Friday, September 6, 2013

Let's Talk Food

What is the first thing you think about when I say the word, "food?" Are you able to categorize your ideas and images into themes or concepts? What stands out? Please take a few moments and consider these questions.
Here's a picture of a sloth slowly thinking about its food to encourage you to do the same.
Please keep your thoughts in mind as you progress through this post and even comment if you'd like to share. If I were posed these questions a few years ago, I think I would have dreamed up of my favorite foods like pizza, cookies, and sandwiches stacked with one of everything. I feel like my ideas could be categorized by how unhealthy they all are, how the food generally traveled many miles before they received the ole' mastication treatment, and the level of processing each experienced. It wasn't until I began wanting to take better care of my self a couple years ago that I started to examine the concept of food.

During grad school my health and fitness levels were definitely at their lowest they had ever been. I never considered the ramifications of what I shoved in my piehole- my health or that of the environment, to whom the hard earned money I spent went (and didn't go), the ethics of how my food was produced, and so forth. I hate to say that I "didn't care," but in absolutely no way did my actions show otherwise, which is embarrassing to consider because my master's project focused on "social justice." 

However, part of social justice is food. Inevitably, food is a human right. We all have the right to eat safe, healthy, and nutritious food so that we may be at our best every day. The concept of a sustainable lifestyle became of considerable interest to me during my last term of grad school in a project management class. Sustainability as a concept is interdisciplinary in nature, and the anchoring link between social, economic, and environmental harmony. 

With this in mind, and the desire to improve my own health, I began reflecting on not only what I was in fact putting into my body, but also from where my food was coming, to where my money was travelling, and how the environment (flora and fauna) were being (mis)managed. The answers were all contrary to how I thought (and expected) I was living my life. I was slowly poisoning my body with my food choices- fast food, heavily processed- buying food that had likely traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles on petroleum or coal based transportation, lining the pockets of the already filthy rich who more than likely were rendering the environment, animals, and also people('s labor) into commodities, and thus I was voting with my wallet for an unsustainable, harmful, and unethical society. 

Eager to become healthier and support a more sustainable and ethical community, I basically changed my diet overnight- No more fast food, no more red meat (or most other kinds), more fruits and vegetables from local farms and farmers markets, lots more legumes and whole grains. Combined with an addiction to running, I felt better physically within a week. Additionally, I began to feel more connected to a community in which I had lived for the better part of fifteen years than at any other given point. I was recognizing faces and being recognized, having conversations. I was proud to be directly supporting hard working local farmers, as opposed to corporations, distribution centers, and conglomerates who were hundreds of miles away and couldn't have given two shits about me or my community. 

Since, I have become the healthiest I have ever been in my life and learned much more about sustainability and its benefits socially, environmentally, and economically. Living in Thailand is a wonderful opportunity to continue and normalize these practices. I love going to my local market twice weekly and visiting with all of my favorite vendors. We're all in this together, and it brings me joy to be able to directly support such hard working individuals. Additionally, I cook strictly vegetarian in my home to keep myself healthy and uphold animal rights by, again, voting with my wallet. 

Today, while I was supposed to be working and instead getting derailed by a shut-off of my water, I watched a thoughtful food documentary called "Food Fight." Admittedly, it was a bit slow, and there are more interesting food docs out there, but I liked how it examined the history of American food and agriculture policy in the United States and how its effects (bland unhealthy food, USDA effectively poisoning its constituents by subsidizing big ag) gave rise to the local and organic food movements. This prompted me to go in search of some permaculture books and information, because it has been on my mind for a while. I found a primer, Essence of Permaculture by David Holmgren, here for free. It gives a nice, if brief, introduction to the topic.

Sufficiency living, "growing food, not lawns," is becoming increasingly important, in my opinion. Why have a lawn that pollutes the air when it gets mowed, when you can have a healthy stream of fruits, vegetables, and herbs for you, your family, and your friends? Why pay for food when you can grow it yourself? Why read labels when you know what exactly is in your dinner it because you grew it? I hope these are questions that you have considered yourself, or are now asking. 

To bring this back to Thailand and Peace Corps service, I desperately want to start a community garden at my school with my kids to promote community, environmentalism, health, self-sufficiency, and maybe even give them an extra hundred Baht a month with which to play. I hope the community sees the value in it and collaborates with me to create both a sustainable project and garden. 


  1. Good thinking. Of course, easier said than done here in the US. Especially in the north, where you have a very short growing season.

    I am not against eating meat-I am against cruelty. It is natural for humans to eat meat, but the way that those animals are raised these days is criminal. To raise them well and comfortably will cost more and make meat much more expensive. However, that is as it should be. Meat should be a side, not a main dish. Even a rare treat.

    Dear, you know how much I love and am fascinated by animals. But, animals don't recognize "rights". The only "rights" they are given to them by humans. They cannot have rights as we humans describe them, because with rights, comes responsibility. Animals do not recognize responsibility, either. They do what they have to to survive.

    It is us, the humans, who have responsibilities toward animals-wild and domestic. We also have responsibilities toward the flora and all of the environment on this planet.

    Unfortunately, humans just aren't all that responsible as a whole. So, in closing, what you suggest, to me, is teaching humans what their responsibilities are and that they apply to each and every one of us. Until humans go back to respecting the Earth, we are dying out. Unfortunately, we are taking so many others with us in our selfishness.

  2. My school has an attempt at a community garden and we have chickens, which they use the eggs for school lunches (the chickens are treated very well...surprisingly). I think it's pretty cool, but unfortunately, only a small portion of my school is involved in it (I think like 1st and 5th grade and the cooks). That would definitely be a great project to try to start in Thai schools, especially by promoting a sufficiency economy. Let me know if you want to spread your idea around, I'd love to help

  3. I humbly disagree, Bonnie. I feel if something is alive, then it has a right to its own life. If you support a "if rights, then responsibilities" argument, then I would argue that if an animal is born and has a right to its own life, then it is responsible to act its role in maintaining its ecosystem.

    As you said, animals act the way they do in an effort to survive- instinct. Responsibility does not require intentionality, especially within nature, where actions are generally far more instinctual than humans (due to freedom of choice/thought/will). However, just because their actions are instinctual, it doesn't render their responsibility to anything (their young, ecosystem, etc.) moot.