This month, we’re stepping away a bit from primary foods nutrition and focusing again on secondary foods, the ones we put in our mouths. As you find your way on your health journey, getting your food choices sorted can be what Charles Duhigg calls a keystone habit in his book The Power of Habit: a keystone habit is one that not only creates a desired change—it also has a cascade of other good habits that follow in its wake. This week, we’re taking a look at the question of ethical, the “E” in SOLE food. If you’re just joining us, there are three previous posts you can check out: seasonal, organic, and local.
Many people have at least heard about the seasonal/organic/local movement, so today we’re pushing the up button and taking a look at a final consideration around food: have you ever thought about the people who bring your food to you, in particular the “cheap” food we seem to demand?
Behind most of the cheap food in America, both in stores and restaurants, is a host of woefully underpaid workers with no benefits whatsoever: growers, pickers, drivers, processors, cooks, and servers, many of whom are migrant and/or undocumented workers.
The reality: we still have a long way to go.
If you want to learn more about the human rights issues that plague our food system, I highly recommend the documentary The Harvest/La Cosecha as well as the books The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan and Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman. Many of the workers they describe cannot afford to purchase healthful, fresh food for themselves and their families, and the resulting cost to our society continues to increase in the areas of health care, food assistance, and many others.
How to not be silently complicit?
Buying your meat, dairy products, and produce directly from a local independent grower/producer you know and trust is a start. Money spent in a locally-owned small business tends to stay in the local economy in the form of wages for local workers, who in turn shop locally as well, not just for food but for other necessities.
For what used to be considered luxury goods such as sugar, coffee, and chocolate—which tend to come from developing countries where the labor force often lives under horrible conditions—seek out items labeled “certified fair trade.” As with organics, fair trade can be “spendy” … which may actually make you reduce the amount of imported items you purchase and appreciate them more when you do indulge.
A word about “superfoods” such as açai berries, quinoa, etc. Forget for a moment that it’s a bit crazy to think that if a little of something is good for us, we should overdose on it. Most of the benefits of so-called superfoods can be met by a well-informed SOLE food diet.
I have an immediate distrust of these foods, and here is why: most of them come from third-world countries, where growers scramble to produce the latest “it” food for those of us privileged enough to live in first world countries, thinking that this is their chance to improve their own lives. The bad news is that when this happens, many native species are removed from the crop rotation. What this gives rise to is the same monoculture problem that is overwhelming our own country, reducing our food security as a nation and degrading our environment.
Additionally, these third-world growers often end up not being paid a living wage for their crops, and when the fad is over, they are worse off than when they were subsistence farmers. Do we really want to be responsible for that?
Bear with me as I’m going to dip into what my kids call—with that eyeroll that only teens are capable of—the hippie woowoo part of the program.
Our food provides us with proteins, fats, and carbs (the macronutrients that give us energy in the form of calories) and with vitamins and minerals (the micronutrients that help us use macronutrients to build our bones, muscles, and other tissues).
On a deeper level, we are also energetic beings because we can absorb the energy of the world around us: have you ever walked into a room and felt the energy of those already in it hit you like a wave? It can be very positive, like when you enter a party, or extremely negative, when you walk in on two people having an argument.
In the same way, have you ever noticed how different food tastes when it’s made from scratch with the purpose of nourishing you out of love rather than made in mass quantities from highly processed ingredients with the sole purpose of making money?
I find it impossible to believe that we don’t absorb the energy of the food we put inside our bodies. When our food passes through so many hands before reaching us, it surely absorbs some energy from each person along the food chain between farmer and our plate. I like to make every effort to ensure that the food with which I nourish my family is handled with love and respect along the way.
SOLE food makes sense to me as a parent and as a human being because it falls in line with the values I want to instill in my children and live by: treat your body (and your mind and your spirit) as well as possible so that you can do the most good with this one precious life you’re given, treat the earth with respect, live in mutually supportive community with others, and do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself—not by keeping them dependent but by empowering them to be self-sufficient.
I keep playing around with the idea that SOLE food is the real SOUL food—one is for secondary foods, the other for primary. I just can’t come up with the right words to fit the second acronym.
So I’m turning it over to you, my hivemind. Send me an email or drop a comment below and let me know: if SOLE food is seasonal, organic, local, and ethical, what should SOUL food stand for?
Let’s make it a contest! I’ll pick my favorite answer, and the winner will get free access to Meal Planning Made Simple to keep or to gift to someone else.