Ouch! Damn! Eeeaaaa! are some of the knee-jerk sounds I’m accustomed to making in reaction to my belly’s calls for help. Since childhood, I’ve always had a sensitive gut. And it didn’t even make sense! I ate well: Chinese, home-cooked, full of vegetables and shit. But despite my robust diet, I found myself resting my head on the TP dispenser, doubled over and waiting for the brutal gas pains of indigestion to subside. Over time, I’ve learned that I have food sensitives. And so I try to avoid wheat and white flour, excessive added sugar, coffee, cream/butter/cheese, and alcohol– in short, many of the major indulgences. Stress and immobility tend to make things worse, so I like to cook with or for others, move my bodayy, and do that yoga.
An additional issue for me is that I tend to make risky choices like eating roommate’s leftovers and other foods with questionable origins, which are at the end of their lifespans. Because I keep getting sick, my stomach and digestive system can’t seem to get a rest. I don’t need a cleanse, just a period of calm to deactivate all of my system’s alarm bells. To these ends, I’m wondering about broth, pomegranate juice, and “whole foods.,” three foods espoused in recent documentary put out by Amazon Prime.
If you haven’t seen it, Food as Medicine is a good opportunity to watch white people talk about about their diets. While the show lacks representation, it paints a clear portrait of how America’s food system, based on processed foods and added sugars is not great for any of our bodies. The film profiles individuals suffering from health disorders: auto-immune diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis among others, which are made worse by the American diet. Those featured speak about feeling inflammation, pain, weight gain and other long-term consequences to their health and bodies. In one case, an MD goes from losing ever more mobility due to her MS, to once again being able to bike after changing her diet; from getting around in a scooter to peddling her way around the neighborhood, her recovery is astounding. This is not the norm, though. Others interviewed in the film struggle to consistently alter their eating routines and do not realize A to B turnarounds.
Despite making a strong case for the inadequacies of an unhealthy food system, the film doesn’t present a compelling alternative (at least in the first hour after which my attention went adrift). And clear paths towards recovery-promoting diets are far from straightforward. One woman, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis deliberates whether eating meat is beneficial for her after finding competing research. A key macro-issue is that the contemporary industrial food system is predicated on dealing products made with ingredients that compromise the integrity of our human relationship to ancestral history, health, and ecosystems- altering our social DNA along the way. What’s to be done to reclaim food pathways that are ethically grounded, just and sustainable? In an episode of a flavorful podcast, The Splendid Table, Francis Lam interviews Jorge Gaviria CEO of Masienda tortillas to discuss going back to basics: https://www.splendidtable.org/episode/647.
While making tortillas with Lam, Gaviria discusses the morbidity of the “modern” tortilla: a product divorced from the ancestral hands that domesticated maíz and the flavors that come along with- an image of a tortilla coming off a conveyor belt in a Diego Rivera mural come to mind. The tortilla is made shelf stable with acids and other preservatives, which bleach the tortilla, leaving it with a bitter taste and chemical smell. Truly, a gastronomical abomination occurs as byproduct of a mechanized supply chain; Gaviria and others are partnering with small-scale campesinos to recognize the inherent worth of Native Peoples foodstuffs. Though at the moment, these heirloom tortillas are beyond the reach of the average working Latino consumer’s reach.
So, how do we get to a healthier place as individuals and as interconnected eaters? What does it look like to demand food rather than value added products? I’m not sure; yet, in each body, family, and community the alternatives are waiting to be drawn from a broader imagination. The seeds are waiting to be planted and harvested. Though the FaM film suggests products from Whole Foods, not everybody need look to the conglomerate, as options like agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea), work just as well to lower blood pressure.
I begin a new job as a nutrition educator next week. I’ll be looking to build power and tap into “gut” feelings about what’s right for people gathering at a community table. Wishing you luck and a ferocious yearning to eat well and fight for a more wholesome American food culture.