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Rogar
1-8-11, 10:37am
I have been a great fan of Michael Pollan's books, which also got me going on some of the recent movies like King Corn, and most recently to some of the issues with sea food. I suppose that with all of the important issues out there, it is hard to keep up with everything. But the practices of factory farming and ranching and overfishing seem to have pretty important implications for one's health and well being, animal rights, and the environment.

Unlike public policy and politics where we mostly observe and grouse about things, how we choose our food sources is something that everyone can participate in on an almost daily basis and make a small difference. It's definately made a difference in my shopping and eating habits.

Among my aquaintances, I think more than half have at least read one of Pollan's books and maybe seen one of the movies or PBS features. But for the most part I can't really see many changes in the way these people shop or eat. What little I can tell while shopping I'm not see any big differences. People are still buying the factory eggs, with full knowledge that the laying hens are raised six to a compartment the size of an auto battery and may be contaminated with pathogens, just as an example. This just is wrong and doesn't make sense to me? The solutions are pretty easy, though sometimes a little more expensive.

Probably most of the people who participate in the forums are a little more concious of their shopping habits, but I'm curious what you might be observing with others. Do you see things changing just a little, some, or not at all? Any theories as to why or why not?

I'm considering getting slighlty more active with one of these issues, and trying to understand a little more.

redfox
1-8-11, 11:09am
I'm a highly conscious food buyer, probably because I used to be a farmer. We're in austerity measures, but that doesn't mean we'll buy factory produced animal products - we're cutting down on consumption of eggs & meats, but still buying the same locally produced stuff, which is expensive, just less of it each week.

I was raised on cheap food, and my elder parents still insist on it, even though they have multiple health problems that could be ameliorated by higher quality food. I think that nearly a century of factory farming has trained a few generations to expect cheap and poor quality. It's hard to change habits - really hard!

kib
1-8-11, 12:05pm
Well ... yesterday there were two people in front of me at the (big box) grocery store. The first one had a basket of fruits and veggies, the second, an older gentleman, had nearly all "ingredients" and not prepackaged foods, which to me is a step in the right direction, it indicates at least consciousness about food. Personally I bought organic celery and cabbage - and another box of attempt-to-fix-this hair color. So out of the three, I was the one with the "worst" grocery pile!

The trouble with good eating is, in part, the fact that it's exponentially more expensive for a larger family. I mean for just me, eating "the best" food vs the cheapest would triple my grocery bill, but the difference is still only about $140. A family of six eating the best vs the cheapest might see the bill go up by $600, which just isn't workable for most average earning families already more or less living hand to mouth with a budget for cheap food already set in place.

pinkytoe
1-8-11, 1:00pm
I think people's food buying trends are all over the map. Some are very picky about what they eat and others seem but what they always have. What I am noticing though is that there are many more choices at the grocery than in the past for those who want to eat a healthier diet. Even watching a show like Dr Oz who talks about nutrition and healthier eating choices seems like it would change the minds of some who might not even care initially. In most cases though, price is the primary factor and the 1.29 eggs will always beat out the $4.00 local eggs for most people.

Rogar
1-8-11, 1:02pm
I guess it does seem like there has been a little progress in the fruits and vegetables category. My local Safeway and Kings Soopers has organic options and occationally it's even on sale, though still pricey. Thinking of it, I guess also that the big boxes may try to buy local produce when it's in season, which isn't very long here in Colorado. (I am amazed at how far away produce can be shipped during the off season and still be profitable).

I've not seen any real progress in meats, fish, or eggs. I have a "good bad and ugly" wallet sized card downloaded from the Monterey Bay Aquarium site for buying good sea food choices. I don't see any wisdom at all in the fish the big boxes carry. And when it comes to meats, poulty and eggs, there is really only one choice at the big boxes. At least one thing I've thought about is talking with a few store managers and writing a letter or two to request more choices for these things.

