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Erin Ashley Mink Garvey Dr.

Bokser WRD 515: Essay 2 (final) 16 February 2011

Becoming What We Eat Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Always eat your vegetables, especially the green, leafy ones. Chances are each of us have grown up with some moral edict or dictate thrown at us by the people initially responsible for our gustatory habitsmost likely, our parentsjust as we have likely matured into the adults that we are today under the impression that one type or kind of food is theologically, if not gustatorily, superior to another. Food, and people's relationships with it, has become remarkably popular to examine of late. Thanks to a media explosion in the topic, like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, and the harrowing documentaries Super Size Me or Food, Inc., among a flurry of others, it seems that many peoplethough not everyonehave begun to re-think their relationships with the food they put into their bodies each and every day. Somehow, shopping at the local Jewel or Dominick's becomes beneath them, and instead, only the most premium brands and stores will suffice: the Whole Foods, the farmers' markets, the Fox & Obel Food Markets of the world. Suddenly, all produce must be organic; all meatassuming these consumers still eat meatmust be organic and free-range and cage- and nitrite-free; and anything with the dreaded HFCS, high fructose corn syrup, might as well be relegated to Dante's ninth circle out of the fear that these consumers (or their children!) will grow an extra appendage or develop an incurable, Biblical-style disease as a result of ingesting anything laced with the satanic, HFCS chemical cocktail.

With rethinking our relationship with food has come a type of pretension, a more-distinguishedpalate-than-thou's restructuring of our tongue's anatomy, as we decide that the foods we ingest somehow become an extension of ourselves, of our identity. This is fantastic. This idea that we are what we eat, that what we consume is somehow an extension of who we are, holds a lot of potential to ameliorate our increasingly poor relationship with food. Case in point: I'm a strict vegetarian who often flirts with veganisma diet and lifestyle completely void of animals or their by-products (think leather, honey, wool, or gelatin). I haven't eaten any animals of any typemeat, seafood, anything with a soul--or had any animal-based broths for three years. While I wasn't a voracious meat-eater in the first place, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, a passage I read from one of Thich Nhat Hanhs books about nonviolence was what really committed me to vegetarianism. I had always considered myself a person devoted to leading a life of peace, and when Hanh illuminated the hypocrisy between leading a life of nonviolence while still ingesting meatthus perpetuating a cycle of violence in the earth, albeit not one outwardly detrimental to humansI had a eureka! moment and haven't looked back. When people ask me why I'm a vegetarian, I tell them two things: for reasons of my health and for reasons of my soul. Consequently, my vegetarianism has since become an inseparable part of my identity. Certainly, vegetarianism or veganism isn't for everyone, and I'm not one of those vegetarians who spurns my meat-eating counterparts. Their meat consumption is part of who they are, just as that absence is as much a part of me. There is no question that, for the overwhelming majority of us, our interactions with and views toward food could benefit from a proverbial spin or two in a blenderthat we could all stand to benefit from a reconsideration of what we put into our bodies.

Some fetal origins scientists, the folks in the burgeoning field of medicine that examines how a fetus's time in the womb affects him or her post-birth, have proffered that the little ones actually begin to develop a taste for certain foods while in utero, around the twenty-first or twenty-second week of gestation. As they swallow amniotic fluid, the future consumers are acutely attuned to its varying tastes, colored by the food the mother ate in the days or hours prior. These scientists have surmised that babies who were exposed to certain tastes in utero often have a greater propensity to eat those tastes again once out of the womb: no doubt a call for mothers to eat lots of fruit and green, leafy vegetables, in the hopes of having a child who will (eventually) do the same. Of course, not all vegetable-eating mothers will spawn children who grow up to be the Green Giant boy or the Chiquita banana lady. Instead, some folks simply buy their food at the local fast food joint or from the corner store establishment. Whats important to remember, though, is that this preference for fast food or corner store food isn't the case for everyone; media accounts in Chicago and elsewhere document an array of food deserts, neighborhoods whose residents have to travel for several city blocks, if not miles, before accessing a merchant who sells affordable, high-quality produce and meat. For many, not eating healthily isn't a matter of choice; it's a matter of financial necessity and restriction. In many ways, people's dietary preferences--or habits--are as much an indicator of their socioeconomic standing as it is an extension of their identity. And this is terribly, terribly problematic. Food's impact on people's subsequent well-being has surely not gone without notice, though. Take, for example, any recent headlines surrounding our nation's problem with obesity: that it's implicated in a laundry list of sometimes-preventable conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II Diabetes, and heart disease. The fact that some public health and medical experts have determined that the current generation of children may be the first not to outlive their parents because of their obesity-related, chronic health problems. Or that nearly one in five children entering the

Chicago Public Schools system in 2008 was obese. Or that kids who have one obese parent are fifty percent more likely to be obese themselves and eighty percent more likely if both parents are obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reminds us of the toll obesity takes nationally that we all shoulder, since over $92 million in medical expenditureshalf of which come from Medicare and Medicaidcover the direct and indirect costs related to combating obesity and its corollary effects. How is it, then, that for as much as know about food and its effects on our livelihoods and on our health, we still can't put down our deep-fried cheese curls and instead opt for an apple or a salad a couple times a week? Should the government take on a parental role and make things easier for us by making it more challenging to choose nutritionally inadequate foods, perhaps by posting calorie counts alongside menu food descriptions? Or by making the less-healthy food items more expensive than the fresh, healthy stuff? Or perhaps, even more dramatically, by eliminating the toys from children's fast food meals, as San Francisco most recently did at their McDonald's chains, to discourage kids (or their caretakers) from consuming nutritionally-lacking food? And really, at the end of the day, will governmental intervention truly compel us to make healthier choices? Extending our identities into our dietary preferences and habits holds a lot of potential for us only if we all begin to question our notion of food and subsequently, our interactions and attitudes towards it. If we continue to define ourselves as consumers of packaged food, of food that has a smorgasbord of unpronounceable chemical combinations, of food with expiration dates that last eerily far into the future, we will unduly limit ourselves to the capabilities found within that box's mystery food, in its void of nutrients and in its indexical listing of mysterious preservative derivatives. On the other hand, allowing ourselves to become that person, that person who cares what s/he ingests, that health nut who sees the interconnectedness between how we feel and what we eat, will implicitly cause us to foray into questioning what counts as good food, and our attitudes and

interactions with it will change accordingly. This internal interrogation of food and our attitudinal and interactional adjustment, though, can only occur if we choose for it to, if we permit it to happen. For those of us with access to the higher-quality, fresh produce and meats, the onus is exceptionally on us to advocate for our brothers and sisters in humanity who have to consume the foods from the fast food joints or mini-markets of the world, the folks whose socioeconomic statuses dictate their gustatory habits. Their true preferences don't count, and that is indescribably unacceptableand violentto their health and well-being, as the aforementioned statistics show. All of us have nothing to lose and everything to gain from embodying a gustatory pretension, both for our own well-being and that of others. Like our mothers told us, we are what we eat.

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