Not Jack and Jake's.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 1: Jake and Lee

Dear Messrs. Singer and Mason,

I write regarding the first chapter of your book, The Ethics of What We Eat, entitled Jake and Lee.  I appreciate that you've laid this book out in three sections: Eating the Standard American Diet, The Conscientious Omnivores, and The Vegans.  Beginning each chapter with firsthand accounts of these dietary types humanizes the discussion; too often, discussions of food become detached and refer only to statistical trends in populations.  How absurd, when food is a topic so extremely personal.

And so in this first chapter we meet Jake and Lee, who do indeed seem to eat like "typical Americans."  I will note two things here: (1) most people in the United States live in significantly more urban areas than does this family, making me wonder why they were chosen to represent average citizens.  Also, (2) "American" is a misnomer here, but I imagine you are using it as shorthand for "people from the United States" because there is no better word for that.  I have unofficially proposed, via this and other blogs, "Staters."  Of course, Standard Stater Diet doesn't make for such a fun acronym... but I digress.

My understanding of the Standard American Diet (SAD) jives with what has been described in this chapter: a diet heavy in highly processed animal products and refined carbohydrates, and low in the "fresh" foods believed to be more healthful.  As you are both well aware, and as Jake notes in this chapter, food choices are now commonly based on price and convenience - factors which frequently are not compatible with less processed foods.

I found particularly interesting Jake's comments on cutting veal out of her dietary choices after the "horror" and "cost to the animals" was "so well covered in the media."  I often wonder what the best tactics are to get at the cultural zeitgeist around food.  Is it through intensive public-service-type announcements and informational advertising campaigns, such as those used in New York City a few years back around sugar-sweetened beverages?  Is it to change policy on the local and state governmental levels?  Or is it by creating expose-type media coverage around the food industry's worst abuses?  I would humbly suggest that the answer is all three, and more, hitting the issue from all possible angles.  The anecdotal information presented here indicates, at least, that popular media should be part of the messaging strategy.

Before I leave you, I'd like to address an idea presented in the Introduction of the book.  There is a short paragraph which reads:
"Virtually anyone, irrespective of income, can make a positive contribution to this movement.  Making better food choices doesn't require hours spent reading labels or rigid adherence to any particular diet.  All it takes is the information we provide in this book, which we hope will bring a little more awareness about the significance of the food choices we all make."
A lovely sentiment, and yet.  I believe, gentlemen, that what we are speaking about here is privilege.  Erudite as you are, it certainly hasn't escaped your attention that you belong to the most privileged group of humans in the western world: white men.  When you say "virtually anyone," I can't help but feel that you mean "virtually anyone like me."  In that context, it's true.  Middle or higher class, college educated people who live in areas with good access to real grocery stores and farmers markets and have their own transportation are held back from making better food choices only by obstinance.  This, I presume, is why so often in any part of the food movement, we see the message that "anybody can do it."

So I must point out that not everyone is like you.  In the United States, about 15 percent of the population lives in poverty.  A bit more than 14 percent of households are "food insecure."  Nearly 20% of households with children don't have enough to eat.  That's millions of households, tens of millions of people.  How must it sound to those people, parents, who are struggling to just put enough calories on the table for themselves and their families, that they must "only" obtain and read your $17, 300-page-long book to "make better food choices?"  Food for thought.

Many thanks,

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