Last week I watched the Chipotle “Scarecrow” ad and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The eerie sounds of Willy Wonka music mixed with the distraught look of the scarecrow helped to emphasize how strange our food industry really is.
But is something really wrong with our food culture? Is wrong to have more food in our house that is in a box, bag, or plastic container than in our refrigerator? Is it wrong to not be able to pronounce what is in our food? Is it wrong that our food lasts years instead of days or weeks?
We can argue that we have created food that feeds the nation – even the world. America spends the least amount of it’s GDP on food than any other country. That’s a good thing right?
I’m not sold. Yes, the food industry and food science have made leaps and bounds to make sure we can get strawberries from California and oranges from Florida year round. But when McDonald’s sells over 1 billion pounds of beef each year (equivalent of 5.5 million cattle) – what is the quality of that meat? What had to happen to have cows reproducing at that rate – JUST FOR 1 RESTAURANT?!
Did you know that in 1970, thousands of slaughterhouses produced the majority of the nations beef – now there are only 13? Or that Smithfield Ham Company (think Paula Deen) slaughters 32,000 hogs a day just in Tar Heel, NC?
Each grocery store has approximately 47,000 different products. We have such unlimited access to food and it’s cheap! But is cheap and easy really the best way to define a food industry?
It’s a culture I’ve grown up in – the name of the game is convenience. Many will sacrifice quality in the name of how fast the food can get into their mouth. And the more I think about it, the more I can’t stomach it. It’s a culture that I believe needs to change – or at least be tweaked.
I love being able to walk out my door and grab a coffee or a bite to eat. But I’m a stickler for quality. Food is one thing I don’t mind spending my money on. I’m not sure many people share that sentiment. But when I eat good, quality food – I feel better, I function better, and I enjoy my food more. It’s worth it for me.
I think that because the majority of our population would prefer taste and convenience over quality and wholesomeness, we end up with the food culture we have today. As a dietitian, I warn clients about eating out too frequently – that restaurants add more fat, salt, and sugar than is necessary. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to have to explain the dangers of restaurants and eating out. I love to eat out, to try new foods, and to have the experience that only a restaurant can bring. But it is difficult to find places to eat that don’t have you scrutinizing the menu for hours.
We shouldn’t have to fear leaving our homes without pre-made food or going on vacation and not being able to find healthy options. This shouldn’t be the case.
I believe that if we want to make American healthier, we have to demand more of our food industry.
This isn’t a new thought and I’m definitely not starting a grassroots movement. Big names in our food industry are already pushing for this. Menus of Change (taken from the site): The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices is a ground-breaking initiative from The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health that examines these key issues. Launched in 2012, the goal of the initiative is to create a world-class structure of collaboration between leaders in nutrition research and public health, the environmental sciences and sustainability, the culinary arts, business, and management.
I completely support this initiative. Our grocery stores and restaurants are the biggest purchasers of food – so what they buy drives what is made and grown. We need to let them know what we want and we need to push them to make better choices.
I’m slowly making changes. I’m researching the restaurants I frequent most. I’m choosing places that focus on quality food and a food culture that nourishes our population vs. just sustaining it.
Forty years ago they strived to make it better. We need to continue to evolve – to do better everyday – and never become complacent.
How do you feel about our food culture?