Here's how the article strikes me: Julie Neidlinger, the author of the blog post, was criticized by her friends for drinking Diet Coke, and it stung. She pushed back with a blog post which went viral because it stirred up the food controversy.
I sat down at the table with friends, enjoying our get-together at the diner. The waitress took my order for a Diet Coke. She left. A friend spoke up.
“They say that Diet Coke increases your chance of getting diabetes by a factor of seven.”
“I heard people were getting seizures from the aspartame in it.”
“Today the news said a lady died after drinking 10 liters of Coke.”
“That’s nice. Enjoy your glass of city water filled with chemicals like fluoride,” I replied.
Are you kidding me?
First issue in the blog post that I would like to address: Friends who tell friends what to eat and drink. That's a tough one. Sometimes people are just uncouth. Maybe they are socially inept and don't realize that they are uncouth. We all have choices about what to eat, and we all also have choices about how we interact with people.
For example, when reacting to unsolicited dietary advice, we could choose to write what we really think in a blog and hope the offender reads it. Or, we could say, "I appreciate your concern about my welfare, and I'll take your advice under consideration," then smile, look them directly in the eye, and take another big swig of Diet Coke followed by an exaggerated sigh of pleasure. Or, we could call our friend on the phone and say, "Hey, can we talk? Remember the other day when you told me that Diet Coke will give me cancer? Well, it made me feel like I was being judged for my personal habits. It made me feel pretty awful actually, so next time we go out to eat, can you please not lecture me about what I order? Thanks!"
This last response might give the friend a chance to respond. They might say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. It's just that I care about my friends, and I don't want them to get sick. And I just started finding out about the toxins in our food, and I've become very passionate and vocal about it. Next time we eat out, I'll try harder to be considerate of your feelings."
Personally I am thankful for the people who have "lectured" me about what I eat. No, it didn't always feel good, and some of my friends have better social graces than others. Sometimes I felt defensive. I felt like saying that my health habits really aren't so bad. Sometimes I resisted the urge to point out their flaws and see how they liked it. I'm human.
Many of my friends, however, have such a high level of respect and grace, that rather than feeling demeaned when we talked about food choices, I felt enlightened and loved. I wish I knew how they did that.
Those little conversations rattled around in the back of my head, sometimes for years. Then one day when I tried raw food and felt energized, nourished, and more alive than I had felt in a long time, I remembered all those comments. Life experience has led me to the lifestyle choices I make today, but I couldn't have made those choices if I didn't know they existed in the first place. So yeah, you "granola pushers" or whatever the heck we are calling you these days, bring it on! I welcome you! I embrace you! If it wasn't for you, I'd still be eating Oscar Myer Wieners on Wonderbread and washing it down with red Kool-Aid and a Twinkie. Okay, I'm exaggerating. More likely, it would be a microwaved Lean Cuisine with a V-8 and a Centrum tablet, with me thinking I'm all healthy and wondering why it hurts to walk when I get out of bed in the morning.
Recently, while waiting as my son participated in an event, another parent mentioned that he's a raw foodist. I was ecstatic. He was the first real-life raw foodist I've met outside of a raw food meetup or some type of transformational gathering. What began as a enthusiastic conversation turned into a minefield as he began to tell me that I'm doing it wrong. Apparently, green smoothies are bad for you because you can't eat fruits and vegetables at the same time. I said I've been studying nutrition and trying to figure out the best way to get enough nutrition on raw food. He said that's completely unnecessary - our ancestors didn't worry about what was in the wild foods they ate. They just ate whatever was available. I said something like, "How long did those people live? How did they fight infection and disease?" My impression is that they lived just long enough to reproduce, and generally not a whole lot longer. Striving to find a happy note before changing the subject, I smiled and said something like, "There are lots of ways to be raw." I'm convinced that the gentleman is a nice guy who is simply speaking his truth. He was not trying to shame me into eating like he does. I don't know whether he knows or cares how his comments make other people feel. I'm sure that his approach alienates some people, and I chose to not take it personally.
