Morality is a complicated game. When my seaweed bowl finally arrived, fish-free this time, I acknowledged the effort and life that went into the meal and ate it without complaint.

heart and brain.jpg

Food for Thought: Keep it Real (and organic)

“You are what you eat eats.” –Michael Pollan, author

Are supplements all they're cracked up to be? Or have we become too reliant on quick fixes that can't live up to the hype?
Are supplements all they’re cracked up to be? Or have we become too reliant on quick fixes that can’t live up to the hype?

In my last entry of this series, I left off questioning why we have in general become so reliant on nutrition in synthetic, encapsulated form. Now I’m the first to admit that it’s easy to get lured in by the supplement hype–compounds like resveratrol (typically found in wine, now synthesized into potent capsules), and concentrated fish oil come to mind as the most marketed recently. Who wouldn’t want to live longer (supposedly), or reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s?

I’ve definitely bought my share of vitamins and nutritional supplements over the years—some claiming to boost energy, others to ease stress or build immunity to illness—even though I know that there isn’t a lot of evidence backing up most of these claims. I get sucked into the marketing, like millions of other people looking to improve their health. So I can understand how the supplement business is raking in $23 billion a year and growing.

I believe there is a place for herbal remedies, natural supplements, and the like–but not as a substitute for a wholesome diet. There are certain herbs that have been used for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years for health reasons, and can be a useful addition to a healthy diet. But this is not how most people are using supplements. We get inundated by advertising from large corporations looking to cash in on a growing market, who have built a culture in which we obsess about consuming all of the “essential” nutrients in the formulated, synthetic doses the industry deems appropriate. And all the while the health and wellbeing of our society is actually declining.

Keep in mind that supplements are different from ‘superfoods’. Certain foods pack a strong nutritional punch (think dark leafy greens, berries, quinoa, and chia seeds) and are therefore considered particularly beneficial to consume, hence the honor of beeing deemed a ‘superfood’. While companies do indeed try to profit off of these foods as well, and there seems to be a new trendy superfood every year, the supplement market is where I see the most cause for alarm.

Enjoying a meal with friends or family can boost your mood and result in a healthier mind and body than eating alone or in a rush.
Take a tip from the French–enjoying a meal with friends or family can boost your mood and result in a healthier mind and body than eating alone or in a rush.

Do it Like the French

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and several other books, newspaper and magazine articles, and radio presentations, describes this as the ‘American Paradox’. It’s an ironic twist on the American invention of the term ‘French Paradox’, a term implying that we can’t understand how a culture that consumes daily doses of cream, wine, cheese, and fatty meats could have such healthy citizens, while diet-conscious Americans are falling victim to heart disease and diabetes at much higher rates. Really, it comes down to the very simple fact that French culture still revolves around natural, unprocessed foods, often locally and organically produced. In general, they do not obsess about whether they’ve taken 500 mg of this or that nutrient twice daily; rather they incorporate wholesome foods into their diet that balance the small portions of rich foods they also enjoy.

Muscle Milk was one of the protein supplement brands that was found to have unsafe levels of heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and arsenic.
Muscle Milk was one of the protein supplement brands found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and arsenic.

The French also still appreciate moving–walking, gardening, cycling–natural ways to incorporate exercise into daily life in an enjoyable way. Instead of anxiously popping resveretrol pills in hopes of gaining an extra year of life, they sip on quality red wine in the company of friends and family. And I think they really are on to something–and have been for centuries. Conversely, the American tendency is to follow fad diets (i.e. Atkins, paleo, etc.) or buy dozens of supplements, oblivious to the stresses these synthetic versions of nutrients place on our bodies.

Many of the vitamins and minerals in supplements are in forms that the body cannot readily absorb. Even worse, unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—which means the products don’t have to undergo clinical testing in humans. That saves the companies billions of dollars, but also means that the health claims are unsubstantiated, and in many cases supplements (including protein powders) have been found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or other toxic chemicals. There are a few recently added guidelines (as of 2007) to try to ensure purity and consistency in supplements, but the oversight is heavily lacking.

