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This week brings another update from Eleanor Baron’s Nourishing Words Blog out of Concord, New Hampshire, where a group is participating in NWEI’s  Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability discussion course. This post offers up reflections from Session Three: A Healthy Appetite. To follow Eleanor’s blog, click here.

Each week, we begin with an “opener,” offered by one person who shares a thought, a memory, an object—anything relating to our work in this course. It gets us thinking and talking. Beth, as an opener for Week 3, brought a bag full of packaged foods from her home cupboards, most of which were labeled “organic.” What we passed around surprised us all. One by one, we read the labels, revealing marketing claims, additives, chemicals and trans fats lurking in the fine print. The exercise left us all feeling a bit humbled, wondering what’s in the shadows of our cabinets and cupboards at home.

Our readings had primed us for talking about how our food choices impact our health and how packaging and marketing affects our decisions. Already an arguably conscious group regarding food choices, one by one we realized our weak points—what could stand closer scrutiny. We talked about our go-to comfort foods, the foods we eat without much thought at all and foods we’ve long ago given up. We talked about how we make food choices in the first place.

It’s easy, in this world of food awareness, to feel a bit smug in our choices. After all, we’re gardening organically, shopping at farmers markets, joining CSAs and striving to fill the cupboard with unpackaged, real, whole foods. With a few exceptions that we’re prepared to chock up as minor, we’re doing the right things.

But why? … (*To read Eleanor’s full post, click here).

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~ Mary Oliver

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Last month, a Menu for the Future group in Reston, Virginia started blogging about their experiences and findings while participating in Menu’s six sessions of discussion and action. They kicked off their new blog, which offers “thoughts on how food impacts our earth, our communities and ourselves” with this post, entitled What’s Eating America (after the first session title of Menu for the Future):

“It’s confusing knowing what to eat these days…

In her article, Organic, Local and Everything Else: Finding Your Way Through the Modern Food Fray, Zoe Bradbury captures the guilt of purchasing a pineapple (it’s not local), and the consumer quandry about eggs:

Do you take home the certified organic, cage-free dozen

from California, or the non-organic but vegetarian-fed eggs from the family farm in nearby Willamette Valley? Do you spring for the Omega-3 eggs at a dollar more a dozen, or wait for your next trip to the Feed & Seed, where you can buy 9-year-old Nathan’s mismatched rainbow of

uncleaned eggs packed into re-used cartons? Not to mention large or extra large, Grade A or Grade AA. Is the notion that brown eggs are healthier real, or is the difference from their white counterparts only shell-deep?

(If only we had 9-year-old Nathan in Reston!) But for those trying to make informed decisions about food, it doesn’t stop with eggs.

Is organic milk from Walmart better than conventional milk from a mom & pop store?

What’s better, organic or local?  Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Michael Pollan talk organic vs. local here.

In the end, Zoe concludes:

What I’ve started to wonder amidst all the ferment about local and organic is this: Why turn it into a boxing match? Why the reductionist, either/or mentality? Why not local and organic, and while we’re at it, grass fed, family scale, socially just, economically viable, carbon neutral, humane, culturally vibrant, community based, and ecologically renewing?

And that sounds great. But how can we make it happen? What changes need to take place?

And is it any wonder we’re baffled when it comes to buying food in America?”

Thanks to this group for taking their musings to the blogosphere and for sharing this information with others! You can read other posts on their blog here.

Tomorrow, November 15th, is the deadline to take advantage of our offer to Hungry for Change course organizers! If you convene a group and place your order by tomorrow, we will give you (the course organizer) a free copy of the course book. Just give us a call if you are ready to go!

*As a special preview of one of the articles in the new course book, below is a quote from Vanessa Barrington’s The Ecology of Food, which you will find in Session One, The First Bite.

“…Ultimately, I think we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically. Each nutrient is part of a functional system and each food that we ingest is a part of the body’s functional system. Beyond that, the food we eat is also part of our larger socio-economic and cultural system around food. When I shop for food I think a lot about the different levels of nourishment in it. Does it nourish my heart, my soul? Does it nourish my pleasure centers by tasting good? Does it nourish the relationships I have with the people I’m eating with? Does it nourish the environment, or cause harm? Does it nourish the people who produce it, or exploit them?

To take an ecological view of food is to understand that the physical, cultural, social, environmental, and economic results of ingesting a food or nutrient cannot be predicted or understood in isolation. Foods interact with one another, in the body, around the table, and in society—all of which contribute to their overall ability to nourish… Next time you’re shopping, instead of thinking about whether the food in your cart is going to provide you with the proper balance of Omega-3s and 6s, sufficient antioxidants to prevent cancer, or enough fiber to lower your cholesterol, think about how it will taste, who you will eat it with, how you will prepare it, where it came from, who produced it and if it’s in season. In short, think about whether that food is the right thing for you to eat right now. The marketing of functional foods is not just annoying because it takes advantage of consumer confusion and fear around nutrition, it’s also dangerous because it assumes we don’t have our own holistic understanding of food and, in the end, dis-empowers us to make our own decisions about what to eat…”

Food for Thought:
1. Do you agree with Barrington’s statement that we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically? Why or why not?
2. When you are food shopping, what filters do you use? (Omega 3s, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, packaging, seasonal, local, organic,
nourishment, cravings, family, etc?) Would you like to use other filters?
3. What is one food choice that you make or could make to nourish the environment more and cause less harm?

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