I understand the money issues for larger families and people with limited incomes. For a lot of middle incomes, it seems like it comes down to priorities where there are some easy trade-offs to sacrifice for healthy and concious food buying.

kib
1-8-11, 1:19pm
Frugal and Green often go hand in hand, but not when it comes to humane and ethical animal products. Even for miracle workers like Joel Salatin, humane meat farming is more expensive per pound than factory farming, at least at the register. I'd say a good slogan would go something like, "if you can't afford grass-fed, just eat the grass instead." Not great but you get the point - organic/ethical plant farming, while more expensive than factory methods, combines affordability and greenness (at least when compared with organic/ethical meat farming). I'm a believer in eating plenty of animal protein, but to the extent that I can't afford "happy meat", I avoid animal protein altogether.

IshbelRobertson
1-8-11, 3:40pm
I don't have any knowledge of Mr Pollan.
However, I have only bought organic meats for more than 20 years - and also try to buy organic veggies and fruit, too. Although, living in northern Europe, this is more difficult.

I TRY to eat, organic meats, and veggies/fruits in season.... although, as I've explained, this is often impossible for about 5 months of the year.

daisy
1-8-11, 5:17pm
We get free range eggs and pork from my sister and lamb from a local medical charity that runs an organic grass-fed farming operation to raise money for their medical missions. We're also planning on buying some grass fed beef from them next spring. I also have a garden that supplies between a third and half of our vegetable needs.

In observing other shoppers when I am out and about, I would say the majority of people probably aren't concerned with what they are eating or where it comes from, but there is a strong and growing minority that is very concerned and makes it a point to support the local (and more humane) producers.

RosieTR
1-8-11, 8:25pm
I would agree that the majority haven't done too much. The changes I have noticed, however: "regular" grocery stores like Kroger/Safeway etc have made more effort to showcase local foods, and the truly local places have had more customers even during the downturn. One of the difficulties of the local/sustainable food movement is that so many people really have no idea how to cook. Comparing organic premade whatever with organic raw ingredients may mean the difference in whether a middle class family can afford at least some organic stuff but if you can't cook then good luck. A can of organic crushed tomato might not be much more than a regular one, but a jar of organic pre-made spaghetti sauce might be 2 or 3x more than a regular one. Making spaghetti sauce is pretty easy but if you have no clue how to make it and have a couple of hungry, picky kids you might not go there. Some of the foodie stuff might put roadblocks up too-I've seen recipes for tomato sauce that being with shocking raw tomatoes and go from there. Great if you have an entire day but for most families it's a big step just to go from jar of Prego to assembling an onion, a clove of garlic, some oregano, some basil and some canned tomato.

ApatheticNoMore
1-8-11, 9:29pm
Some of the foodie stuff might put roadblocks up too-I've seen recipes for tomato sauce that being with shocking raw tomatoes and go from there. Great if you have an entire day but for most families it's a big step just to go from jar of Prego to assembling an onion, a clove of garlic, some oregano, some basil and some canned tomato.

I don't think tomato sauce from raw tomatoes is difficult. Ok, I'm kind of a lazy person and I don't always peel the vegetables the recipes say to peel. I mean if they are organic what harm is a little peel going to do, so I would just use unpeeled tomatoes. So really it's just cut up some onion and saute in olive oil,add cut up tomatoes, add some salt. Some garlic helps, fresh basil improve it a lot, black pepper if you like. If you want to add a few more fancy additions: sliced pitted black olives, red pepper flakes. Cook until it reaches a sauce consistency. I wouldn't expect much from tomatoes this time of year though, I'd almost prefer to use jarred tomatoes in winter. This was based on a recipe in that ultimately snobby foody cookbook called "Better Homes and Gardens cookbook" ;)

I think that consciousness about food is growing but many still remain unaware.

herbgeek
1-10-11, 3:47am
In my small town, there aren't a lot of choices for fresh and organic. My favorite market has decreased its produce department, notably what little organic they did carry. I can still get organic carrots, celery and salad mix, but not usually much more than that. There are usually one or two packages of organic meat. I do get organic milk and eggs at Trader Joe's, but am not going to shop 3 or more stores weekly. There are farmer's markets that operate over the winter in the big college town, but that's an hour's drive in each direction, much longer if there is snow. I am unwilling to do that more than once a month.