Not everything is better in capsule form.
Not everything is better in capsule form.

If you think about wellbeing holistically, our health is not determined solely by the nutrients we consume, but also by our mental state, our stress levels, and our relationships/support networks. The French culture (and others like it) is still at least partly defined by the art of eating slowly, and with company. It all flows together–when you eat in this manner, you tend to eat less, and enjoy it more, enhancing the benefits. And even on a purely nutritional level, scientific studies have proven time and again that nutrients isolated from the food source from which they are derived never seem to work as optimally as when the food itself is consumed. The benefits we get from eating fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains are synergistic because of a complex suite of complementary phytonutrients and dynamic interactions that we don’t fully understand yet.

Know Thy Food

Pollan takes the ‘American Paradox’ analogy a step further by describing our nearly complete estrangement as consumers from the food production process, and from the origins of our food. I believe that this is the fatal gap in awareness that allows the paradox to exist. Growing up, I was never consciously aware (nor was taught) that walnuts grew on trees or carrots grew in the ground. It didn’t affect me that the entire existence of bananas depends on a very few banana plants that are still able to produce seeds and thus keep the species alive (but just barely); to me, they were just always available at Albertson’s, every day of the year, in all their seedless glory.

A large banana plantation is being sprayed with fungicide in an attempt to control a destructive leaf virus that is devastating banana crops across the globe. Photo from
A large banana plantation is being sprayed with fungicide in an attempt to control a destructive leaf virus that is devastating banana crops across the globe. Photo from

The closest I got to agriculture was driving past southern California strawberry fields covered in pesticides (not that I knew about that as a child), day laborers hunched over the plants with bandannas covering their faces. I feel somehow deprived of a connection to the earth I should have been raised to respect; a connection that, if nurtured in today’s younger generations, has the potential to improve our understanding of natural systems and encourage a greater environmental ethic within each of us. But most of us are deprived of this knowledge partly by a culture of convenience, but also by an industry whose profits depend on our obliviousness to the destructive and wasteful processes that keep the system in place.

Our awareness of meat production is even more dismal, partly because the gruesome realities of ‘efficient’ factory farming are kept purposely hidden from the public. Pollan visits some of these sites, however, and in in The Omnivore’s Dilemma describes the sickly state of cows who are fed an unnatural diet of corn (which they can’t digest properly and therefore have constant stomach problems), antibiotics, hormones, and lard–yes, they are fed their own fat. It is a depressing state of existence, the result of capitalistic economies of scale that completely disregard the much more balanced and healthy processes and scales developed by nature. The cows are unhealthy, the people that eat the cows are unhealthy, and the land that sustains them all becomes contaminated.

Yet there exist tiny pockets of resistance to the chemically and genetically modified corn-based industry in America. Small holistic family farms that still allow their cows and chickens to graze in grassy pastures, farms that work with the seasons and for the land rather than against them. Pollan describes one such farm (Polyface Farm, the subject of many articles and documentary segments since) in detail.

Polyface’s owner, Joel Salatin, developed a farming system that is nearly 100% self-sufficient and provides meat, vegetables, fruits, milk and eggs to a strong base of loyal local customers. The meat from his animals consistently tests clean of the bacteria frequently found in Tyson chicken, plus is free of hormones, steroids, and other drugs pumped into factory-raised animals. Farms like Salatin’s don’t simply fulfill some whimsical ideal of organic farming–they actually provide insight into a very modern understanding of complex natural systems.  Salatin recently emphasized this point in a rebuttle to an editorial in the New York Times that declared sustainable meat production is a ‘myth’. Farms like Salatin’s defiantly cast off the artificial construct of NPK, the Green Revolution myth that by simply inputting measured quantities of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium into the soil, industrial agricultural outputs can increase indefinitely.

