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Every once in a while and more often than one would think, a conversation starts about food. The triggers are various. In my case, as I have changed my diet a year ago, and don’t eat certain things (actually mainly two things), questions sometimes arise when this gets noticed.
I have drastically reduced, for instance, my consumption of sugar. By sugar I mean the refined white stuff made of any plant that is used to produce it in an industrialized process. I don’t mean sugar as it occurs naturally in fruits, though I do try not to eat too much of that, either – sugar in sweet fruits raises insulin levels as well as refined sugar, and I don’t want that too much.
Sitting in a little round after training, someone brought out a bag of sweets (gummi bear stuff) and a bag of bread snacks (onion flavour), those two definitely belonging into the categories of things I hardly touch, and not only because it is what it is, but because – in the mean time, after reducing my sugar consumption, I find candy things too sweet and simply don’t enjoy eating them any more, and wheat snacks too devoid of any nutritional value. As I don’t find the taste overwhelmingly tempting, I have no urge whatsoever to put these kinds of snacks into my body.
In this round, I was asked why I didn’t eat sugar any more; if this were for health reasons. I answered to the affirmative and wondered what any other reason there should be. But then, later, I started thinking: were there or could there be any other reasons for not eating sugar other than nutritional concerns. Like with meat. I avoid mass produced meat from factory farms not only or not even mainly because it is claimed to be a lot less nutritious than meat from animals raised more or exclusively naturally: eating what their bodies were meant to eat, roaming areas they would if not domesticated – like pastures and grass lands. I don’t eat mass produced meat because of the incredible cruelty to the animals kept in mass producing meat factories. But sugar?
I started thinking about how it is produced. Sugar is grown on huge plantations. Sugar crops are sugar cane, sugar beets, and others I would have to look up. In the past, for instance in the West Indies, vast sugar cane plantations were worked by slaves, mostly from West Africa. Work on sugar cane, I read, is gruelling work, and even quite dangerous, as the leaves of the plants have very sharp edges that cut easily.
The space used for growing sugar plants could be used for growing food, real food that is. I always found it quite astonishing how much land is wasted for things of no or little nutritional value like tobacco, coffee, cocoa (and said sugar).
Claims have been made as to how chemical fertilizers have saved ‘the world’ from starving after WW II. I always wondered about those claims, especially in light of the above observation: so many crops are grown in masses on lands, if used locally, could grow ‘real’ divers food for the local population – like different kinds of vegetables. Instead there are huge mono-cultures of corn, wheat, sugar, palm oil trees, and soya beans, producing food stuffs of limited nutritional value on a huge scale mainly for the benefit (profits) of a few conglomerates (and for factory animal feed), filling the shelves in the middle aisles of our super markets.
I try to stick to the outer aisles and go to local farmers’ markets where I know the poultry was happy at least as long as it lived. (Hopefully, our domesticated animals have no idea they are being raised for feeding the two legged creatures that take care of them.)
I find the history of food extremely interesting as it is the history of human development world wide. Every historical event is – if not based – then definitely linked to food, including crops grown for pure pleasure or more recreational than nutritional consumption. Especially the history of the latter is one I intend to explore a little further.
There are numerous books now on the topic that take a look at single food stuffs like sugar, potatoes, tomatoes, cod to name just a few.
I have started reading Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food, the expanded edition of 2009 – it is extensive and quite fascinating.