Slow Food; Slow Burn

There has been a good deal of discussion recently about our general state of fitness, with a particular emphasis on the fitness and diet of our children. As I mount my soapbox, let me first say I agree that there is a huge, nay, obese need to examine the manner of our food consumption. That would be Diet, with a capital “D”, as in what we eat, as opposed to trying to lose weight. With that being said, I’m having a difficult time, as a professed foodie, understanding the measures advocated to resolve the issue.

I suppose the biggest of these is taxing high fructose corn-syrup additives, in drinks or other snack foods.  Many object to the very idea, with the general objection being that the government should stay out of our pantries and refrigerators. PUHLEEZE! No one questions the taxes on beer, wine and spirits. Everyone is ready willing and able to slap a new tax on tobacco.  How many states tax the bottles that beverages come in? It’s pretty much a part of our cultural fabric. So, why not high fructose corn syrup? Hell, why not extend it to hydrogenated fats and zero nutrient, empty calorie snack foods?  But, as surely as it will raise the same levels of income that the taxes on beer and tobacco raise, will it actually change the dietary behaviors that are causing the publicized problems? Doubtful.

We hear that our children are inside on their Xbox consoles, instead of playing outside (presumably on the basketball courts we no longer have). So why not tax the console and games? It would seem to be as logical as taxing the food products that are being consumed during the game play. Or perhaps digital sports channels, which, I am told, some people watch while sitting on their couches, munching potato based snacks. We could even throw a tax on recliners, with a special surtax on the really comfy ones with drink holders.

In an environment of school budgetary pressures and impending cuts, we hear talk about increased Phys. Ed. Activities. But why in the world do we need to require that students who are already earning athletic letters for their extracurricular participation in (sometimes) grueling physical activity also go through a school mandated Phys. Ed. Requirement.  They clearly don’t need it, and absenting them from this unnecessary requirement would free them for other academic activities, but would also allow the school to eliminate unneeded staff.  A couple hundred kids who no longer need to take Phys. Ed. would eliminate the need to provide that instruction.  Probably save a good deal of money. Might also allow a smaller number of instructors to focus on the other students who really need to learn how to eat, to exercise, and to be generally healthy.

But, just for a moment, let’s let our pudgy little toes touch the ground and breathe in the tobacco filled air of reality. The taxes won’t change behavior. Look at the figures for alcohol consumption. Phys. Ed. classes haven’t had the desired effect and even if there was funding available for appropriate increases, still probably wouldn’t. Turning off the TVs most certainly would. So would changing our household dietary habits. But unfortunately, it’s easier not to. Swinging by the Mickey Dee’s and super sizing the family take a lot less effort than cooking dinner. Or so we think. There’s a state of the art gourmet kitchen, complete with granite counters in which the extent of food preparation involves putting frozen preformed chicken nuggets in a stainless steel convection oven. It's much easier to let the kids veg out with the latest video than to go for a walk or play some catch.

So here’s the reality check. The tax opponents scream, “IT IS OUR CHOICE WHAT WE EAT AND DRINK!!” You bet. It is our choice. So, the real question, and the real solution, is how do you educate people about changing those choices? How do you encourage them away from bad dietary decisions, and towards healthy diets? I wish I knew.

I wish I knew how I could convince you that the greens grown out in Lorain make more sense than a head of lettuce trucked in from California. Why the flavor and nutritional benefits from eating brown rice or whole grain oatmeal and not instant packaged foods from the microwave is a better choice. Why you shop the perimeter of the supermarket and stay out of the interior. That freshly ground beef, hand formed into a thick patty, sizzling on the grill is preferable to some nuked, frozen grey piece of “bologna cow” (even without the special sauce). Some call the movement “slow food”. It’s the radical idea of eating what’s grown and produced near you, fresh on your plate (hopefully) chemical and pesticide free, without the cost of storage and transportation. While I work towards looking for those products that fit into the genre, I really do appreciate the limits. I mean we live in Northern Ohio. Taken to its logical extreme, from October to May, I’d be limited to root vegetables. While I like turnips and parsnips, I’m not prepared to go that far. But, I’ll wait for a tomato from my garden that does not taste like cardboard, a peach from Catawba without the texture of plastic, or a strawberry still warm from the field. We can, I believe, come to a reasonable (and happy) medium. 

I hear many different takes on “slow food”, from the environmental concerns to the free range animal husbandry issues. I’m sure that each has its own valid points. But frankly, I’m really too selfish to base my decisions on those concerns. I live to eat. I love good food, good tastes and flavors. I opt to consume foods that reflect those concerns and define the essence of the pleasure of consumption. I choose not to eat a chemically enhanced piece of cardboard in favor of the tomato out of my garden. It’s better because it tastes better and frankly, I think we’re all entitled to settle for nothing less.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 8:17 AM, 03.24.2010