So, I do know better, but I have limited options given my geography and the amount of time I'm willing to devote to obtaining food. In the summer, I grow most of my own vegetables, but that's not an option in New England over the winter (other than sprouts). I wouldn't make the assumption necessarily that people are unaware, or uncaring, or ignorant. Perhaps they are doing the best they can within the constraints they have.

catherine
1-10-11, 4:26am
I have definitely changed my personal habits as a results of Michael Pollan's book. I first read Omnivore's Dilemma, on the recommendation of my daughter, when I was traveling cross-country to do market research with diabetic patients and doctors. By the time I got through the corn chapter I was hooked!

It happened to be a few days before Lent, so I gave myself the challenge to give up eating anything with high fructose corn syrup in it.

That changed my life because it took me about two trips to the supermarket to learn that EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING on supermarket shelves has (or had at that time) high fructose corn syrup in it. Therefore, I had to learn to cook, at age 55!!

During that Lent I took field trips to local farms, which was also enlightening because I don't live in the Midwest--I live in New Jersey and I assumed I'd have to travel far and wide to get to a sustainable farm similar to the one Michael Pollan wrote about in his book. But, lo and behold, I looked on sustainabletable.org and found a few local farmers who raise grass-fed livestock and other organic products within 20 miles. I'm vegetarian, but I did buy some for my family to try. I also started following the local harvesting charts (since it was Lent, we hadn't even hit asparagus yet in the NE!).

Then the next Christmas, I actually met Michael Pollan at a book signing for In Defense of Food. I felt like I was meeting a rock star.

Since that time, about 3-4 years ago, I have noticed changes in the availability of products without HFCS. You can actually buy breads without it, for instance. I have become a strong believer that all of these new additives as well as new "advanced" ways to fatten cattle have contributed to the obesity epidemic, and I won't be foolish enough to expand because I'm not a scientist. Just call it "women't intuition." But if farmers use corn to make cows fatter faster, what are those same products doing to us?

I have gotten to the point in my own evolution from take-out, grab-and-go, convenience food eating to a much more simple, "hand-made" diet, that it does make me very mad and frustrated at the Powers that Be that continue to scratch their heads at the obesity epidemic and yet continue to support with our tax dollars all the things that are sabotaging our health.

I just finished a market research study on obesity and got opinions from 40 different doctors in 5 different specialties, and they're mad too, about the lifestyle monster we've created in this country.

I also would like to be more of a food activist because we are on a runaway train in this country and I'd love to be part of the movement to stop it. Perhaps this Lent I'll take it to the next level. I'll have to think about that.

Whew, that got my blood pressure up. Now I don't need my morning coffee!! :-)

mm1970
1-10-11, 7:23am
I went to see Pollan when he was in town for a talk. He's coming again...I might go back.

He (and other books in a similar vein) have changed my eating habits. Organic dairy when we can, and local eggs and meat (though we eat very little meat...I buy it 1-2x a month).

I drove my husband crazy Saturday when I came home to find the boys had eaten the last 6 eggs. I'd JUST missed the egg guy at the farmer's market (he ran out). Luckily, hubby found that the local crunchy store sells the same eggs, just at a $1.50 a dozen markup (ouch).

