People from my generation in Latin America used to eat homemade food, but ironically few things at my home were made from scratch. In fact, I grew up eating as if I lived in America as my mother, a psychologist, embraced modernity in our kitchen. It always amazed me to look at my tongue in the mirror and see many colors, depending on what I ate or drank: it could appear purple, green, or red, depending on the Kool Aid colors and flavors. The Knorr’s Maggi soups, the colorful jellies, and the CheezWhiz spread on my white flour crackers provided plenty of artificial coloring and flavorings, like Yellow 5, Blue 5, Green 5, Red 4, and Monosodium Glutamate and, of course, at the top refined sugars and flours. The ingredients were diverse, and some were impossible to articulate. My high school year 1974-1975 in Santa Barbara, California, was enough to make me realize how mistaken my mother was in her kitchen thinking.
Immediately, I converted to vegetarian. After finding out that my favorite meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken was not real chicken, I decided to advocate for healthy eating. But I don’t want to be labeled as a fanatic, I cook in order to eat nutritious foods and veggies. This is a habit that everyone should start at an early age, and as easy as you brush your teeth every morning, the plan for the daily meals has to be in place.
ORGANIC OR LOCAL?
What am I going to have for breakfast? What am I eating for lunch? What’s my dinner going to be? These are three very important questions that we have to ask ourselves everyday. And then, paraphrasing Michael Polland, I am still figuring out in which side of the street should I be, organic or local. In his contribution on the blog “On The Table” Polland states, “All things being equal, any organic produce is often tastier and more nutritious than conventional produce, but after it’s sat on a truck for five days, it may be inferior to that fresh conventionally grown carrot.” I agree by eating local I’m leaving a less heavy footprint in the environment, and by supporting locals I support the economy, but I also feel I need to put some pressure on the importance of knowing if the veggies are treated with pesticides when I walk in a local store and ask if the produce is organic.
In the other hand is the killing of the animals. I really don’t want my belly to be a cemetery, but I only can try to persuade people, not to impose my view. After being vegetarian for 35 years, I now eat fish in rare occasions, and I don’t want to befriend only vegans in Facebook. In this sense, I work very hard in trying to surpass the “Empathy Walls.” Of course I strongly believe that protein is not a separate food group, and that every plant that grows in our planet contains amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein. This is a fact, and it is not a mystery, think it over: Where the cows get their protein? In the grass that they eat! I admire the movements, but I can’t agree with Joel Salatin’s view, quoted in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In the book, Polland asks Salatin how he justifies sacrificing animals for human consumption. Salatin’s response is, “people have a soul, animals don’t”(Polland 331). I like the new concept of “non-human persons,” because I think that my dog deserves all the same respect and love than any of us in the family. A dolphin, a pig, and a cow deserve to have a good life too. If there is not difference between animal protein and vegetable protein, why do we kill animals?
OBESITY, THE NEW EPIDEMIC
Last but not least, it seems we are losing the fight against obesity. It was not seen as much when I came to America to complete my senior year in Santa Barbara, California, as it is now. All over were pamphlets and photocopies of articles stuck on blackboards about eating consciously. “You are what you eat,” was written everywhere, and Hippocrates’s sentence, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I decided to change radically, and some years after I had my own children. I made sure they would not eat “crap.” I breastfed them, prepared their food with whole grains, and avoided dairy products as they grew older. Now that I see my friends here in America fighting against cancer, I wonder have I made a difference by the way I fed my babies, as they still tend to eat junk food when given the opportunity. I think that if they would have the chance to grow their own fruits and vegetables from kindergarten their decisions on what to eat when they grow older would be much positive for their well-being.
Vegetable gardens are very important, especially in urban areas. A good example of a “hands on” experience involving elementary students with planting, tilling the soil and digging fingertip-sizing holes, is the ideal. Kids need the tools to have a sustainable living, and that is the only way we can secure their future. In our hectic world we have no time to cook our meals. The “rat race” is getting harder, and it is easier to buy cheap frozen food, and not to think on how well we are feeding our little ones. It is faster not to read the labels when we go shopping to the supermarket, tired after a long day of work. The Health Department would have to make a drastic change, because as Jukie Gutman states in her article “Why Michael Pollan makes me want to eat Cheetos” in the Utne Reader portal, “the obesity epidemic is one of the greatest public health threats of our times, perhaps rivaling AIDS or avian flu.” Certainly, eating well will pay in the long run, and Americans will enjoy a much better quality life if a policy on this respect would be enforced.