Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Everything Comes From Somewhere

It is common knowledge that Jesus is reported to have explained that it is not what we put into our mouths, but what comes out of our mouths that makes us unclean. While it is certainly true that there are many things we should not ingest, I see that bible passage referring primarily to the morality of what we say and do as being more important than how we eat.

In today's world, however, what we do and how we eat are far less separable than at the time of Jesus. In fact, with the advent of Factory Farming and CAFOs, Chemical pesticides, artificial/synthetic edible ingredients, and many other industrial applications in "food manufacturing", what we eat is inextricably linked with factors such as the treatment of the planet, of animals and our own bodies, not to mention those of whom we provide food to. To celebrate the increased efficiencies of the industrial food system while ignoring the many negative effects is to ignore our obvious responsibility for the welfare of ourselves and our communities.

The planet-friendly revolution of the '80s and '90s included the terms Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, which at one point were novel concepts, listed in order of importance. These are now commonplace terms, as people have globally accepted the intrinsic value of reduced general consumption for our planet. Regarding food, however, the landscape is far more complex. We have literally thousands of choices of what to buy and eat at our hands everyday, but how to positively affect our world is not as obvious. Another factor is that we've been living in a golden age of food -- we have been able to, until recently, get anything we want, anytime, anywhere, for a cheap price, not unlike the decades of diverse consumer products we have enjoyed. I'd like to mention some of things I'm learning about this, with respect to what we eat, and maybe provide some food for thought, as we find we are losing that golden age of food prices.

Organic food: At first I thought "organic" was about putting healthy things into my body, rather than synthetic chemicals. This was a noble pursuit of course, but in all honesty, I was not convinced that organic food was always better than non-organic. There wasn't much evidence to say that this was always the case. However, I think we can all intuitively expect that it would be better nutritionally and less toxic for our bodies, and certification helps us identify these foods. But I have since learned that organic isn't about only the health-benefits of the food you are eating. In fact, far MORE important in my opinion, is the often-missed fact that organic food is hands-down better for the environment - it requires zero chemical usage and has the potential to drastically reduce the toxins and pollutants that are accelerating the loss of diminishing fertile land resources. Land is kept more fertile when organic agriculture is practiced. Because this cuts off pollution to both the water table, in fact, it may be more helpful to our health indirectly, rather than looking at the nutritional content alone, let alone the health of farm labourers. On the down side, organic can cost a lot more, usually 10% to 40% more, as organic crop yields aren't boosted by chemical means, but I've asked myself how sustainably I am acting, and whether this new information should change my outlook. In fact it did considerably, and I am now willing to spend more to support organic choices wherever I can. I'm not alone: Organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace.

Local and/or Seasonal: Again, here is somewhere I have grown. I understood the concept of supporting the local economy, and also keeping those who live near you in business because they are, for lack of a better word, more connected to me. Again, this is a positive thing. But what I have learned here was subtle too -- the other reason locally grown food and produce can make a difference, is because of the transportation costs of moving all that produce around the world. I can normally buy certain types of foods all year round, but if I don't consider that they have been shipped from somewhere farther away, then I also don't realise that it contributes to rising emissions, greenhouse gases, and pollution. If some pears come from overseas, I question whether I could afford the higher-cost locally grown ones, and usually I can. It is possible that overseas transportation environmental costs are actually lower than some local energy-intensive agricultural methods, so local isn't always better, but transportation is an important and ignored component of food production. Naturally this all means that I need to rethink my long-held attitude that I've had, which has been pervasively accumulated in our culture for decades, the attitude that "all the foods that I want should be available all the time". In fact, we have completely lost our appreciation of nature's seasons. Certain foods are in season at one time, but then not in season at other times. If I buy foods that are out of season, the environment automatically incurs transportation costs. For food that is in season, you can be sure that it will be fresher and taste better when grown locally.

Fairly Traded: This is a term that wasn't in my vocabulary 5 years ago. Although my attitude then was a common consumer attitude that things should always be very cheap, it has now evolved. When something is really cheap, I now have started asking myself WHY it is so cheap. There is rarely a free lunch (pun intended) -- if something is too cheap to be produced by people at a fair wage (coffee is a common example), then perhaps it was produced in conditions that do not respect human rights. Not to say that price is the only indicator, as there is fair-trade certification that attempts to help us understand the nature of the products we buy. I simply have evolved to consider the origins of what I am eating. My main learning here has been that simply everything we eat comes from SOMEWHERE and that this matters.

