When I was in my mid-twenties and I was still living in Venezuela, I remember I used to buy mung beans sprouts every week, but I had no clue which beans these were sprouting from – in my defence we call them “raíces chinas” (“Chinese roots” if I translate it literally) in Venezuela, so the words “mung beans” were missing.
The reality is that even if the name included those words, I wouldn’t have had a clue, as I had no idea what a mung bean was. And the weird part is: I never asked myself that question. I only knew it came in a plastic bag and I bought it in the supermarket.
Most of us to some extent grew up being so disconnected from food and for kids these days is probably even worse.
What exactly are we eating? Were does it come from? What are we putting in our bodies? Who is growing these foods? Today I am exploring a bit this topic.
Convenience is the answer
Why are we so disconnected from food? I believe convenience is the main answer. These days we can easily go to the supermarket and get whatever we want. Our breakfast comes in a box, the milk is just there waiting for us, in few minutes we are eating the “most important meal of the day” and we’re ready to go!
These days most people buy products not ingredients – so instead of buying the tomatoes, garlic, basil etc, we buy the jar with the ready-to-eat pasta sauce. Easy!
Of course times have changed, decades ago women were the diligent housewives and they spent so much time in the kitchen. Things were made from scratch, family meals were normal and essential in every family.
Today most of us live a very different lifestyle, working/studying/raising families, trying to juggle everything and of course the time is very limited, but is it really that the source of this issue? I think it is an important contributing factor, but I believe in many cases it is more a cultural shift: we love convenience!
Cooking is no longer appealing. After a busy day, who wants to spend 1-1.5 hours in the kitchen when you could be watching your favourite show on Netflix? And media is always there to remind us how busy we are and how take-away/fast-food/processed food choices are a no-brainier. These have become the norm.
Why it matters?
Our health is suffering
Well, food is not just “a thing”, we exist thanks to the food we eat, it provides the nutrients our bodies need to function and to stay healthy. We can’t expect our bodies to work properly if we are not providing what they need.
It is not that hard to see why we are suffering with obesity and so many other illnesses. So yes, it sounds cliche, but there is a lot of truth on that saying: “we are what we eat”.
When we don’t know who grows our food, where does it come from, how far it has travelled to reach our plate and all the resources that went into it, we just don’t mind wasting food. We don’t appreciate all the effort that went into producing that food, because we simply don’t know.
Food waste is a major environmental problem and most people don’t see the connection. I wrote a post about this topic, if you want to learn more.
Plastic and more plastic
Most of these ready-to-eat products come packaged from factories in plastic. As we keep relying on more and more processed food, we keep generating so much waste. Again it is not surprise how the plastic pollution problem has escalated so quickly in the past decades.
Environmental and welfare issues
The production of some of the food we consume have an effect on the planet, from deforestation to air and water pollution. Palm Oil for instance is used in most processed food, and the consequences on the environment are devastating.
Also in many countries around the world, factory farming produces meat at the lowest possible cost, that means in many cases, really bad conditions for these animals: not enough space to move around, not access to outdoor areas and so many other welfare issues. Again, if we don’t know where our food is coming from, it is hard to know what happens behind the scenes (and this has nothing to do with being a vegetarian/vegan, I think many people including meat-eaters care about these matters). Producing meat this way also has a terrible effect on the environment, including our climate.
Skills are getting lost
Cooking is becoming optional, many people don’t know how to cook a meal. We tend to learn all these skills at home and if we grew up in a family where no one cooked that much and the family meals were mainly take-away/process food, most likely as adults we just repeat the same behaviour.
Kids are the key
Several years ago, I watched “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” series and seriously it shocked me at so many levels! – if you haven’t watched it, I really recommend it.
This was filmed in USA and they picked a city that had serious problems with obesity. Jamie worked with a local school and what these kids were eating every single say was insane, mainly processed and fast food. Perhaps these cases don’t happen in every school/city, but it happens often.
I always remember the part when he asked kids in 1st grade about some vegetables. I found the video on YouTube:
Jamie did a TED about this topic and his experience filming this documentary, which is worth watching:
These stories above are from USA, however I don’t think this problem is exclusive to that country. Earlier this year, ABC Australia published an interesting article called “What’s in our kid’s lunch boxes?” and their findings were not that different, most kids are eating way too much sugar/packaged food. In the same article, they state:
“Just one in 17 Aussie children are eating the recommended number of serves of both fruit and vegetables, according to the latest National Health Survey.”
What can we do?
Here some ideas to consider
- Buy produce in local farmer markets and talk to the farmers, ask about their job, where the food is being produced, what’s in season. Small veggie shops also sell mostly local/in season food.
- Watch documentaries about these topics, like “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”, “Tomorrow”, “Food Inc”. More ideas in this article.
- Read the labels. Is that product you’re buying made locally? What about the list of the ingredients? Does it have palm-oil? Can you make it yourself at home?
- Grow some veggies, even if it is some herbs in the balcony. It will give you a different perspective and appreciation for the whole process.
- Eat more whole foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts etc) and little processed food.
- Cook more at home: plan ahead, borrow a book from the library for inspiration, set up some goals, start small.
- Split the chores with the rest of the family, that way everyone gets involved and spend some time together in the kitchen. The effort of cooking is reduced considerably when everyone helps.
- Get the kids involved in the kitchen, teach them how to cook, talk to them about the ingredients, what they are, where they come from.
- If you are in Australia and have kids, there is an initiative called “Kitchen Garden Foundation“, they work with schools to educate kids in gardening and cooking skills. Ask the school about this initiative and how they can help.
“To live intentionally implies that it is not going to be always convenient but it is what will take you to significance if you do not give up.”― Sunday Adelaja
That’s it for today. Let me know in the comments below, Do you know much about the food you eat? Are you inspired to make some changes? BTW, I am now sprouting my own mung beans at home 😉
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Thanks for reading,