Saturday, May 31, 2008

Taste of Summer

This has to be the taste of summer - a bowl of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and peaches, with cream about to be added. I sat in my hammock under a cloudless sky and ate them, and they were very good. i eat hardly any fruit, and it would probably do me good to eat more, hence this bowl of deliciousness, and it was even accompanied by a bowl of cherries.

Meanwhile I've just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, about food, food chains, corn, industrial organic and hunting and gathering, and am half re-reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a book written in the 1950s about pesticides. Both good and filled with valuable information. I've read other similar books to Pollan's about food, such as Food Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Pollan's is well-written, personal but also filled with facts, though it would have benefitted from a more careful editor - some phrases are over-used, and not for dramatic effect. The first section, essentially about how and why corn has come to overwhelmingly dominate our diets in the industrial world, how it is in and of so many ingredients, and the economics that have made it 'logical' to feed it to ruminants, chickens and in large quantities, directly and indirectly, to people, was particularly interesting.

Carson's book is shocking in its measured exposure of both the proven dangers and the unknown risks of toxic chemicals, and chilling in its many accounts of their widespread use over huge areas, directly over cities and towns as well as on to food and crops, leaching into soil, rivers, lakes and the sea. and being found in large quantities in birds and animals, often killing them. Some of these pesticides have since been banned, although movements are afoot (possibly have already been successful) to bring back DDT and other chemicals, many of which are known carcinogens and mutagens. I think a large number of the chemicals she documents are still in widespread use today.

In some ways Carson's book is a foundation of Pollan's, fifty years later, looking at the changes to food production that these chemicals have in part allowed. Pollan doesn't look extensively at the dangers of the chemicals used on and in the growing and storing of food, though it is examined and is clearly a factor in the growing popularity of 'organic' food, however problematic that term and industry is. This an area where humanity is playing with unknown dangers, as well as many known dangers, on a huge and possibly irreversible level.

All of this has made me more concerned than ever about the food I eat, and yet lately I feel somewhat despondent rather than determined. It's hard to balance the competing information, as well as what's available and what nutrients you need to eat. Hence the decision today to buy lots of fruit - very likely drenched in chemicals, picked by poorly paid migrant workers, packaged in plastic, and shipped possibly thousands of miles - but delicious nonetheless. Definitely food for thought.


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