Sue Van Fleet: Eating in line with your values is harder than it seems
Few things can bring me to crazy the way food does.
Ask me my beliefs about what to eat, and the opinions zoom out. Organic, yes. Pesticides and other chemicals, no. Fresh whenever possible, and I prefer that the animal products I eat not come from a creature trapped in a factory farm, thank you very much. Oh, and hold the GMOs.
But then reality sets in.
For starters, food created in a sustainable, ethical way is more expensive than the overly processed, chemical-laden crap that passes for sustenance these days.
The second reason I struggle in my food choices is that you practically need a Ph.D. in B.S. detection to buy food that aligns with your values. The consumer has landed squarely at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to being able to make educated choices about that which we eat. It’s a shame, really.
Labels don’t have to list all the chemical additives languishing inside the cans and packages on your grocery shelf. And even the questionable ingredients that are listed — you know, like high-fructose corn syrup and those unpronounceable beauties — can’t be the best we can do for our bodies.
As an example, I’d been buying eggs from cage-free or free-range chickens, thinking I was being all virtuous and stuff. I had visions of them doing what chickens like to do, which is scratch around in the great outdoors.
Well, not so fast, you misty-eyed liberal. As it turns out, a chicken can be cage-free and still have a fairly obnoxious existence. In “The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter,” Peter Singer and Jim Mason point out that so-called cage-free hens are often crammed by the thousands into sheds. Their beaks are typically seared off since the close proximity can often result in aggression.
And free range? You’d think that would suggest a sunny patch of grass, wouldn’t you? But in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Michael Pollan writes that “free range” on the egg carton can mean little more than a dirt yard. You have to look for “pastured” on the label.
See what I mean about needing that degree in B.S. detection?
And this isn’t just about the treatment of critters. Food from grass-fed animals typically has healthier fats and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants, according to Pollan. You also don’t ingest the hormones, antibiotics and other goodies required in a factory-farm operation.
So, yes, I’m a cranky consumer — and outraged that labeling laws favor, not us, the people who are eating the food, but instead the groups with big pocketbooks and powerful lobbyists.
Do I continue to buy food that doesn’t meet my standards, ethical and otherwise? Of course. And until I hit the lottery, I will continue to do so.
Instead, I eat less meat, buy organic when possible and forget about it.
Still, if you’re ever in the grocery store and you see this woman in the middle of the aisle with a glazed look on her face, just steer your cart gently around her. That’s probably me, figuring out what to eat.
Sue Van Fleet is assistant news editor of The Daily Telegram. This opinion column appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Lenawee Pulse.