After listening to the news this week, I have come to the conclusion that I’m lucky to be alive.
The World Health Organization is concerned that people who eat too much bacon and other processed meats will develop colon cancer.
I wonder what happens to people who eat potatoes fried in two-day-old bacon grease. Probably something awful…so I’m lucky to be here.
My mother, and my grandmothers and my great-grandmothers, practiced what I call “survival cooking” which included some methods and procedures that most of us now find appalling. Yet their generations were healthier than my own, and if present trends are any indication, the generation after mine will not fare well at all.
I’ve given this topic a lot of consideration. As a fat person who is constantly modifying her diet in order to be healthier and thinner, I understand many of the pronouncements of the WHO and other such entities. The American diet is generally AWFUL and it is KILLING people. There are complicated reasons for that, but the researchers and the media try to condense those reasons into alarming “sound bites” in order to scare people into better habits. That has been moderately successful with smoking, but it won’t work as well with food consumption. Smoking is an optional behavior, eating is not.
My grandmothers lived through the depression years and then WWII when food was rationed and restricted. They learned to use the most basic ingredients available and to “waste not”. Grandma Bea saved the grease from fried bacon and reused it. She made her own hominy. She went out to the hen house and killed a chicken for Sunday dinner. Grandma Della served raw milk and made her own butter. She cooked wild pokeweed, which is poisonous if not picked and prepared properly. Both women made large quantities of cheap soups, simple breads, and plain, yet satisfying, desserts. When Bea made pies she took the scraps of leftover crust, put butter, sugar, and cinnamon on them and baked them in the oven as treats for us. Bones with bits of meat still on them were thrown in the soup pot. Stale bread was used in meatloaf and stuffing. Nothing in her kitchen was ever wasted and no one who ever visited her home went away hungry.
I’ve heard many people defend their current eating habits by stating that their parent or grandparent used lots of butter, sugar, eggs, and meat. True enough. But it was real butter, sugar, eggs, and meat. And the previous generation ate smaller portions and was more physically active. Our grandparents didn’t eat greasy jumbo burgers and then sit at a computer for hours.
I know that my knowledge, experience, and understanding is limited by my mostly rural upbringing, but two things are abundantly clear to me:
1. The food we consumed as children was mostly fresh- grown or raised within twenty miles of our house- and prepared from start to finish by a family member.
2. The food we ate was simple and contained only the most basic ingredients. Most of the additives, dyes, preservatives, flavorings, and other chemicals routinely used in food today never entered our stomachs.
As a pescetarian I don’t eat bacon and never have bacon grease saved in a jar on the stove. However, both practices might be safer and healthier than eating some of the other foods on my local supermarket shelf. One popular children’s lunch meal has fifteen ingredients (including sodium nitrate) listed just for the “turkey” slices it contains.
Food is something we must deal with each and every day. Like I said earlier, we can’t just give up eating. So we’re left with the task of making wise food selections that nourish and maintain the body we’ve been assigned. In order to do that I think we need to stop riding the waves of the latest food trends, good or bad, and return to real food in reasonable quantities.