The NY Times health blog ran a little piece the other day that’s getting a lot of press in the foodie blog-o-sphere: Five Easy Ways to Go Organic. As one concerned mama points out over at the Cleaner Plate Club, this post has them talking and talking and talking … there were nearly 300 comments last time I checked, who knows what’s happened since then? Over at Serious Eats, they were only up to 12 comments last I looked, but all in all, the conversations in all these places quickly gets so contentious and complicated that it undermines the point of the original article — how do we help people who may be afraid of organic, or even afraid of unprocessed food, begin to make the transition? How do we make it “easy” and “affordable”?
I happen to live someplace where we have reasonably easy access to locally-raised meat and poultry and eggs and vegetables. I happen to live someplace where a lot of people hunt and eat game. And yet, every time I go to Albertsons, the majority of the carts are filled with “food in boxes” — food that has been in some way pre-cooked or pre-processed and that is supposed to be “easy” and that is always cheap. In the parking lot of the grocery store there’s an Arby’s advertising 5 sandwiches for 5.95. There are a lot of very broke people around here — something like 15% of the folks in town live below the poverty line — I’ve lived poor, it’s exhausting. I can see why if you’ve spent all day working some shitty job and your kids are ragging on you and you’ve only got a 20 to get you to payday why you might be tempted by that drive-through. Or by a frozen pizza. Or by the fried-chicken dinner deal (for which I have to admit, I have a weakness). We don’t teach home ec in schools anymore and we’re now on families that are two or even three generations into not knowing the basics of how to cook.
So yeah, to foodies, it might seem ridiculous that two of the five items on the list are ketchup and potatoes, but if those are the primary vegetables your kids are getting, maybe starting there makes sense. Maybe taking a second to look at the milk in the cabinet and choosing the (big) organic milk over the regular milk might be a start — it might give you a sense that there is something you can do, after all. We all have to start somewhere, and for my part, I’d be happy if we can just start weaning people off the food in boxes. I think it’s hard for those of us who like cooking to remember that there are people who are afraid to touch raw chicken, or who don’t know what to do with fresh green beans, or who prefer the sameness and reliability of frozen dinners. Maybe while we’re all lobbying to reinstate PE in the schools we should also be thinking about reinstating Home Ec (minus the gender segregation of course). At least that way kids would have been taught by someone how to buy and cook real food.
I don’t know, I just get frustrated when I see the disconnect. The point was 5 easy and affordable places to start — not the best, not the only, not even the best for every area of the country. But when people are already overwhelmed, sometimes it’s good to give them a short, simple list of things they can do.
Maybe the mantra to think of is Michael Pollan’s: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.