It's easier when you live where I do (So. Cal). IN other areas of the country, local is tougher. And even for me, eating as local as I do is hard. With a full time job and a kid and a husband, I have to go to the CSA pickup on Tuesday, farmer's market on Weds (usually for eggs), and farmer's market on Friday (if I want more fruit, veg, or meat), plus TJ's for organic dairy and other things.

pinkytoe
1-10-11, 8:12am
eating as local as I do is hard
I think this is key; it takes a lot of time to procure and prepare healthy meals even when one grows their own or buys locally produced. If it is a priority though, one will figure out a way. Just the other day, I say a woman on the city bus with her bags full of fresh produce. She got off about four miles away in a lower income neighborhood. She could have much easier walked to one of the convenience stores in her community but apparently made it a priority to invest the time and money to procure real food.

Jemima
1-10-11, 10:21am
I don't think tomato sauce from raw tomatoes is difficult. Ok, I'm kind of a lazy person and I don't always peel the vegetables the recipes say to peel. I mean if they are organic what harm is a little peel going to do, so I would just use unpeeled tomatoes. So really it's just cut up some onion and saute in olive oil,add cut up tomatoes, add some salt. Some garlic helps, fresh basil improve it a lot, black pepper if you like. If you want to add a few more fancy additions: sliced pitted black olives, red pepper flakes. Cook until it reaches a sauce consistency. I wouldn't expect much from tomatoes this time of year though, I'd almost prefer to use jarred tomatoes in winter. This was based on a recipe in that ultimately snobby foody cookbook called "Better Homes and Gardens cookbook" ;)

I think that consciousness about food is growing but many still remain unaware.

There are a lot of people who don't know how to cook at all, and I say that from experience volunteering at an emergency food pantry. We had to stock a lot of cheap "convenience" foods like Kraft's boxed mac and cheese and canned beef stew. I remember one woman whose eyes nearly rolled back in her head when the pastor's wife tried to explain how to make homemade bread because we had run out of store-bought that day.

As for myself, I was completely intimidated by the idea of becoming a vegetarian after being referred to collections of elaborate recipes like The Moosewood Cookbook, which seemed to have very long lists of ingredients and complex instructions for preparation.

Now, many years later, I would rather go without meat or eggs knowing what I know of factory-style production. In reality, I buy locally supplied free-range eggs and cook many simple vegetarian meals. The last time I cooked store-bought, factory farm type chicken, I swear it stank and smelled a lot like hot plastic (yes, I unwrapped it before cooking). It had such a repulsive smell I threw it away.

With times as hard as they are, I'm afraid people are going to have to go for cheap rather than high quality, no matter how well-educated they are about food.

lhamo
1-10-11, 12:54pm
We've changed our eating habits quite a lot over the past couple of years, largely as a result of my reading Pollan and others like him. Almost totally cut out processed snack foods (crackers and corn chips are the last hold outs). Cut way back on meat consumption. Started buying veggies from a local organic farm. Buy organic eggs. I haven't switched to organic milk products and meat yet because the price differential is so big. Actually I can get nice French cheeses made locally with organic milk for a decent price, but have to figure out how to navigate the order/delivery schedule (DH has a fluctuating work schedule so sometimes it is hard to come up with a system that works).

Personally, as much as I love Pollan et al, I am thinking that one of the biggest movers of the US food industry might just end up being Weight Watchers new points system. I wonder what effect shifting fruits and veggies to 0 points is going to have on the purchasing habits of the millions of people using WW. That would be something interesting to study...

lhamo

maribeth
1-12-11, 1:52pm
Fruits and vegetables have been zero WW points for a while, at least they were the last time I did WW about 7 years ago.

I can only devote a limited amount of time and mental real estate to obsessing over food. So my big takeaway from Pollan is the "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants".

As for eating organic/local/what have you, the reality is, I do the best I can for my family. I make one shopping trip to one grocery store (Trader Joe's) per week. I avoid HFCS and choose organic when I can, and choose not to worry about when I can't. I am not above the occasional bag of snack food or frozen meal, to keep on hand for those days I cannot bring myself to cook entirely from scratch.

