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Is It Food, or Is It Foodiness? Well... Would Popeye Eat It?

05/12/2014 12:35 pm 12:35:15 | Updated Jul 12, 2014

I've come to a major realization. Want to know what it is? OK. It is that after all this talking and reading and learning and figuring stuff out about food, and nutrition and health and everything, that it turns out that A. we still don't really know what we're supposed to eat, and B. nobody really knows anything. Including me.

Now by we, I mean Americans. Because we are so young, as a culture and a country, and we're made up (primarily) of immigrants. Groups of people who brought a thousand different food cultures to this country only to see them them watered down into laughable pale imitations of themselves. (Hello, Olive Garden?) And didn't look back toward home for nutritional cues but instead, in a quest for rapid assimilation left our nutritional and health needs dangling, naked, vulnerable and susceptible before the greedy paws of the great American gods of Big Food and Big Ag. Those clever guys who brought us not only billions of pounds of surplus grains and sugars and oils, but then invented a million ways to feed that stuff to us, whether directly, in products, or indirectly, in animal feed. You know, the guys who invented commodity agriculture, the USDA food pyramid nightmare, fast food, junk food, and of course, Foodiness.

Before they called the shots about what we eat, back in other older cultures like in the rest of the world, you had thousands of years of food culture behind you. So you ate your traditional diet based on what grew around you. Whether it was seal blubber and dried berries or coconut fat and rice, it worked for you because it was real food, and a hundred generations had eaten it. Sure, foods moved around the globe due to trade and exploration and colonization, but they were still foods. The Spanish may have brought pigs to the New World and brought the chili pepper to Southeast Asia, but the ballast of their returning ships wasn't made up of pallets of Snickerdoodle-flavored Chex Mix (actually, it was people... but not in a fun, "Soylent Green" kind of way, either).

All of that happened only recently, like within the last 80 years, and it all started here, in the good old USA. Now you can go almost anywhere in the world and see the same global brands, the same giant sodas, the same KFC, Denny's, McD, Pringles, Kit Kat, Oreo-induced obesity-diabetes-heart disease triad American way of living. So China and India now have higher rates of diabetes than we do. You're welcome, world!

So you take places where literally billions of people have eaten basically the same food for thousands of years, and in the course of one generation, you change that, and make then sick. Again, you're so welcome, but incidentally we have drugs to treat your new Western illnesses, so you'll be fine. What's that? You can't afford our drugs because you were a subsistence farmer but your government stole your land, or a big giant chemical company forced you off of it, so now you work in a factory making Crocs and Barbie dolls? Oh well, sorry. Here's a pair of factory seconds in appreciation of your good work. Sorry they're both lefties. You don't need to walk anywhere anymore, anyway.

As I was saying, when it comes to food, we don't know anything. We can't trust our past because we don't really have one here. When someone like me or Michael Pollan says, "only eat food your grandmother would recognize" at this point, your grandmother might only be 60 and could have been raised on TV dinners and Tang. Maybe ask Great-Grandma.

So what do we know about food and health? Basically nothing. Everything we think is right is wrong, all the dogma that we swallowed whole from the last fifty years of so-called "research" sponsored by BigAg, big Pharma and the USDA is wrong. Who knows what to think anymore? Welcome to bipolar America. Fat is good, fat is bad, whole grains, no grains, dairy yes, dairy no, canola oil, no oils, protein protein protein! Vegan, paleo, juice it all! Iron, folate, probiotics!

None of us really know anything, except to not eat sh*t and not eat Foodiness, of course. If you just stick to the real stuff, I don't think it matters that much. Eat real food, and eat a lot of vegetables. That's the one thing we all seem to agree on. And by we I mean all of us food, media, cheffy-nutrition types. Michael Pollan, again, has the best quote ever about this, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." That about sums it up. That, and butter. I think butter will turn out to be the cure for all major diseases. I mean, they've used it (as ghee) in Ayurvedic healing in India for centuries, and that's one of the world's oldest forms of medicine. Again, we're really sorry about all the diabetes and stuff...

So we know nothing, really. Or that's what it seems like if we listen to all the talking heads out there, including mine, I'm just as guilty. I don't know anything either. Except that I do. And we do. We know to eat a lot less meat, and make it better meat, grass-fed and pastured when we do eat it. Eat way more plants, but way less processed grains. More fruit, but please not in juice form. Eat real fats, like butter and duck fat and olive oil and coconut fat, but not refined, industrially processed vegetable oils or shortenings. More plant proteins, like beans and lentils, which are super cheap, too. I bought a ten-pound bag of lentils at Costco recently for something like $7. And if you're really lazy, Trader Joe sells pre-cooked lentils, almost two pounds for $1.99. which is robbery compared to the cost of dried ones, but still ridiculously cheap. (psst, I buy those, please don't tell the chef's union)

There is no excuse for not eating more produce, my little secret (one of 'em) is that I love the supermarket discount produce shelf. I like the challenge of it, the treasure hunt aspect. It's more like foraging than shopping, and you can get the ripest, best pears there. But today more and more pre-cut, pre-washed produce, even pre-cooked stuff like those lentils, is appearing on shelves. And while it's a tremendous waste of packaging and resources to process it, package it and ship it, if it means people will eat more of it, then waste be dammed. Your great-great grandma would approve, and so do I. Even though I don't know anything, really.

I do know that I feel the best when I eat the most plants. Literally like Popeye, I can feel the spinach power coursing through my veins. My biceps pop up and little anchor tattoos appear on them and I can punch out every Bluto and rescue every Olive Oyl who comes my metaphorical way. I love my plant foods. Just as well, too, since eating them seems to be the only thing we can all agree on. But I'm no vegan, or even vegetarian, I like a little grass-fed meat or pastured poultry now and then, an egg a day from a friend's happy hens, the occasional wild salmon. I certainly don't need meat or even animal products every day, and I'm a big fan of the Monday Campaign's Meatless Mondays. Now there are some people who may actually know what they're talking about. Me... maybe? Everyone else... not so sure. But if people want to just keep on eating sh*t, that's their choice, this is America, after all. It's what we came here for.

Oh that, and to listen to Let's Get Real, the cooking show about finding, preparing and eating FOOD, on Heritage Radio Network.