The Politics of Food

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Over in Canada we’ve had a deadly outbreak of listeriosis which has triggered a massive meat recall of food processed at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Ontario. As of Tuesday, there were 29 confirmed cases of listeriosis across Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, and up to six deaths as a result.

In this day and age of blaming others I did appreciate that the head of the company today took responsibility for it and said the buck stopped at his desk. He wasn’t shifting the responsibility to others.

And that’s how they should have responded to this tragic event.

But it makes me think how much trust is built into the food systems here in Canada at least. We trust that when we go to the stores and get some food, that the food will at best, be good for us, and at least not kill us.

I wonder if we trust too easily.

Not that any company would have it in them to deliberately kill off their customers, but where is the line that is drawn over foods imported cheaply from China or India or other points east? What was growing in the fields before those crops were grown? What was used on them or in them to make them look good and edible?

Or even “local” foods, and by local I mean in this country. Do we know their origin or quality?

This food we put into our bodies in some amazing way actually becomes a part of us. It turns into who we are, physically. And that to me is really amazing, that we eat things that help us to grow certain ways physically at least and probably emotionally or intellectually too.

So why on earth are we not more careful with what we consume?

Many of us choose the cheap over the more costly choices. Many of us, either because we are cheap or because we are poor, go with the foods that are less expensive, and often those foods come from places around the world that we have no power to know how they are grown.

We shop at discount places and get five cans of peaches for $2.00 Woo Hoo, and we consume away.

Even our choice of potato in the local store comes down to trusting the store and shipper and the farmer, for my well being.


A friend dropped off some large brown beautiful eggs a while back and I made an amazing fried egg that was so unlike what the regular white bulk eggs we normally get are like, that it gave me pause. How many other things have I gotten used to, because I don’t have access to better quality items, or I choose cheap. (Or should I say, cheep.)

I think the Europeans, or at least the Brits are further ahead of us on this. You can plunk down a little more cash there for free-range birds or eggs, and yes the food may cost a little more but there are standards of acceptance that you can at least be aware of, as a consumer.

I’m getting to the age where I can’t just shove whatever I have handy, down my gullet and call er a day. I am more and more making choices about these things, because I know that my body is a part of who I am and I am made up of what I put in my mouth. I can’t afford to put stuff in there just because it looks nice or smells great. I need to take more time to eat in ways that are a help to me, and cause me to be a better person.

But I realize too that it’s not just about eating. It sometimes is about self-perception, or income, or yes, even politics.


  1. It has made me think. Perhaps my frugality will come back at me, but there are so many factors to eating locally. I know what local fresh veggies taste like. They're amazing compared to the flavorless ones we get in winter. But that's just it, isn't it? We can't get decent produce all year round. Even if you buy things in season, the only thing in season here in January is flour & meat.

    I've run some quick numbers in the past & eating organic or locally would cost us more than double our food budget & we're just two people. I couldn't imagine a family of four dishing out an estimated additional four hundred dollars per month.

    This evening, on our way home from Earl's, we pondered how our suppers would hold us over. We switched rolls by chance this evening. Angie had the burger & fries and I had the veggie filled stir fry. Mine cost more and I'm pretty certain I'll be looking in the fridge before bed.

  2. I think the thing that really struck home about all of the big processed meat disaster was the comment I heard somewhere of how widespread it is due to the consolidation of our meat processing in this country into a few huge companies. So, when it goes bad it goes bad in such a huge way. This isn't a small local processor whose poor care of processing equipment would cause a few people in a community to fall ill. This affects so many stores all across the country.

    I guess we have gone to big in order to be competitive. But it has certain costs to go big and what we are seeing is one of them.

    I like buying local but that does not guarantee better quality, just a better deal for the local community and perhaps fresher and less shipping cost as far as fuel goes. It is one of the dilemmas we face in this super big, looking for cheap world.

  3. I think the healthiest meat choice is lean wild game that one has harvested and processed oneself. Unfortunately that's not a realistic option for a lot of folks.

    If resorting to store-bought meat, I'd like to believe that the "federally inspected" label means something.

  4. As a society we have come to expect food to be dirt cheap. It's very difficult to produce decent quality food for almost nothing without mass production techniques being used. 100 years ago food was a much more expensive commodity and people often ate much poorer stuff than we do now, even if it did have to be locally produced.

    My friend Fernando is quite into this side of things too - might be worth trawling his blog if you're interested.


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