10/08/2010 08:46 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Does the Way We Eat Affect Our Humanity?

Think about it. Our modern society is rife with ugliness, anger and bitterness. From pundits to stand up comics, everyone seems to have an axe to grind and they do it violently and loudly.

I am not naïve. I grew up as a child of the sixties with a liberal mother and a conservative father. Let's just say there were lively conversations at the dinner table. But in the end, they agreed to disagree. Most of the people I knew behaved in the same manner. Yes, there were riots in the streets, but all with one purpose: to end what was considered an illegal war. The two sides were polar opposites and there was violence and rage, but nothing like we see today, where every little thing sparks outrage and violent reaction.

I have been politically active for most of my life, but I have never seen an uglier climate than in the last eight or nine years. It used to be that conservatives and liberals disagreed on principle, on platform issues, but there was a civility to the way political discourse was handled.

One of the most popular television shows today is "Mad Men." I was talking to my 20-year-old niece and her friends who are wild for this program. When I asked them what was so appealing to them, they said, with surprising enthusiasm, that they loved how the men dressed for dinner and the women were feminine and glamorous. They loved how civil people were to each other and found the time period elegant and refined.

Their naïve natures showed because anyone who lived during those years knows that women were second-class in business (and many other areas of life) and much of the 'civility' they loved was simply repression. But it was, in fact, a time when people behaved differently.

Fox News, CNN and other media loudmouths could not exist in a civil world. In a civil world, the flagrant disregard that exists in that kind of inflammatory and sensationalistic media would be shut down as damaging to the fabric of life as we know it.

And what has this to do with food? Everything.

Before we became a culture of dinner in a bucket, we sat down together and ate meals that were prepared at home from fresh food. My grandmother and mother knew nothing about nutrition, but they knew if the food was fresh and they cooked it right, it would taste great and their families would be well-nourished. And so they squeezed fruit, smelled vegetables, examined the eggs, sniffed the milk and cooked dinner from scratch.

Junk food, drive-through and processed foods have been major factors in the degeneration of our modern society.

Big business has made it a mission to undermine conventional wisdom and replace it with fear and confusion. Confusion about food choices, about our political leaders, global warming ... all designed to create a knee-jerk reaction and spread fear and hatred so that the status quo will stay, well, status quo.

But what allows this to thrive? How can they continually pull the wool over our collective eyes?
We are weak, fat and sick ... and easily frightened and controlled as a result.

On this very website, an article ran about President Clinton changing his diet to be plant-based, nearly vegan. The video showed the former president, looking slender, clear-eyed and healthy talking about why he made the change. It's inspiring. But scroll down to the comments and the ugliness of human nature rears its head. Nasty, personal comments from people who do not personally know Mr. Clinton, but feel they have the right to judge his choice of food -- all of them extolling the virtues of their meat, dairy and junk food. Was it because Mr. Clinton was on a soapbox asking all of America to join him in his newfound lifestyle? Nope. It was because their humanity has been affected by the foods they themselves choose.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is held that the foods we choose affect our reactions to life. You may roll your eyes (or post an ugly comment), but think about it for a minute. In more traditional times, food was chosen based on the needs of the people. Warriors ate more animal food to create aggression. Plant foods were eaten when people needed to feel calm, more centered. Specific foods were chosen for their medicinal effects on health. Children were fed different foods than adults; men ate differently than women. All these traditions were designed to create harmony among people.

Food and eating are sexy. Mother Nature was smart. She made eating fun so we would do it. And boy, do we do it now. But I don't think a seven-pound meat burrito, a bacon-wrapped meat loaf, a two-foot hot dog or a hot beef sundae was what she had in mind for us.

Everything we have done to food in modern times is against the very nature of natural. In the name of business, food has been compromised, bastardized, abused, altered and deconstructed to become something that tastes great, but has far-reaching affects on the collective health of humanity and the planet.

Marketers told us to eat junk food to our hearts' content and we are only too happy to oblige. Trouble is, our hearts aren't content at all. All that sugar, fat and salt in those manufactured foods that are the cornerstone of our diets are wearing out our poor, overworked veins, arteries and hearts.

We hear all the warnings. We even worry a little bit. But man, that stuff is yummy. Our little taste buds are so worked up all the time that we have lost our taste for real food. Who can resist potato chips that taste like cheddar cheese, bacon or pizza? Why eat real food with real flavor when chemistry-made flavors are so much more delightful to the palate? How do apples compete with cream-filled Oreos? How can we expect our children to eat oatmeal when their little bodies are fueled by more than 50 grams of sugar in one breakfast of Lucky Charms? It might be easier to get a crack addict off the pipe.

But we're American, descendants of chest-thumping cowboys. We're made of cheeseburgers and steaks! We need our meat! We need it more than Neolithic hunters, more than lions and tigers. If we can't have meat, well, what will happen to civilization as we know it? Would we all become vegan hippie peace-loving terrorists?

The result is that we have become ill and weak; our judgment clouded by saturated fat, sugar and chemicals. We hang on to our childish behaviors long after we know the fact: the way we eat is killing us. We hang on and lash out at those around us who threaten change, who want to shake things up and make life on this planet a better place.

In our clouded view of the world, we take pot shots at people about whom we know nothing, except what the media tells us. We post ugly comments about celebrities on websites so we feel better about our lives. We yell and scream and demand our country back ... from who, we are not sure, but someone scared us and told us we should be angry. Trapped in the fog of junk food, we feel enraged and helpless.

But we don't have to be.

We can change. We can begin to eat food that is fit for human consumption, real food, grown and produced by nature, not manufactured by some multinational corporation. We can grow strong and clearheaded. We can see the truth if we look for it and have the strength to face it.
At the dinner table, eating fresh food, we experience and discover so many truths, from social justice to communication to sharing and community ... the very essence of human life.
Times are changing. People other than the usual experts have been coaxing real food out of the closet, so to speak. People have been making movies, writing books, speaking out, telling the truth about our food. Learning to cook is becoming popular again. People are learning how to respect food, how to treat it, how to use it to create health and make a lighter footprint.

Life is precious. Humanity is wonderful. And in the end, whether we are healthy or sick, fat or fit, we will all die. The question we must ask is: do we want to create misery in the process of living? I say we value the gift of life we have been given and enjoy the ride in a healthy body on a healthy planet. Life is a gift, not to be squandered.

A healthy population can make a difference. A healthy population has a firm hold on their humanity and in that, hatred, cruelty and violence can not thrive. It's worth a try. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.