You Are What You Eat

Our food system’s impact on your body and your community, and what you can do about it

BY Morgan Casavant

W

e know the food we eat affects our spiritual and physical energy, but do you know what you’re eating? A study called “The Food Dialogues,” conducted by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, revealed that, these days, Americans know very little about how their food makes it to grocery store shelves. It all seems very “wizard behind the curtain,” am I right?

Because of this, we often take food marketing and labeling at face value and allow it to make our decisions for us. Have you bought something because it says “all natural,” “farm to fork,” “free range,” or something similar on the label? Pretty sure we all have. These declarations make us feel good about buying them, but do these labels really mean anything? The answer, sadly, is no—to lure people into purchasing the product is the main function of these labels. At best the labels are misleading, at worst, downright false.

So, if we can’t trust labels, I had to wonder where does our food come from anyway? The short answer: everywhere.

We are importing fiends. According to the USDA, “U.S. consumers demand variety, quality, and convenience in the foods they consume.” This means we import from just about every other country in order to keep seasonal foods like summer berries in stores year-round. This may satisfy our need for instant gratification, but it does little good otherwise.

If you follow an Ayurvedic or other seasonal diet, you know eating fresh, seasonal food is best for keeping your body in harmony with Mama Earth’s vibes. Importing also means that your food could travel thousands of miles to get to your plate, compounding the toll it takes on our planet. So, no good for our bods or Gaia!

In addition to the increased carbon emissions associated with shipping food around the planet, food manufacturers exploit the poorest communities in order to get cheaper food to their consumer. Our food manufacturing impacts the local economies of these communities that we exploit, as farmers that were once dedicated to producing food for their community are now primarily producing food for the U.S. and other western nations.

By now you may be wondering, “Why do we even import so much food? Couldn’t we grow our own food right here? Isn’t there some extra land in the Dakotas?”

The rapid increase of American suburbia and the “American Dream” of the ‘50s with sprawling green lawns and white picket fences has impacted our farmers in a huge way. The more land we use for lawns and quaint neighborhoods, less and less land is available for farmers to grow their crops. For example, the average American lawn consists of about 60 percent lawn, 19 percent infrastructure (the house, driveway, etc.), 18 percent ornamental greenery, and only 3 percent produce.

Put simply, we’re running out of room for growing food.

And then there are the dovetailing issues of food waste and hidden costs to cheap foods. The food industry is no exception to the excessive abundance we see in many industries in the U.S., and this is so because our food is cheap. Think about the last time you were having a busy bee day and stopped in at your favorite fast-casual dining spot. If you opted out of the side dishes and a fountain drink, your meal was probably less than $10, right? We are fortunate and should be thankful to have food so readily available to us, but just like in the fashion industry, there are hidden costs to food this cheap.

One of these costs is waste. Banana a little too squishy? We know that we can go to the store and buy a new one for a few cents rather than cut out brown spots and use the part of the fruit that is still good. So we toss it. Simple—gone forever.

This is, of course, adding to our growing landfill problem because compacting organic items (like fruits and veggies) with inorganic items (plastics and other waste) essentially obliterates the flow of oxygen needed for the food to decompose. That banana could remain completely in-tact long after your physical body has left this earth. And America isn’t exactly winning the race when it comes to recycling and municipal food waste composting programs.

That’s all the bad news. But here’s the good news: We are not powerless. We can each individually help solve these problems in order to cultivate sustainable and conscious food consumption. Here are a few ideas as to how.

Urban Garden
Urban Garden

With urban gardening, you don’t need a huge yard to grow your own food

Frequent farmers markets. A fun and easy way to start making change in your own life is by buying seasonal, local produce at farmers markets near you. This makes grocery shopping fun as it gets you out in your local neighborhood, all the while putting money right back into your community to support more farmers and bring more variety to the market. You’ll also be able to ask farmers about their growing practices, so you know first hand exactly how and where your food comes from.

Buy less than you think. Did you get excited about all this fresh food and buy too much? I get it—veggies are beautiful and I absolutely want to surround myself with all of them! The first lesson to learn here is to buy less than you think you need, and it will usually be enough. For the problem at hand, though, consider donating your extra stash to local food banks, freezing for later, or maybe even try your hand at pickling. And that banana? Banana bread is where it’s at!

Grow your own food. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s time to start dabbling in planting an edible or bee garden (even in urban spaces!) and growing your own food, the answer is a resounding YES! From increased flavor to greater health benefits to helping reduce carbon emissions, taking the next step in food consciousness and growing your own food is a win-win-win.

Eat more plants. This is the big one. Generally beans, plants, and other forms of produce take fewer carbon emissions to harvest than meat and dairy, and they are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help your body thrive in the best way possible. If you want to have a huge personal impact on the food industry and the health of both yourself and the planet, replace the beef on your plate with beans. A recent study found that this simple act would positively impact our environment so much so that the U.S. would meet its greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2020.

Conclusively, as food genius Michael Pollan says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Your food choices have the potential to raise your vibration and have an impact on local and global sustainability, consciousness, and compassion. You care about the planet and your fellow human, I know you do. So eat local, whole foods as much as you can and limit meat consumption. As with every decision you make for your mind and body, education is key. I encourage you to take nothing at face value, do your own research, and make the decision that is best for the life you’re living.



Morgan Casavant

Morgan Casavant
Morgan Casavant is a yoga instructor and graphic designer committed to making a difference. She aims to inspire compassion, balance, and centeredness in every choice she makes, and to educate anyone who will listen about her passions. Follow her at @macasavant.

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