Eating Does Not Equal Nourishment

I looked up the word “nourishment” in the dictionary the other day. It is defined as the substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. Anything that helps me grow and develop is nourishing. Anything? That means my upsets, setbacks, failures, difficult situations, frustrations, hardships, and things not working out the way I’d hoped, as well as successes, victories, and instances of wellbeing – all are nourishing…if I have grown from them. It’s a good reframe. I would like to not have to go through hardships, but I also appreciate growing and transforming. Furthermore, eating is very similar to nourishment, so are we growing from what we eat?

Are you filled up or fed up? That’s my tagline. Another way to ask would be: are you nourished or not? Are you using the opportunity presented by the act of eating to transform yourself and perhaps the planet? I am going to assume that you are an enlightened reader. You have come to this essay because you already know something is wrong with your food. For example, feeding billions and billions of people has become big business. Smart people have figured out how to profit on something we all need to do to stay alive. We can’t all live off the land like our ancestors and we have moved more and more toward convenience. Restaurants, supermarkets, and the rest of the food industry make it easier to eat. I don’t keep chickens (I wouldn’t have the room!), so I rely on chicken farmers, butchers, and packagers to get a nice chicken breast to my nearby store where I can buy it. At the root of the food industry is service: making easier for me to eat. But is that also nourishing?

We all got to eat, and we all could use more service and convenience with food, right? We live busy lives! This means there is great opportunity in the food industry. More and more companies are born to satiate this need to eat and this urge toward convenience. These companies then compete against each other, and spend lots of marketing dollars vying for customers. And what ultimately wins over the customer? Price is definitely a huge factor. If all other things are equal, I will buy the cheapest chicken breast. So then the companies start to externalize their costs to drive down their prices. Commercial chicken farmers start raising millions and millions of birds in tiny cages with little regard to the animal’s wellbeing. I suppose they care if their chickens die or not, because that would dramatically effect the bottom line! The chickens are prone to peck at each other due to their cramped living situation, so the farmers snip off their beaks. The chickens are also prone to disease living in such tight quarters, so the farmers pump them with drugs and antibiotics. They will even genetically modify the chickens to have breasts so big and plump, that they can’t even support their own weight. These poor chickens are grown to be killed in the most economical way as to maximize profits.

We give up a lot of control when we rely on the food industry. We no longer have the transparency to really see how our food is grown or produced, and then processed. We don’t see the journey from the farm to our table. We are left to trust that these food companies are giving us a quality product to nourish ourselves. Trust!?! That’s a lot of faith to put in companies, especially when profit is their only objective. I have been pleased to see some companies moving toward a “triple bottom line” principle. They have to be socially, environmentally, and fiscally responsible. In other words, they still make money; they just make sure they are also having a positive impact on people and the planet while doing so. They see beyond dollars, and embrace a bigger responsibility. That’s the kind of company in which I am more likely to put my trust or faith.

Do you have faith that your food companies want you to be nourished? What makes eating food a nourishing act in the first place? We certainly know that there are plenty of junky foods out there that can’t be very nourishing. How long can I continue to develop and grow if I fill my body with pesticides, growth hormones, chemicals, and the many other unnatural things that come with our current diet of cheap, crappy food? I suppose if more and more people start dying from heart disease, diabetes, and other food-related illnesses, it could be nourishing! Remember that hardships can be nourishing if we learn from them, and death certainly has a way of alerting us to a problem! Maybe it would be enough of a wake-up call for us to reexamine our food systems and to make significant changes. In fact, maybe we should continue to encourage big business to mess with our food so things get so bad that we have no choice but to improve them. I would hate to see our food systems hit rock bottom, where there is no more wholesomeness or integrity left in what we eat and where people are dying in droves. Let’s pray it never gets that bad. But we have a big job ahead of us. I am talking about a paradigm shift on how food companies do business that includes a more social and environmental commitment. I am talking about a major political upheaval in which our government cares about us being truly nourished, and not just fed on cheap food. I am talking about a general public that’s been brainwashed to love cheap, crappy food learning to take control of their food and health. It may have to get worse before it getters better. We may have to get more fed up before we can get filled up!

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