Monday, March 2, 2015

The Whole Foods Movement and the Developing World

All it took was a trip to the farm to put me off of raw milk forever.

I was a chaperone for Lily's kindergarten field trip.  We were visiting the farm of a good friend, who I know personally.  One of his farm hands was showing the kids how to milk a cow.

He washed his hands meticulously.  He washed the cow's udders meticulously.  The kids all gathered around and watched in awe as the milk streamed into the bucket.

All was well and good and happy until the cow began to pee.  This wasn't a little pleasant was a waterfall of pee.

The children shrieked.  I shrieked.  The farm hand, experienced in these things, instantaneously yanked the bucket of milk away.  Even still, when they poured the milk into a pot and boiled it, I found myself thanking God for Louis Pasteur.

Like many American moms, up until this point, I was enamored by the idea of raw milk.  I had read numerous articles expounding it's merits.  Great for your teeth!  Great for your digestive system!  Practically a miracle food!

I knew, that if I wanted to, I could find raw milk in Tanzania.  People own cows everywhere.  But I was reluctant, not knowing how sanitary it would be.  My trip to the farm proved to me that even in cases where meticulous precautions were taken, it would be practically impossible to keep the milk totally clean.  Since I don't know of any small-time farmer who uses a milking machine, there is now no way I will drink raw milk in Tanzania.  I don't care how nutritious it is.

I love cooking.  I love learning.  I have jumped on the bandwagon with millions of American moms who are changing the way that we look at nutrition.   I purchased, and often consult, Nourishing Traditions.  When we were in the States, I shopped at Trader Joe's and looked for organic products.  I make kefir everyday.  I ferment my own pickles.

And yet, I find myself unable to resolve the dichotomy between the two lives I live.

I remember when our gardener first told me that he wanted to grow tomatoes.  I gave him my full blessing.  He put in about 25 plants, and after a few weeks, pulled off buckets of gleaming fruit.  I was excited!  That is, until I cut into one.  Full of worms.  Next one?  Full of worms.

Every single tomato was full of worms.  The entire crop had to be thrown out.  He tried again.  This time, he came back with a sprayer full of pesticide.  The tomatoes turned out beautiful.

Up until that point, I had naively thought that food in Tanzania was grown organically.  I knew that most fruit and vegetables sold on the side of the road came from small, home-grown farms, so I figured that it was all natural.  After all, it has got to be only the Developed World that is ruining everything with their chemicals, right?

Now, I have a pretty good way to figure out if something in Tanzania is organic.  If its got bugs in it, it's probably organic.  If it doesn't, pesticides were probably involved.  When I bring home dried beans or rice, I automatically put them in the freezer for 24 hours.  If I don't, within a week, things will be hatching.  If there's a worm in my broccoli, there's a good chance it's organic.

So that's my choice:  Pesticides?  Or bugs?

This is my struggle.

Since I belong to the Developed World, I like the idea of organic food, raw milk, and clean meat.  I can see why GMO food is not great for our society.  I get why small, local farms are healthier.

But I live in the Developing World.  Over here, pesticides keep people from starving.  Pasteurization saves lives.  And honestly, I wouldn't be too sad if Tanzania had more mega-farms that could feed more people more cheaply.

Sometimes, I wonder if Americans forget that we used to be a Developing Country.  I wonder how many Americans realize that DDT is what eliminated malaria from the United States.  Yet then the Developed World banned its use, and now millions of Africans still die from malaria every year.  I think of the story in On the Banks of Plum Creek, when swarms of grasshoppers regularly decimated thousands of acres of American crops.  Yet that doesn't happen any more.  Why?  Pesticides.

I can't seem to resolve this tension.  I want to be into organic food, but I wonder if it's realistic.  Can we really feed the world on organic food?  On grass-fed, free-range meat?  I read once that part of the reason organic food is so expensive is because so much of it has to be thrown away.  Should we be okay with that?

I am not asking these questions rhetorically.  I really want to know.  I have friends who know a whole lot more about this stuff than me.  I would love a sane, rational discussion, and I would invite you to weigh in.

Let's assume, in this discussion, that organic, grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free, non-pasteurized, non-homogenized, non-GMO food really is healthier.  My question is:  Is it realistic?
In this fallen world where perfect health is an illusion, can we feed 7 billion people this way?  Or do we just have to admit that healthy food is only for the wealthy, elite, upper class of the world, and everybody else has to deal with GMO's?

I want there to be a solution.  I want to be able to say that I am pro-organic, and not just for my own (wealthy) family, but for every family.

So tell me.  What do you think?

March 8:  Thanks for all the great responses!  Read my follow-up post here.

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