A chicken strolls in one of the lush fields of Polyface Farm as owner Joe Salatin looks on in the background. The chickens help fertilize the fields so that cows can graze on the nutrient-rich grass.
A chicken strolls in one of the lush fields of Polyface Farm looking for worms. The chickens help fertilize the fields so that cows can graze on the nutrient-rich grass, and provide eggs that owner Joel Salatin sells to local customers.

As the ramifications of the Green Revolution are now being felt in the form of droughts, pollution from pesticides and synthetic fertilizer, dust storms, erosion, exhausted fields, and famine, more and more people are finally starting to take heed of the alternative voices in agriculture. Voices that have for decades tried to remind us that the soil is not just an equation of simple minerals, but a complex web of living organisms–bacteria, fungi, insects–and non-living nutrients and minerals all in particular balance with each other to create soil quality. By stimulating this natural balance rather than wiping it out with chemicals, we can create a much more sustainable and efficient food production system, at scales that make sense environmentally.

Teaching children how to grow fruits and vegetables allows them to connect with nature and feel a sense of pride in producing their own nutritious food.
Teaching children how to grow fruits and vegetables allows them to connect with nature and feel a sense of pride in producing their own nutritious food.

Thankfully there is also a growing grassroots movement to re-connect children with the food we eat by developing school gardens and using experiential learning to teach children about everything from nature to nutrition, build confidence, and provide them with fresh fruits and vegetables that they are excited to eat. I am inspired every time I read about these programs, like the Garden School Foundation, or Bronx Green Machine.
The concepts of sustainable agriculture, the slow food movement, and mindful eating all link to an ethic of individual and societal wellbeing, an ethic that is yet to be adequately cultivated (or perhaps I should say returned to) in our culture.

I suppose just as we have become reliant on a reductionist approach to science, trying to understand the world in tiny fragments without always connecting these back to the bigger picture, we have also started treating our bodies like factories that we can manipulated with specific inputs–500mcg Vitamin C, 50mcg calcium–to achieve specific outputs–cure common cold, grow strong bones–without appreciating the wondrous complexities that really make us tick both mentally and physically. We don’t yet understand fully how all of the chemical and electromagnetic signals absorbed by our bodies work together to structure our physical and conscious selves.

We are, however, incrementally learning that the mind and body are intricately linked, and scientists are slowly realizing that ‘health’ is impacted as much by our attitude and mental state of being as it is by physiological determinants (or perhaps these are one and the same, ultimately). Dr. Bruce Lipton explores these aspects of medical research in a book called The Biology of Belief, which I’ll delve into in my next blog entry.

In the meantime, I think you can have you’re cake and eat it too (and why wouldn’t you want to eat a cake if you had one??), but if you ask me it tastes all the richer if you make it yourself with good quality ingredients grown in harmony with nature, and enjoy it with a special person. And maybe even with a glass of wine just for the pure enjoyment of it–not because of any particular wonder chemicals it may contain.

Still working on that Food Revolution

hummingbird-nectar-no-red-dyeI know it’s not Thursday, but I wanted to throw back to a blog I wrote a few years ago on another website. I bought a hummingbird feeder for my mom the other day, and was looking at the various nectars for sale at the store. It was depressing. Most of them had artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, and were heftily priced to boot! Is it not enough that we are poisoning ourselves with processed food–now we have to poison tiny birds too? For goodness sake, all you have to do is mix sugar and water together and put it in the feeder.

The experience reminded me of a blog I wrote a few years ago, so I went back and read it. I found that everything I was thinking at that time is still timely and important to me, so I thought I would share it with YOU! Now that I am back in the U.S. and teaching about sustainability, I find it all the more imperative to continue stressing that the decisions each of us makes for ourselves and our loved ones builds the foundation for positive changes in society. That said, feel free to read on if you are as concerned as I am about the future of food, health, disease, and the world.

July 16, 2010: An American Food Revolution–is it coming?

