November 9, 2018

Ruminations | Eating Is An Election

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‘Tis the season of campaign ads, mudslinging, robocalls, selfies of people with their “I Voted” stickers, and all of those other wonderful things that go along with election season. Let us all be grateful now that the ballots have been cast, and it’s over: our social media feeds can live in peace, for a moment.

Surely, we have all been harassed to send in our absentee ballots, find our voting locations, and exercise the right that we have been given. I know some of my friends are sick and tired of hearing my not-so-subtle reminders that elections are important.

Hopefully, before you vote in any election, you take the time to research the candidates, their background, and their qualifications. I have no doubt that, as intelligent Cornellians, we have all most likely already established our own personal morals and convictions and compared them  with those of our candidates.

We have elections here on campus throughout the year, for things like Student Assembly, officers for our clubs and groups, and executive boards for our Greek organizations. We vote in polls for classes, or on Twitter and Instagram, for things that are completely irrelevant. Elections are still a part of our lives, even when campaign season isn’t in full swing.

That said, the democratic process is even more ubiquitous than you might think: all of us, everyday, vote with our credit cards, our BRBs, and our meal swipes. We vote with our eyes, with our mouths, and with our minds. We vote by making food choices. We vote by eating.

Do we, however, take the time to research and evaluate all of our food choices, their backgrounds, and their qualifications? Do we compare “real” products with the alternative? Do we find out where our food comes from, who produced it, and what practices they have used to do so?

My least favorite argument against voting in an election is that “it really does not make a difference”, which is false. By not choosing to reexamine what we are putting into our bodies, we are, essentially, agreeing that “it really does not make a difference,” which is also false.

Being a consumer today is, quite frankly, overwhelming. Take Wegmans, for example. The mecca of all things food, a trip to Wegmans is a trip that must be planned. I will be the first to admit that it takes me hours to navigate and weave through the tiny aisles. There are so many local options, so many international options, and everything from everywhere in between. There’s organic, there’s non-GMO, gluten free, soy free, dairy free, and things that we cannot even fathom. There are too many candidates on this ballot. So how do we know who to vote for?

I would like to preface the next several paragraphs by noting that I am not a food scientist, or by any means an expert. The advice I give is based on my experience with agriculture, and the education that I have received thus far.

Now that we have established that, allow me to provide a brief backstory of all of the candidates. Some of what I have to say might surprise you.

First on the ballot is organic food. There is no nutritional difference between food produced organically and food produced conventionally.  A 2012 Stanford University concluded that “fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive.” These products are, however, labeled quite differently than conventional food products.

Next up are GMOs; a GMO is a genetically modified organism. There are currently ten GMO crops commercially available in the United States, including alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets. That’s it. Any other product that is not on this list has been mislabeled as non-GMO.

Onto my most familiar and least favorite candidate – dairy-free. Dairy products are milk, or products made from or containing milk. A dairy-free product is one not produced by a mammal. Examples include almond juice, soy juice, peanut juice, macadamia juice, or any product that sits in the dairy aisle and is not produced by a cow. Lactose free is entirely separate from dairy free. Lactose is the major sugar found in milk. An example of a lactose free dairy product would be Lactaid or Fairlife milk. Studies from Purdue University have shown that the number of those with perceived lactose intolerance is significantly higher than the number who have been explicitly diagnosed.

I would like to make one quick interjection, while we’re on the topic of the dairy aisle. Eggs are not a dairy product. Eggs come from a chicken. Milk comes from a cow. Just saying.

The best way to discern whether a product is right for you or not? Don’t always believe what the exterior tells you. Believe instead what it has been proven to do for you. The same goes for a candidate for any office. Consider the science and production methods behind any given product: does it seem too good to be true? If yes, then it probably is.

So which candidates can be trusted? To me, it’s the ones that have been scientifically proven to be safe and affordable, not the ones that have the most appealing label. The ones that have brought great change and efficiency to our food system, while still being the most nutritious option on the market. I cannot speak for the production of alternatives, but I am a firm believer in the sound science and practices that have produced real, wholesome products for decades, if not longer. My choices include conventionally produced foods, genetically modified foods, and real dairy products. I vote for them everyday when I eat them.

There are admittedly a variety of candidates I have missed in my analysis. And, there are also several more qualifications that should be considered, including ones surrounding environmental and economic sustainability.

All the same, the bottom line is, we all have a right to choose what we eat, just as we have the choice of who to vote for. Here in Ithaca, and even across America, we are fortunate to be provided with a variety of foods sourced both locally, and from across the globe. Some of our products are even produced and processed right here on campus! We have the privilege of making decisions about what food to consume. We have the right to vote for what we eat. However, with that right comes the responsibility that we are going to make informed choices that are best for each of us, individually.

I am not going to tell you which foods to vote for, just as I wouldn’t tell you who is best suited to represent you in a political office. I am simply going to PLEAD that, whichever foods you do choose, you be aware of where they are coming from, and likewise aware of the process they went through to get to you. Let real science and proven practice dictate your food voting decisions, just as you would let voting records and experience dictate your real voting decisions. That is the opposite of  fake news.