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Taking America Back

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Back to a time when food was fuel, energy for activities or work. "One should eat to live, not live to eat," said the playwright Moliere. Yet too often today we delight in the spectacle of artificially bright colors; the crunch of nutritionally poor and processed foods; or the toxic combination of sugar, salt and fat.   

Back to a time when restaurants served authentic cuisine. Before bacon fat and artificial syrups flavored drinks, before Americanized Mexican food swam in cheese, before many pizzas became tasteless imitations of Italian gems. Many of us zestfully indulge on international vacations without gaining a pound, here we painstakingly select dining entrees and supermarket foods to stay lean.

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Back when food was a safe source of energy rather than a ticking time bomb. "Supersize Me's" Morgan Spurlock gained 25 pounds and developed liver disease after eating McDonalds for a month, prompting the question, "Is food that trashes your body truly "food'"? Recent studies linking daily diet soda consumption to stroke and a daily 3-ounce portion of red meat to premature death only underscore the question.

Back before food was a science experiment performed by technologists and explained on the news, before meat grew in petri dishes and salmon was genetically modified and supersized.

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Back to a time when the government and the system promoted food safety. When "everything but snout" was a relic of Upton Sinclair's investigative journalism in a meatpacking plant rather than the daily reality of school lunches of pink slime. When chicken nuggets everywhere came free of petroleum products and salmon didn't eat corn unless it personally walked to the field and shucked it.

Back to a time when drugs treated sick people. Now they prevent disease in crowded factory farms, manipulate animals' behavior, or justify food myths promoted by corporations. A recent story described chickens' intake as including feathers, banned antibiotics, Paxil, caffeine, and arsenic, extreme steps in the search for greater profit. People are also prescribed daily medications -- that sometimes prove harmful -- as doctors fail to truly protect their patients' health. They choose to dole out drugs rather than engage in the poorly compensated work of helping change toxic diets.

Back to a time when pop culture promoted the public interest. Popeye gulped spinach in his popular comic strips and cartoons decades ago. Today in Tyson Foods ads toddlers proclaim their dislike of asparagus, string beans or mushrooms, delighting instead in chicken nuggets. (At least a farm tour sequel has dramatic potential). Young kids can't distinguish between advertising and reality and with 4,400 mostly unhealthy food ads targeting the average 2 to 7 year old, food companies bank on impressionable audiences.

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Back to a time when we drank little or no soda. Now about 25 percent of teens drink it daily and heavy use has been linked to violent behavior. Until the 1950's Coke was sold in 6.5 ounce bottles; drinking skyrocketed with supersized drinks, aggressive targeting of the Boys & Girls Club of America and public schools, and government lobbying on labeling and taxes. Making soda harder to buy, more expensive, and more like junk food would slash consumption.

Back to a time of compassion. Now we cuddle our puppy Snookums while condemning Michael Vicks for dogfighting. Yet we sentence animals more intelligent than canines to life in factory farms where they are deliberately injured, inhumanely crowded, and brutally slaughtered. Who's torturing animals now?

Back to a time when government resources promoted public health. Subsidies originally protected small farmers, today 63 percent go for cattle feed or livestock. Less than 1 percent support fruits and vegetables comprising half the recommended plate of food.

A grassroots food revolution has already started with local farmers' markets and organic food stores spreading nationwide.  The social media that has promoted global political rallies also helped garner 1 million signatures for GMO labeling (even if the FDA's recount is shameful). Still the vision is clear: one of good health through a culture valuing naturally raised whole food. It must be pursued by government, schools, and society with even greater vigor and effectiveness than food corporations' recent efforts. The past can be more than prologue. As a template for the future, it can help secure one of life's necessities, promoting the health and happiness of us all. 

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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