Last night, Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” premiered here in Australia. The television show follows Jamie’s efforts to improve the health and eating habits of residents in Huntington, West Virginia—rated the ‘unhealthiest’ city in America based on government disease and death statistics. Obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes are rampant in the town, as they are throughout America (especially so-called “middle” America). These health traumas correlate directly to the abundance of consumed fast food, deep fried foods, and empty carbohydrates. In other words, blatant malnourishment. Not undernourishment, but a consumption of inadequate vitamins and minerals. When he gave the statistic that this generation of children is expected to be the first to die at a younger age than their parents due to obesity-related health problems, the severity of this problem really hit me.

I watched as Jamie visited the local elementary school, and was appalled to see that the same barely edible food that I had blindly ingested as a child was still being served at public schools. Jamie was equally disgusted, especially upon finding that children were being served pizza for breakfast. Preservative filled, meat stuffed, greasy frozen pizza at that. I won’t even go into the wasteful (and dangerous chemical-filled) packing materials and plastic/Styrofoam lunch trays, utensils, etc. That’s fodder for another blog. Now, I never ate breakfast at my elementary school, but I did purchase school lunches from time to time, and I clearly remember the square slabs of rubbery pizza stuffed into little plastic and cardboard boxes, topped with runny cheese and pieces of crunchy “meat”. White bread, white cheese, brown meat. All full of preservatives, fat, and empty calories, but severely lacking in essential nutrients.

As a child, you can be forgiven for choosing pizza over salad. Children don’t often understand the importance of healthy, balanced eating, especially if they haven’t been raised to appreciate such basic values. They just want what tastes good, and even more than that probably, they want what their friends are eating. They don’t want to be the weird one eating green stuff. But what is not forgivable is the federal government, state government, and school districts of America who have a complete disregard for our modern understanding of health and the direct links between food consumption and preventable diseases. Most adults fret about cancer, while in the meantime more than two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese but are completely ignoring the influence of diet and exercise.

I was ashamed to witness the defensiveness and outright hostile response of Huntington residents to Jamie’s attempt to spread awareness about responsible eating and cooking. It’s embedded in human nature to defend our beliefs and habits even in the face of undeniable contrary evidence, and never was this more blatant than on the first episode of Jamie’s show. Despite the abnormally high obesity and death rates in the country, many residents felt threatened by someone suggesting they change their lifestyles (ahem—similarities to climate change, anyone?), even if it would benefit themselves and their children to do so. Even as high up as the district officials responsible for planning school menus, defensiveness and distrust were thrown at Jamie even though he was completely clear about his goals and intentions.

Of course it’s not particularly the school cooks’ faults, nor the schools themselves. It comes down to the outdated, invalidated government dietary regulations for school meals. Jamie’s frustrating experience during his first week at the Huntington elementary school made this clear. He prepared roasted chicken, brown rice, fruit, and vegetables for the children—a perfectly balanced, flavourful meal in which he used all fresh spices, herbs and other ingredients. Yet he was penalized for not having ‘two servings of bread’ on offer. Apparently, the other lunch option, the greasy thawed out frozen pizza (which was recycled from breakfast the day before as this day’s lunch), fulfilled the two bread servings, and so was allowed to be served (no one seemed to care about the quality of the bread servings—e.g. the fact that they were preservative filled white bread, which has nearly no nutritional value).

“Look at the regulations now,” says Renee Hanks, food service director for the South Colonie School District in Albany. “The U.S.D.A. requires so many carbohydrates that we’re throwing whole wheat bread at them. We’re throwing extra crackers at them. If they aren’t out and active they can’t handle all those calories.” So few people question this policy, which blows my mind! As for many things American, the school lunches came down to quantity, not quality. I hung my head as I listened to the events unfold, because as a child I witnessed first hand these same kinds of pre-cooked, unwholesome meals. At the time, I ate them unquestioningly (as queasy as it makes me to think of it now). But now, I know better. As should parents—or at least they should be concerned enough to want to know more about their children’s diets and how they can improve them. How can you not question sugary pink milk, or rubbery salt-filled nuggets and pizzas preserved with mono- and diglycerides, especially when your children are getting fatter and more sluggish by the month?