Really, the media personality who changed my outlook toward food was Mark Bittman. His NYT columns and cookbooks convinced me that I could make really good food, FAST, with very simple ingredients, techniques and equipment.

Tiam
1-13-11, 7:25pm
I don't know if food habits are changing hugely, but I do see some folks who look like they are shopping with a mind towards fresh and ingredient based. And I'm aware of more people who make decisions to shop for free range and organic products.

clear water
2-7-11, 4:11pm
I worked as a cashier in superstore for a few months. It was such an eye opener to see how some people shop. If they made all doctor interns work at a grocery store for a week, it would be great training. I couldn't believe the garbage many people were buying. Huge bags of marshmallows, boxes of cookies,chips pop white rice boxed everything . Not a fresh fruit or vege in sight. I realize lots of people are short of money .However home made soup ,chile, mac and cheese, veges in season the cheapest fruit, would still be much better for their health. Then other ones came through the till, different story, fish, chicken lots of produce, juice , dried foods like beans and fruit. So I guess their is a wide array of shoppers.
For myself, it was only last year that I saw a program about the poultry industry. I was horrified. Also recently learned about genetically modified grains. Now i'm starting to really examine the way I shop and eat. Have a long way to go.

Miss Cellane
2-8-11, 6:05am
I suspect that a majority of the people in the US haven't read a Pollan book or seen one of the PBS shows. Some people don't read very much and a lot of people don't watch PBS at all. And those that have read the books or seen the shows and have changed their behavior were probably oriented towards making healthy changes to begin with.

Change is a very scary thing for many people, even good change. In order to eat healthier food, you have to change a lot of things. You may need to change where you shop, or shop at more than one store. You need to stop buying the easy, convenient processed food and buy more ingredients. You need to find time in a day that's already pretty full to cook. You need to adapt to different textures and tastes in your food and if you have a family, you have to deal with their personal preferences and complaints (I suspect this is a large part of this--if your entire family rises up in arms and refuses to eat the brown rice, you have little incentive to cook it again because no one will eat it and if you are going to spend the extra time and money cooking healthy food, you want it to be eaten in the end). You may have to learn to cook, or even if you know how to cook, you may need to learn new techniques or cook things you never thought you would.

That's a lotta change for most people. People are very comfortable doing what they have always done. When you do something for the first time, you are still in the learning stages. It takes longer, you have to refer to your instructions several times during the process, you have to concentrate harder. It takes time and repetition in order for the new skill to become second nature. I don't remember learning how to bake; it seems I was helping Mom with cookies and things from the time she could safely sit me on the kitchen counter. As a result, hand me a recipe for some baked goods, no matter if it be bread or pizza or cookies or pumpkin bread, and I have the skills and knowledge to interpret the recipe and carry out the various steps involved. I'll just plunge into a recipe headlong, fairly confident that something edible will emerge on the other end. On the other hand, we ate almost no pasta when I was growing up and I had to learn how once I was out on my own. I had no idea, really, how each dish was supposed to taste and no skill or knowledge of how to cook pasta. It was a HUGE learning curve for me--and more than once, dinner went into the trash and I had a peanut butter sandwich. Every so often I will watch a cooking show. I have yet to try a recipe from one, because what I'm really looking for is the cooking techniques that the hosts use. It's a better, easier, faster way to chop parsley that I'll take away from the show, not the recipe that the parsley was used in.

Just as there are many causes of why people eat unhealthy food, I don't think there is any one, sure, quick solution to the problem. I think change will happen slowly, and in many, many small steps. As a PP mentioned, eliminating unhealthy ingredients like HFCS is a start. Educating people about organic food is a start. Maybe bringing back Home Ec classes for all students, so that young people leave high school knowing how to select produce and once it is home, how to clean it, store it and prepare it.

Zzz
2-9-11, 7:10am
Sure it's changed people's buying habits. Why do you think people buy all those processed foods in the first place? Media & advertising. It changed the average person's diet from one that was filled with "whole foods" to a diet of processed crap.