Consumers are used to ignoring the supply chain. I am now asking myself more and more how and from where that food came from. Mostly, I can't ignore the reality of what my purchases are supporting. Now that's not to say that I make these choices all the time (I'm sometimes willing to pay up to double the cost, but not much more), but I am right now undergoing the process of changing how I think. I think it will be a life-long process, and I suspect that my diet and buying habits will continue to change, as they have been for years now (it might surprise some of you that I don't drink soft-drinks/pop anymore). Sometimes it is uncomfortable to ask myself questions that I could easily ignore, but I cannot forget my responsibility to my greater communities. Just as in working, voting and family life, we all have responsibilities to something greater than ourselves, the same applies to food. I'm ready to admit I don't know everything, although I do know that I'm not ready to become a vegan. Yet, I am always ready to learn more about my food choices.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reflections On Another Year #3

As a general rule, I try to do my yearly reflection within a month after each birthday, and I feel late on this one. I didn't really plan anything special at all for my birthday this year. In fact I was so busy worrying about all the things that needed doing for my upcoming musical that I didn't really plan any celebration time. I did attempt to merge a quasi-celebration with my friend Jolene at a restaurant, but as it turns out none of her people could make it, so I cancelled it... actually she cancelled it first, and I cancelled the process of inviting my people to a cancelled event.

I spent the whole day at church and in rehearsals. Now it may sound like I'm complaining, but in fact rehearsing was still fun, because I enjoy all that time with music and the people involved (the Joseph family), even working on it on my birthday. After that, though, what actually made it feel like a birthday was that Laura actually baked me a surprise birthday cake, and this was no ordinary cake -- it simply dwarfed the word delicious, and though it seems crazy, it tasted even better than that because of the caring that I knew went into it -- in fact it might be the best cake I've ever tasted in my life. So I spent the evening with her and we just talked and hung out together, which made it a fantastic day. I even got a few phone calls from various people which was nice. Overall I think I fared pretty well!

But the thing that surprised me most was how many messages I got on Facebook (this might just be my first birthday after being pressured to sign up by my now facebook-friends). Even people I haven't heard from in a while send me a birthday greeting, and I'm now starting to appreciate how convenient facebook is, because when we see so many people writing on someone's wall, then we're more likely to realise it might be their birthday, for example, and many things like this can strengthen a community of people... almost like a support network, except in electronic form. As much as I was against facebook at one time, I'm starting to realise some of its benefits... although I still worry about privacy concerns, as I did before being coerced into signing up.

Again I feel like I've had tremendous personal and professional development this year (again!), so I will try to recap some things, but I'm not going to categorise anything as good or bad or hard like I did last time. Most of the time experiences are there to learn from, regardless of whether you call them good or bad.

  • I finally became a fully licensed Professional Engineer in Ontario, and you can look me up!
  • Recorded one of my original songs in a recording studio (waiting on post-production still), for a friend's project dealine, which is something I've been dying to do for a long time, and I'm thinking I could do more recording to produce my album eventually
  • Broke up on really good terms from my longest relationship
  • I briefly broke my land speed record again (229 km/h) on a trip on the German Autobahn (but this is getting old in a way)
  • Conducted a musical for the first time working with a fantastic orchestra and cast to create our own version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
  • I went to Goa, India for Christmas for the second time, and spent a week with my parents and friends (who just happened to be there!)
  • I took my first real vacation in about 5 years without my cel phone or work email
  • Went scuba diving in the ocean for my second time (with swimming-pool training!)
  • Achieved Platinum Status on Northwest Airlines, but lost Platinum Status at the Marriott
  • I didn't publish very many blog entries
  • Started a great new relationship with a lot of potential
  • Wrote some new songs on the guitar
  • Designed a website for a condominium complex

Again I feel like I've had tremendous personal and professional development this year (again!), so I will try to recap some things, but I'm not going to categorise anything as good or bad or hard like I did last time. Most of the time experiences are there to learn from, regardless of whether you call them good or bad.

  • Ideas and thoughts seem less and less absolute, as I am starting to see the multitude of interpretations and perceptions that form reality for everyone
  • I feel more able to access my feeling at times of difficulty and am learning to understand them better
  • I trust myself much more than I did only a few years ago
  • Stepping in to help solve others' problems doesn't necessarily make things better, it is better to ask what they need rather than make assumptions
  • When someone hurts you, there can often be a vast complexity of reasons, and initially it is very easy to react without understanding that complexity
  • Important relationships can end, but this isn't something that is automatically negative
  • It is wrong to believe that everything has a simple easy solution - in fact most difficult problems don't, and it is often unrealistic to expect to find one, so it is a waste of energy to be confused, upset or disappointed about being unable to 'solve' a problem
  • Feelings are very important, and the value of understanding your feelings and being able to communicate them clearly and appropriately cannot be overestimated
  • Spending money on good healthy food is well worth it
  • Cooking is not a mystery once you get a few ideas, it is actually an art form
  • Beauty occurs during quiet moments
  • It is not our achievements, but it is our choices that tell us who we are

I await what is in store for me this coming year, and if the pattern holds, it will be even better than the previous one.