It might look innocuous; a piece of fish bordered by a handful of greens beans and a mound of brown rice, but a dinner like this can save your life, and even the world.
That’s because far from Wall Street or Tahrir Square, a different revolution is brewing—the one that starts on your plate.
While the food you choose to eat may not incur world peace, many of the modern day plights of both developed and developing nations can be blamed on menu choices, including political issues like global warming and world hunger, as well as childhood obesity and the number one killer of American men and women, heart disease.
And it can all be wrapped into one neatly bundled package represented by the all-American staple and veritable symbol of our nation, the fast food burger, which can be purchased for a couple bucks. The cost to humankind, however, is truly astounding.
Enough grain is already grown to feed the world, however much of that goes to feeding cattle. Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet, Albert Einstein once said, and many scholars agree.
Not only does a diet rich in red meat contribute to the heart problems that kill so many Americans each year, but rain forests are clear-cut to make room for grazing cattle whose constant cud-munching releases a significant amount of methane into the atmosphere—talk about greenhouse gasses. (Interestingly, scientists are now looking at ways to harvest cow farts into biogas as a sustainable energy source.)
But going veggie is not for everyone and as planet-wide vegetarianism is highly unlikely, a simple solution is quality, not quantity, when it comes to meat-eating. Less is definitely more, and buying locally-sourced, free-range meats cuts down on the both the environmental and health hazards associated with a carnivorous lifestyle.
As stated in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman, serving a typical family of four a steak dinner is the equivalent of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home.
But while the topic of planetary health tends to be a political issue, food is bringing social concerns into the mix.
Trumping the debate over global warming as of late is an epidemic of childhood obesity in this nation. The current administration is leading the fight against a big problem for little people by slightly altering school menu options to include more fruits and vegetables and less meats and cheeses—a move which has actually, and mystifyingly, sparked controversy.
Whether or not you believe providing healthy lunches for students is overstepping the boundaries of government, the school lunch initiative exposes the fact that the world of politics is tied inextricably to food.
This correlation may have been proven even more powerfully over the summer when the words of Chic-fil-A’s CEO and the demonstrations they provoked enlivened the debate over gay marriage.
Those who think that event was a matter of free speech to be defended rather than intolerance to be protested with a boycott should chew on the fact that what actually sparked ire was not CEO Dan Cathy’s personal stance but the admission that the company donates millions to anti-gay marriage groups, including one has been designated as a hate group.
It has always been my belief one of the most effective powers left to citizens in the wake of a representative-style government of a country whose population has grown to massive proportions—in the midst of special-interest groups and lobbying and superpacs that can drown out individual votes—the only real power left to people is the power of money.
Every dollar spent can be seen as a vote toward the kind of world you want to live in.
It makes me wonder what the Occupy movement’s members were cooking up under their tarps—aside from homemade bombs. As they prepared to protest the fat cats who ignited a disastrous financial crisis, I wouldn’t be surprised they were doing it fueled on a diet of sodium-laden Top Ramen or worse, on fast food, unwittingly feeding money back into a corrupt system.
Because being disenfranchised and eating processed foods tend to go hand in hand. It’s a main reason why those living in poverty suffer so many health problems, chief among them diabetes.
Poor people aren’t fat because they’re lazy, as some may posit—many have grown to unhealthy proportions because they are trapped in an unhealthy system, because they can’t afford not to eat the foods that are getting them fat. Unlike the fat cats on Wall Street, who always seem to win no matter how much our nation loses as a whole.
Low-income people often can't afford the very foods that promote equalitarian values and contribute to positive change to marginalized people everywhere, such as farmers market, fair trade and certified organic products.
Which is unfortunate because in a money-driven society, purchasing power is a viable way to shape the world we live in. We can continue to buy food that has traveled thousands of miles, products that have had the life processed out of them and burgers that clog our arteries and our atmosphere, or we can buy a better world. We can eat our way to a revolution.
Food is more than fuel; it's medicine, it's political, it's pleasurable and it’s the essence of cultural identity. It's the heart and soul of societies everywhere. Not only do national dishes unite and represent us, they are evocative of our values and provide a link to our past.
On a personal level, just one bite of homemade bread can illicit powerful childhood memories of my grandmother, and the way she'd gently and expertly roll the dough as she divulged wisdom she inherited from her grandmother.
Likewise, sensing a new flavor on a single taste bud can also take a person far beyond momentary circumstances—food can be intensely transformative experience.
While overhauling an entire unhealthy system of eating remains a daunting task, putting your money where your mouth is may be the starting point of a revolution not just in food, but in the very culture of our nation, one that starts on your plate.