Of course, it's natural to talk about food when people are eating. And sometimes, when people are excited about something, like what they've recently learned about food and diet, it's hard to not share. Trust me, I've made this mistake several times. We can try to share thoughtfully or apologetically, but what do we do? Talk about shoes? Yes, changing the subject is always an option. My point is that it can be very difficult to not talk about whatever we feel passionate about. And there's a real risk that we might start talking about vegan shoes, and off we go again!
I am repulsed by the idolatry that my body is so precious that I must find something more healthy and pure, that these non-organic fruits lack enough nutritional value for the little god that is me.
Okay, on to the second point of the blog post that I'd like to address: precious perfect purity princes and princesses. These are the people who feel they must eat superior food because they are superior people. I'm sure they must exist. I have never met one that I am aware of, though. Most of the people I know who try to eat better do so because they want to feel better. Some eat organic food because they want to vote with their paycheck. They believe, like I do, that everyone, rich and poor alike, has a right to enough high-quality organic food to eat. And everyone could eat better food, if things were being run a bit differently. They simply put their hard earned money toward what they wish to support. It's not fair to accuse all of these people of narcissism.
If everyone decided to boycott Coca-Cola, the Coca Cola Corporation would have to figure out what they need to do to stay alive. Like, perhaps, bottling a more healthful beverage. Even the poor would benefit.
I can't always afford organic produce, but when I do buy it, I like to think that maybe someday it will be the norm instead of the exception, and everyone will be able to eat it regardless of income level. However, that will never happen if local organic farmers aren't supported. So thank you, all you buyers and growers of organic food. Maybe you eat better than I do, but thank you, all the same.
When you donate food to the food pantry, do you donate the expensive organic carefully-sourced food that you insist is the only acceptable thing to put in your body and that you feed yourself and your family, or do you get the cheapest canned and boxed food at the store?
I would like to comment on the criticism of organic people donating non-organic food to food banks. Applying Maslow's Hierarchy of Need to food insecurity, it makes sense that a person suffering from hunger will set aside concerns about things like pesticides and GMOs in food until they are in a better position. I am grateful to those organic food eaters who donate non-organic food to food pantries. They are doing what they can, and no one can judge their effort. I am even more grateful to those who organize community gardens for people with food insecurity so that they can grow their own organic food. And I have witnessed people donating organic food to food pantries. For all those who help the hungry and the food insecure in large ways and small, bless you.
Here's the thing that makes me angry: Food insecurity isn't necessary. There are enough resources to go around. Here in Las Vegas, everywhere I look in the city I see landscaping. What if the plants we cultivated for our walkways, schools and parks were fruit-bearing? What if we created more community gardens? What if it became a trend in Las Vegas to cultivate an edible landscape in one's front yard? What if instead of a handful of local farms, we had ten times as many?
Someone might say that edible landscaping requires more water than desert landscaping, and that farms use a lot of water. My response is that there are ways to garden which are more water-smart, and we already waste a lot of water here that can be better used for helping people.
I believe that it is a myth that we need the food processing industry to make low quality, highly preserved foods with a long shelf life, and the giant agricultural industry to create genetically modified seed and bathe livestock in antibiotics in order to "feed the world." The myth is perpetuated by the industries to protect their interests.
Out of the fear industry, many things have developed. Like being afraid of our food.
Okay, on to the next point that grabbed my attention. Fear and fear-mongering. Fear that if one's child touches corn syrup, all is lost. Yes, I know what you mean. I agree, it's a problem. There are fear mongers spreading nonsense about politics, religion, and civil rights. Fear mongers say that legalizing marriage between gay people will threaten the institution of marriage. Some fear mongers said that the price of food would go up with mandatory GMO labeling, which caused California citizens to vote against their interests (in my opinion,) and defeat Prop 37. There are fear-mongers spreading exaggerations about the Standard American Diet, too. However, I wouldn't characterize every person who is interested in avoiding processed, convenience and junk foods as a fear monger.
Then there are people who are almost religious about what is in their food. However, that's their right. Instead of eating kosher, they eat "pure." Are they motivated by fear? Not necessarily. I believe that many of them are motivated by strong core beliefs. Let's leave them alone. After all it's a free country.
