Cheap Food

There is a young man in my church who spent most of his life growing up in Africa. On Sunday, I asked him how his first Thanksgiving in America was. He was polite, as always, but otherwise noncommittal. I asked him if he ate lots of pie, but his mother explained that he really didn’t care much for sweets. Then she added that at the airport, on the way to see their extended family, he had American fast food for one of the few times in his life, and it gave him an upset stomach for several days. After hearing those two facts, I bent down and said to him, “Good for you. If you will not change those two things you will be much healthier than the rest of us.” He just smiled and nodded.

We don’t need nutritionists to tell us that we consume too much sugar, corn syrup, processed and preserved food. We have heard it all before, and this year, as in years past, many of us will make New Year’s resolutions to change how and what we eat. Then, a few months later, after a thousand excuses, we will be right back to consuming what the American food industry has programmed us to eat.

Obesity is epidemic in this country, and if you are thin it is more likely a result of your genes and high metabolism than your mystical ability to resist the programming of those who spend billions to make, and keep, us fat.

I do not mean to suggest that food producers and the agrichemical industry are evil corporations out to shorten our lives, destroy our knees, and explode our hearts. This is not some plot against us staying thin. It is greed, pure and simple.

The political right tries to make an issue of overweight people who are on food stamps, as though they are gluttons feasting with our tax dollars. The truth is that the cheapest food is generally the unhealthiest. It takes a lot of money and time and effort to eat only natural food that is good for us. It also takes resisting billions of dollars spent to program us to eat the cheapest food that can be produced. Most of us have a choice, but poor people seldom do. They have an excuse, but what is ours?

My Italian family taught me to celebrate life with food … good food with natural ingredients often grown in our own garden. I am embarrassed to admit that their teachings all too often have gotten drowned out by the greed-driven programming of the corporate food industry. My theology is firmly rooted in the concept of free will, so, though I’d like to absolve myself of guilt by blaming their greed, I cannot. What I can do is try again to do better and raise my voice against callused greed that makes food a weapon of disease and death.

By Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
Center for Progressive Renewal

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