We’re in the midst of food crisis in America.
No, not our lack of legislation to protect small, independent farmers, not the growth of fast food and obesity and not the factory farms and slaughterhouses in this country that look more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than somewhere we get food. These are all problems, yes, but not really our personal crises.
The real problem is that, for lack of a better metaphor, we want to have our cake and eat it, too. But as this figure of speech dictates, that’s not always possible.
A lot of people say they want to eat better. By better we’re talking about a lot of things: healthy, local, organic or trendy.
This desire explains quite a few things that have happened or are happening in the food world.
After all, premium coffee consumption has skyrocketed in the past decade, and organic foods — once special and somewhat rare — can now be found stacked alongside regular products in pretty much any market anywhere in the United States.
Even fast food companies, once bastions of cheap, greasy, unapologetic fodder, now chase “quality” as a catchphrase, offering $7 “premium” burgers without any hint of irony.
And the crisis behind all this is that we’re stuck in a big fat contradiction, where we want more quality but don’t want to give up instant gratification and convenience.
Take the whole ordeal with organic foods, for instance. The average person might choose to buy a bunch of organically grown carrots from the supermarket, or maybe a can of organic soup.
But they also might not care at all about what sort of meat they’re buying, simply because it’s not as convenient to seek out local, organic or pasture-raised meat, and also because it’s more expensive, never mind the average price difference is only about 15 percent.
I know this problem well. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else, especially being in college without a car and with awkward dinner schedules to deal with.
I also know a lot of people who would disagree about there being a problem. Bottom line, more expensive is not good, some might say. Eat to live, not live to eat.
Although that might ring true for some, for many, eating is an awesome part of life. It’s delicious, obviously. Cathartic. Gratifying. Exciting.
For something as integral and necessary as food, isn’t it about time we actually started putting in some effort to at least make a few good decisions?
Like choosing local eateries that source their own ingredients instead of national chains that fly frozen food everywhere. That’s one easy step that only requires a minute of thought and maybe a Google search.
Or just taking an hour out of the day to make a good, fresh meal. That’s a decision that’s beneficial because you’re choosing to focus on and control what’s being consumed. Or spend the extra dollar or two on cage-free eggs. Not so bad, right?
After years of dirt-cheap produce, seafood and meat, it’s normal for that little bit of extra effort and money and time to feel almost unpleasant.
You might wish that instead of cooking and having to clean your pans you had just gone to Panda Express.
But give it some time. Watch that piece of air-dried, pasture-raised chicken breast as it sizzles in the oven and acknowledge you’re not eating an animal that was stuck sitting in its own crap for hours on end.
Heat up a pan and sauteé some organic rainbow swiss chard, with radiant technicolor stalks, and take solace in the fact that there’s a local farmer who is finally being rewarded for mitigating environmental impact for not using synthetic pesticides.
With time, that foreign feeling of having spent too much money or having gone out of your way for something as ordinary as a plate of food will fade, replaced instead by the sensation you’ve chosen to really care about everything eating affects, not just yourself.
Does it all sound a bit too romantic? Sure. But frankly, that doesn’t change the result.
Eating can be a luxury, a small thing to look forward to day after day, when things get hard or stressful. Yes, it nourishes the body. But as much of a cliché as it is, it can also nourish the mind and soul.
We’re stuck in a crisis of what and how to eat, but at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather do the best you can?
Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring print journalism. His column, “Food As Life,” ran Thursdays.