Julie Neidlinger didn't mention outright paranoia, but it seems that exists too, right alongside fear mongering. There exists out there somewhere a person who believes that the big chemical corporations put red dye in our food because they are in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry. They think we are deliberately being fed cancer-causing food so that we will be forced to take drugs to treat cancer. Or that we are being fed the SAD (Standard American Diet) to shorten our lifespans so the government doesn't have to pay out as much Social Security. Before the memos from the tobacco corporations went public, I would have said that this was baloney. Now, I don't know. Honestly, I don't. Maybe sometime in the future, memos from the agricultural, processed food, and pharmaceutical industries will come out proving they've been intentionally creating food addictions and health problems. In the meantime, I'll continue to try to do my best to eat for health, and try to educate people around me without making them feel badly.
I don’t know if you’ve ever bothered to talk to someone who’s really old and had to do some of that live-off-the-land stuff, but you ask them if they want to go back to doing things by hand and they, like my grandma told me once when I asked if she missed the “good old days”, are probably going to come out in favor of automatic dishwashers, cake mixes, and Crisco. It wasn’t an alt-lifestyle option, but the only option, and given modernity, they leapt for it.
It’s called progress, because it is.
Next point: "Typhus wasn't much fun." When I read that, I thought, "Huh?" How can someone connect people who are trying to eat closer to the way our ancestors ate to a complete rejection of modern science? The blogger writes, "It’s easy to decry technology and its evils from your comfortable perch in the midst of it."
I think that may be where people started thinking the blogger was referring to GMOs. She did say in the comments that she was not talking about GMOs, but a common argument used in favor of GMOS is that a rejection of GMO produce equals a rejection of modern science. Which of course is a completely fallacious argument.
Perhaps the blogger meant that a rejection of modern food processing techniques and a rejection of the use of chemical flavoring and preservatives equals a rejection of modern science. She mentioned people who want to go back to the land. Here's my impression: Generally speaking, people who are interested in simplifying their lives, eating whole food, and "going back to the land" are not interested in giving up wi-fi, cell phones, internet access, and trauma centers. I've never met a raw foodist, whole foodist, or even a wild-food forager who demonizes science, but I have seen them protest some of the ways that science is used or has been used to harm people and the environment. There are things like saccharin and Agent Orange.
I think that eating closer to the way we evolved on this planet is actually a useful way to use science to improve human health. After all, without science it would be more difficult to know for certain what and how our ancestors actually ate, or to measure the effects of diet on our health.
A movement toward environmentally friendly, natural foods and a review of what our ancestors ate and how they grew their food is not a rejection of progress. It is progress.
Science could, in my opinion be used in better ways. For example, what if we used science to help subsistence farmers in famine-stricken regions to improve their yields, reduce their labor, improve sanitation and healthcare, without polluting the land, turning the population into a consumer base for large corporations, or creating an artificial dependence on aid? To those scientists who are already doing this, a heartfelt thank you.
Finally, the blogger commented that what we put in our heads is just as important as what we put in our bodies. Well yes, I tend to agree with that, except that I don't think that information about healthier food choices is the culprit here.
It seems to me that there is a general tendency within certain industries to try to keep consumers in the dark about certain things that they buy. Or even to keep them in the dark about certain things they buy into. Otherwise, journalists would be allowed to bring cameras into slaughterhouses. The fact that consumers are sharing information amongst themselves tells me that some people want to know the truth so that they can make informed decisions. Yes, there is plenty of half truth and misinformation going around, but it isn't just coming from one stereotypical group.
I think that there is much at stake for the giant food processing industries and agribusiness conglomerates. They benefit from articles that tell people that there is nothing wrong with the SAD (Standard American Diet.) I think we need to think about the agenda of the authors of the pro-SAD media. Further, it's important to be responsible about what one puts in other people's heads. It's important to write according to one's conscience. It's also important to discuss it. So, next time someone tells me that something that I'm eating is bad for me, rather than object, I plan to welcome the dialogue and thank them for sharing their thoughts.
I think we need to keep the conversation going.