The Shadow Side of the Well-Feds’ Relationship to Food

According to the World Health Organization, one-third of the world is well-fed, one-third is under-fed, and the final third is starving… experiencing gnawing, daily hunger.

Nearly half of the world’s hungry live in India. Currently, over 11 million people are starving in drought-stricken African countries. Without water, these people cannot grow food or raise animals. They leave their homes and walk for days, often without food or water, in the hopes of reaching a refugee camp where there will be some food. Upon arrival, some are too weak to eat.

While millions waste away with no food, many of the well-fed people waste food on a regular basis: forgotten food spoils in our fridge; we throw away unfinished meals; we discard bread crusts. Restaurants everywhere must throw away what is not eaten. How entitled we well-fed are to assume that we will always have food to waste. We can be quite spoiled, lazy and superficial, complaining about having to take peas or beans out of the pod, or if a piece of fruit is not absolutely perfect to look at. But that “perfect” strawberry from California has been treated with more than 300 pounds of pesticides per acre of berries, especially hormone-affecting pesticides, putting it at the top of the list of the most heavily contaminated produce. Food doused with chemicals is what most of the “well-fed” eat; we have accepted the unacceptable by our regular consumption of such food.

Furthermore, the Western Diet itself is notoriously disease-promoting and seriously taxes our medical system. It’s a diet high in saturated fats, red meats, “empty” carbohydrates (junk food)  lots of sugar–lots of everything except what is healthy: fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The many grocery store aisles of processed foods are proof that as eaters, we have lost touch with what is authentic food. Food author, Michael Pollan, suggests not to eat anything our great-grandmother would not recognize as food, referring to these items as “edible food-stuff”. Processed foods not only contain GMOs from corn, soy and canola, but also hard-to-pronounce chemicals as food additives, ingredients that are not all benign. Artificial food dyes cause behavioral problems and disrupt children’s attention. They’re not just in candies and snack foods, but pickles, salad dressings and even oranges. The artificial chemical sweetener aspartame, hailed as cutting calories, is a dangerous carcinogen and neurotoxin, pushed into our food system from corrupt people in high places (specifically Donald Rumsfeld as CEO of Searle Pharmaceuticals, the same man who later became the US Secretary of Defense who pushed America into the Iraq war). Aspartame is directly linked with chronic illnesses such as neurological disorders, seizures, blurred vision and migraine headaches. Its use by children and during pregnancy is especially tragic.

As millions starve, imagine how many potatoes in the world are used to make one of the world’s favourite snacks: potato chips? Besides requiring tremendous amounts of oil for deep-frying, we package chips in a throwaway bag and “snack” on them to the detriment of our health, in between our regular meals if we are feeling hungry. The well-fed have also been busy developing extreme junk foods, basically, anything they can think of deep-fried: Mars bars, peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches, and, perhaps the ultimate in greasy cuisine weighing in with 45 grams of unhealthy fat and up to 1500 calories, the Donut-Burger: 1/3 pound of beef, topped with cheese and bacon, tucked into a maple-glazed donut. We are a culture of excess, with a “supersize me” attitude.

The well-fed also have the luxury of eating for sensual pleasure. Summertime brings desires for ice cream, sadly, a highly adulterated processed food product. Most ice cream uses the GMO product, High Fructose Corn Syrup, an unnatural, unhealthy sugar that leads to liver damage and obesity. The rest of the ingredients list sounds like a science project. Ice-cream makers, instead of vanilla, use piperonal, a lice-killer; instead of eggs, diethyl glycol, an inexpensive chemical which is also an ingredient in anti-freeze and paint removers. For banana flavour there is amyl acetate, a chemical also used as an oil paint solvent; and for cherry flavour, Aldehyde C17, a chemical used industrially as an inflammable liquid in certain dyes, plastic and rubber. Amazingly, the Industry Standard says that if everyone adds an ingredient, then it does NOT even have to be labelled. This is not only deceitful, it is unbelievable! If all ice cream contained arsenic…

Michael Pollan suggests eating only those foods that will eventually rot. For centuries, meat was preserved with salt. Now, the commercially produced chemical sodium nitrite is added to processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, ham, deli slices) to prolong shelf life, to prevent botulism and to keep them looking nice and pink. Nitrites are strongly linked to pancreatic and colon cancers as well as brain tumors. Hot dogs without nitrite can be found in the freezer section, but there is still the question, where does the meat come from? We know the answer to that question: from the horrific practices of industrial meat operations.

And now we are learning that our desire to eat animals is also leading to the rapid extinction of species. A traditional Chinese dish, shark-fin soup, is obtained from the violent practice of hacking off the fins of a live shark, which is then left to die as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Sharks act as regulators that maintain a healthy ocean eco-system–eating the weak, sick and older fish–grooming many populations of marine life to the right size. But 90% of sharks in the world’s open oceans have disappeared. As these “apex predators” are removed, this will lead to the demise of many more species. Scientist David Suzuki has alerted us to the fate of the highly prized bluefin tuna, which often sells for more than $1000 a kilogram, a fact that has pushed the fish to the edge of extinction. Overfishing has also put many other creatures on the endangered species list, such as Atlantic cod, rockfish and salmon, not to mention the fishermen themselves.

The conclusion is clear: humans are a powerful, destructive species. We inflict extreme suffering on animals, pollute our water, denude the land and destroy the soil that grows our food. We cut rainforests to grow soy as cattle feed. We have created laws that enable control of the world’s supply of food by large agri-business monopolies through the use of patented, genetically-engineered seeds.

Anyone who wants to stay healthy will want to avoid the shadow side of food and gravitate towards authentic nourishing food, especially if it is grown locally. More and more of us are recognizing that seeds are sacred, that clean water and our topsoil must be protected, and that gratitude for what we have should replace complaining. We may even try to eat less, or go without food for a day every now and then as a cleansing practice… and also to connect with the reality of hunger experienced by the other two-thirds of our world.

Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 37 years, and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.