A few people have taken issue with school meals elsewhere in the country, in particular the efforts led by Alice Waters (see photo, right) in the Bay Area, California, to improve the quality of school lunches and teach children about the food they eat through edible gardens. I think this should be a compulsory requirement for all schools, and would fundamentally change (read: improve) the way we understand and respect food as we grow and age. My French flatmate explained to me that in France, dietitians and chefs visit every school and as part of the curriculum children are taught about basic food ingredients and how to cook. On top of this, each year they spend an entire week dedicated to food education. They are fed balanced meals made with whole foods, and the majority of it is still subsidized by the government. As a result, most children grow up with a stronger appreciation for real food and how to balance healthy and indulgent eating. And, surprise, surprise, they eat their veggies instead of dumping them in the bin. We desperately need a country-wide program such as this in American schools, and even more-so it should be extended to educational programs geared for parents. Time and again we are faced with images of American children who cannot discern a tomato from a potato, or who think carrots grow on trees. The combination of student gardens and healthier meal options at a few trial schools throughout the country show that childrens’ interest in learning and ability to concentrate are greatly enhanced with these programs, but yet they still have not caught on in most places.

For some reason, our government seems averse to supporting preventative healthcare programs, such as nutrition education, despite the billions they would save on the cost of medical treatments for those with diabetes and related weight disorders. Instead of subsidizing surplus powdered milk or artificially flavoured frozen concoctions, the government needs to sponsor healthier options for children, as do many other Western countries. Some policy makers are trying to increase government budget spending on food-to-farm programs and student gardens in schools, but they keep hitting a brick wall in the legislature. According to the NY Times, a Senate committee recently cut by more than half President Obama’s proposal to spend a record $10 billion more on child nutrition programs over 10 years, including school food. The government just isn’t getting it. A shift in American culture towards this kind of preventative care would be paramount and uplifting. Children would have natural energy (not the ADD kind that is overly medicated), would be healthier, fitter, happier. Parents would be better educated, proud of their efforts, and live longer to enjoy watching their children grow up healthy. Food would once again become the centrepiece of culture in a positive way, rather than as an enemy to overcome with yo-yo diets and artificial sweeteners. This is the utopia I imagine, folks! But the fact is, it is incredibly possible. In the face of so many seemingly insurmountable battles (GE foods, health care reform, carbon emissions), what we feed ourselves and our families lies at the root, at the crux of it all. And we can be in control of it. We can even, together, demand more control over it in schools and public facilities. We can demand that our children be treated with respect rather than treated as cattle.

I think it all starts at the individual level—not with schools or districts, but with families. Parents and kids at home. Jamie himself, unable to win the hearts of the elementary school staff despite his honest intentions, decided to make individual connections throughout the town and had remarkable results. He met a pastor whose concern for the community’s health matched his own. He encouraged a family who relied on fried and frozen food to bury their deep fryer and begin preparing simple, healthy (and might I add, cheap) meals together. These last images provided a spark of hope that the roots of positive change can indeed be sewn, one at a time, in the hearts of responsive people. No right-minded person wants to contribute to their own or their children’s death by what food they prepare. But as it stands now, many are eating the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of the negative health value in the ‘foods’ (I use the term loosely) they choose to consume.

I say it begins with the individual. And it must. Children learn first and foremost from their parents’ habits. But from here it must spread to the community, then to local, then to national regulations on food standards and education. Ignorance should no longer be an excuse for disease. Nor should budget. There is too much information about healthy eating while staying within a reasonable budget, whether as an individual or as a school district. I hope that the efforts of people such as Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters develop roots that spread the country and improve our standards of living for future generations.

There are hundreds of links I could suggest if you were interested in learning more, but I will just start with a few: