Monday, January 30, 2012

The Protein Prerogative: Market Mondays

I first found solace by preparing food from scratch in the kitchen as a child - I even had a recipe published in a community cookbook back then.  So I guess I could say the preparation of good food has been a lifelong passion for me. In early adulthood I became interested in food mechanics and that led to me learning more and more about the different types of food and sources of nutrition.

In my evolution into a full blown hippie I had the mandatory vegetarian and then vegan phase.  And upon my first major episode of what was eventually diagnosed as MS I voraciously devoured all the current scientific literature (there is very little) and other respected material on food and disease.

Thus, suffice it to say that I'm an autodidactic food warrior.

And my knickers are really in a knot about protein these days.  Last weeks Toronto Council Committee meeting that squashed the possibility of urban chickens in Toronto added oil to a simmering ember.

Everybody worth their nutritional salt knows that protein gives us the most energy bang for your buck.  That's why the mega-food industry created a whole new market aimed at sports enthusiasts that centred on protein.  Protein shakes are something that many of us consume as a result.  It used to be that mom would go outside to the coop and pluck a few eggs to fry up for breakfast.  Now people reach for the whey powder and the blender.

Food sovereignty centres around protein, in my not-so-humble-autodidactic-view.  On one side of this issue are the people screaming for sustainability: ergo meatless mondays etc.  On the other is the organic food lobby:  Whole Foods meats Birkenstocks.  Or to boil it down to what these two sides tend to really represent:    vegan/vegetarian versus carnivore/pescatarian.

Having been an ethical vegetarian/vegan for a number of years I recognize the gleams of the fervent believer. Part of me is still very sorry that this option didn't work out for about the five year mark of this 'lifestyle' I was craving fish so badly I 'caved'.  Remarkably I felt the energy difference almost immediately.  It wasn't until years later, when I was delving into all the nutrition literature, that I understood what had happened to me on that vegan/vegetarian diet.  My five year stint eventually led to a reduction in energy and a confusion of my body as to how to best replenish it.  My self published vegan cookbook had ample recipes with all the right protein combinations and I made them regularly yet I was still looking for more.  This is why I returned to dairy so quickly and then eventually 'succumbed' to the energy lure of fish and then 'happy' meats (ethically farmed or hunted meats).

So protein is a bit personal, to me.  Especially since I now follow a diet that prescribes a very strict regimen in order to prevent any more myelin sheath from being damaged and may even help to rebuild the stuff that is already damaged.  It is a strict but simple approach and the previous link gives all the science behind it.  It is simple in that it is very easily outlined:  no gluten, no dairy and no legumes.  But the execution of this diet is anything but simple.

Coprorations are out to make profit - they distribute shares to people (or other corporations) that believe that they can make a profit.  I think the Occupy movement has managed to illuminate this plain and simple Business 101 fact home to us.  We are also starting to recognize that our policy makers should be democratically elected but often are simply pawns for the powerful corporations that hire lobbyists that 'hire' politicians.  As my mother, the accountant, is fond of saying, we should always follow the money.

If I was a food corporation looking to make money for my shareholders then I would like to do it in the most efficient manner possible.  Not necessarily effectively, although my food product labelling may claim so.  So what if you were looking to provide a protein product efficiently?  You certainly wouldn't choose meat, poultry, fresh dairy, eggs or fish unless you could factory farm or unethically harvest fish.  You likely wouldn't choose nuts due to allergy concerns.  You'd look around the world and see what protein based substances grow quickly and easily and can be processed into protein products and you'd end up with two sure fire winners:  soybeans and dairy.  Michael Pollan told the food world a few years ago that Americans are basically walking corn stalks due to the pervasive nature of corn and it's derivatives throughout our food chain.  I posit that the sustainable food movement might transform people into dairy laced soybeans and they will be aided and abetted by the handful of global multinational food corporations that not only feed much of the world but also control the food for most of the world.

Like religion, food can be a force that divides or amalgamates communities.  In my solace laced kitchen during the last week I pondered the negative affect that my neurologist approved diet has had on my ability to go out and easily commune with food.  In a world controlled by huge food companies that seek efficiency I realized that this is not likely to change anytime soon, if ever in my lifetime.  And in a world filled with ignorant policy makers like those on that city council committee, I won't be farming my own protein source anytime soon here in Toronto.

But I can start screaming from my soapbox (blog) about it.  The sustainability of our food system is NOT about reducing your meat intake - although that helps.  What would help sustainability (and overall health!) even more would be a commitment by each household to create at least one meal a week, from scratch, with food that is ethically grown - and ideally from a local farmers market that has ethical vendors.  Market Mondays, anyone?

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