Friday, October 7, 2011

You Are What You Eat: Food and Sustainability

There is no decision that is more fundamentally ‘yours’ than what you put in your body. You are what you eat, as the adage goes. The green, organic, environmental movement has been in vogue now for the past 30 or so years, and luckily in the last decade, real progress for food rights has been made. But the main issue is that food is unfortunately controlled by a very few corporations at the top of the chain. Even organic food (or, more accurately, ‘FDA Organic’) is controlled and produced on a massive scale by a small number of corporations at the top. This leaves you, the would-be, do-gooding, poor-and-broke college student somewhat in the lurch.

One of the main problems is corn. Not just that it’s being used (because those commercials are right – high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is just as bad for you as sugar), but that we are being inundated with it at the expense of everything else. HFCS, and corn in general, is not necessarily bad for you, if taken in moderation. If sugar was present in every part of our diet, we would be facing similar health risks, but it is not. We do not have an overabundance of sugar, we have an overabundance of corn. Take a typical meal – burger, fries, coke. If HFCS was being used properly, you would have it in one of those three – your coke, to sweeten your tasty beverage. But the problem is that isn’t what happens. Corn, which cows cannot properly digest and in fact makes them deathly ill, is force-fed to our cows, which are in turn slaughtered and put in burger form. Corn is used as a sweetener in most breads, including the bun your burger is resting on. French fries are most likely fried in cheap, easy to get corn oil. Corn, corn, corn. The problem isn’t that it exists and is being used, the problem is that it is being overused. And because the corn industry is heavily subsidized, that entire meal can be had for a very, very low price, far lower than any non-corn based burger, fries, and soda.

It seems like an almost impossible situation to fix. In many ways, the food industry is a self-perpetuating cycle. The corporations control food production, and they are subsidized by our government, which makes the food infinitely cheaper for us. It is also far worse for us, but we will typically have to choose having money in the short term over long-term health. And even when we attempt to buy organic, these so-called organic food corporations still use dangerous pesticides and dubious ethical means of raising animals.

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