When is food so much more than food? Pretty much at all times. Food is cultural, food has racial ties, has religious significance, food is represented through holiday traditions. Availability and choices for food differ between economic lines. There’s even a gender divide between traditional expectations for food preparation.
Food nourishes us, energizes us, keeps us alive, gives us disease, can bring us down. It will make or break you. Lack of, can bring weakness, the wrong combination can cause distress, over abundance can cause obesity, food allergies, which we’ve seen a rise in, can even cause death. Comfort food, food addiction, anorexia, bulimia. Food is everything. You are what you eat; you are what you don’t eat.
Honestly I’m not super enthused about cooking all the time. I’m okay at following recipes, but I freeze up when having to think on my feet in the kitchen. I usually Google how to prepare anything I make by scratch. Dinner-time is often crazy-time at my house, and sometimes I wait too late to make dinner, and then I get frustrated at making a complicated dish because I’m already way past hungry, and the kids are way past cooperating. I knowingly make poor choices sometimes because it’s easier. I let my kids eat things like chicken nuggets too often because they don’t want to eat other things. I make a big dish and it goes to waste, or my husband is working late, and it seems pointless. All excuses on why I take the easy way out.
I may not be that interested in cooking, but I’m very interested in the sociology of food. Food is like a medicine, (in some instances even like a drug) and if we are what we eat, then it only makes sense that socioeconomics are a big issue when talking about food. Economic status and education levels often determines what kind of foods we eat, and whether we are able to make certain choices in our diets. Diet related illness like diabetes, heart disease and obesity often trend based on sex, race, and economic status because it’s related to the types of foods these groups tend to traditionally and culturally eat. We have witnessed obesity on the rise, especially in children because of the shift in our society’s food choices, trends and portion control. We are eating way more chemicals and way bigger portion sizes than our Great-grandparents ever did. We are also eating different proportions of certain food groups than generations before us. Today we tend to eat meat as a main course with veggies on the side, where in the past; vegetables had a bigger real-estate on the dinner plate. Not to mention the availability of ready-made easy processed choices like never before. Many (more than generations before) families have two working parents, or are single parent homes, and being home to cook all day isn’t as common or as convenient. Why spend hours making homemade sauce and meatballs when I can conveniently buy them already made from the store?
As far as education playing a role in food choices, many health pamphlets or nutrition resources is written by college level writers. They can be hard to understand or discarded altogether as unimportant by people with low levels of education. Meal planning and nutrition research is hard enough for well educated people; even blogs like this may not be accessible to those who aren’t searching for nutrition information specifically on the web. Even worse is the fact that food labels, advertising campaigns and packaging are tricky and deliberately designed with our food ignorance in mind.
One the other hand, there’s also a rise in specialty food diets and trends, like The Paleo Diet for example, which is a diet based on what foods humans ate in the Paleolithic Period. Organic and anti GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is hot right now, but one, I think there’s some false sense of what that is, and two, there is clearly a higher cost associated with healthy eating, hence the inequality gap in who can participate in certain food trends and meal choices. Organic food is more expensive. When you are pinching pennies; it is hard to justify the costs of purchasing less food, even if it is higher quality. People with lower economic resources are less likely to have the luxury of looking at the long term benefits when they are simply trying to fill their children’s tummies. Other choices like soda or Kool-aide is cheaper than 100% juice or milk. Same as organic, it’s hard to justify purchasing less actual food, if we don’t believe in the difference or have the ability to make that choice. I can feed all three of my children on the dollar menu cheaper than I can buy a gallon of organic milk, so to some, it seems like a no-brainer. Food shelters and some government assisted programs for example, may not allow participants to even make those choices for themselves.
Poor food choices are often cheaper in the short term, and often easier or faster to prepare. If you’ve seen extreme couponing, items that we often are able to find coupons for are processed food items, made by big corporations. Things like poorer, fattier cuts of meat are cheaper in cost. “Fast Food” is often fast, easy, tastes good, and pretty cheap. The trade off, of course, is that the nutritional quality is highly deteriorated. In most restaurant foods, calorie, fat and nutritional content is way askew from what we ought to be consuming, followed by the most decadent desserts, of course. On top of this are things like coffee or alcohol, which is food that we consume recreationally, that we don’t really think of as food at all, instead it’s used as a stimulant drug, or a relaxation tool, or in social situations or continued on a daily basis because of addictive reasons.
Many people are interested in trying to go back to non-processed foods. This is actually harder than it sounds. We often don’t think about or realize how many things we eat currently that are comprised largely of chemicals and not actually “real foods.” This does to some extent have to do with sneaky labeling. Food packages advertise something has “real ingredients,” failing to also promote that the item has a whole list of processed non-food ingredients as well. This is common in many breakfast foods: things like frozen waffles and cereal or cereal bars that are marketed as ‘fortified’ and ‘whole grain’ or containing ‘real fruit,’ so we think that we are making conscious choices for the ‘most important meal of the day,’ when we are actually eating processed foods that are composed of a mile-long list of chemicals.
Since I think food is so important, and interesting to look at and dissect, I’m dedicating all of my blog posts this week to the subject matter. So there you have it, welcome to Food Week… Just like Shark Week, but better.
I am including several charts that show stats portraying obesity trends among both children and adults by race, or poverty.