Now, the hard part is to get people to change back. Once a society "loses" a set of skills it's pretty hard to regain them. Most people are dependent on boxed food. How many people can't even manage to make oatmeal without instant add hot water type? Dried beans? Even these super basic simple tasks are beyond what most people know. I think part of it is because so many people expect FANCY foods and want to copy meals eaten by the elite. Processed foods gave them the (false) belief that they were doing so in the (also false) belief that they were saving time or that these were more convenient. Blame the media / advertising for these ideas, too.

Charity
2-9-11, 9:52am
I think things are starting to swing the other way. I think that's why there are now multiple cooking and food channels. Clearly these networks saw a demand for more shows that teach cooking skills. The Food Network is taking it on the chin ratings wise because they started doing too many shows that just showcase weird foods or food contests. The new cooking channel saw an opportunity to get the viewers they lost.

I think it's encouraging that there is an increased interest in canning. Canning equipment sales have soared over the last three years. And there is a huge increase in people curing their own meats and making pates and sausages. I think this is also in part being driven by restaurant trends. There are increasing numbers of restaurants serving house made charcuterie plates and artisanal cheeses. There are now growing numbers that are canning local produce during the summer months and incorporating those products in their winter seasonal menus.

Of course large food processing companies will push back against these trends through advertising. They'll try and present their products as pure and natural and just like home made but more convenient. But people have gotten wiser about reading ingredient lables. And once you try the home canned stuff, whether you did it to fend off the recession or whatever, you realize what really good stuff is. And once you learn the skill you're not likely to go back. So I guess I'm a little more optomistic these days.

debi
2-9-11, 10:10am
I try to cook most things from scratch - rarely purchase name-brand cookies. I think it has been one time in the last 5 years. Our neighbor raises a pig for us and one for himself - no antibiotics or dye injected into the slaughtered meat as in factory-farmed pigs. Grow as much of my own food as possible - am expanding more each year.

Tiam
2-13-11, 4:19pm
I didn't know there was a 'new' food channel.
If there is, we don't get it here, and it's still a lot of cooking contests. I like the cooking shows but they tend to be on during work hours and the entertainment aimed contest shows are what's on in the evening. I guess they've figured out their demographic for that.

Tiam
2-13-11, 5:01pm
In my small town, there aren't a lot of choices for fresh and organic. My favorite market has decreased its produce department, notably what little organic they did carry. I can still get organic carrots, celery and salad mix, but not usually much more than that. There are usually one or two packages of organic meat. I do get organic milk and eggs at Trader Joe's, but am not going to shop 3 or more stores weekly. There are farmer's markets that operate over the winter in the big college town, but that's an hour's drive in each direction, much longer if there is snow. I am unwilling to do that more than once a month.

So, I do know better, but I have limited options given my geography and the amount of time I'm willing to devote to obtaining food. In the summer, I grow most of my own vegetables, but that's not an option in New England over the winter (other than sprouts). I wouldn't make the assumption necessarily that people are unaware, or uncaring, or ignorant. Perhaps they are doing the best they can within the constraints they have.



What's ironic to me in your post is that you live in a small town and choices are limited. But, (maybe I'm assuming here), You have a Trader Joes??

gimmethesimplelife
2-13-11, 5:39pm
I just went to the annual book sale at the state fairgrounds yesterday and was able to get Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemna really cheap in great condition. I am sure looking foreward to cracking it open but there is a part of me that dreads doing so -why? - because I am going to take off for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon again this summer and the food is included and it is pretty not very good food. I know this book covers things like high fructose corn syrup - which I read somewhere can cause fatty livers in people who have never drank a drop of alcohol - but the food I will be eating will have this and all kinds of other issues with it.....Good news is great view, great chance to save money, and I sure hope it is my last season!!!!! Rob of the North Rim Summer 2010