The end of my high school career is quickly approaching, and yet, I still do not even know where I am going to be spending the next four years of my life. I was considering colleges that ranged from California to Boston, and pretty much anywhere in between (including middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania). To put it simply, I was anxious. I started to get really bad stomach aches which added a lot of stress into my already stressful schedule.
I needed to find the source of my pain. How come after almost every meal I had to lay down and take tylenol? This led to my interest in food. I read blog after blog online of how to be healthy and I started to do a lot of cooking and baking. I even started my own food instagram (@goodeatsonly) which unfortunately is not so active now that I am in college. For my final senior project, I shadowed a certified nutritionist who works at Philip’s Academy, a boarding school near where I live, and created my own food blog. While I thought I was being healthier, the stomach aches did not leave me. I decided it was time to figure out what the problem was. I tried cutting things out of my diet one at a time, like my doctor suggested. I tried eliminating gluten, dairy, carbohydrates and peanut butter. “So, did any of them work?” No doctor, NOTHING. When he told me it was probably just stress getting to me, I gave up. If a doctor can’t figure it out, neither will I.
During orientation, I was handed a slip of paper that had my pre-enrolled classes listed. “Critical Thinking and Writing 1: Food Porn.” While I have never really been excited about an english class, I knew right away that I had been placed in the right one. I wondered if the class would make me think more about my stomach aches and make them worse, or if it would help.
Winter / Spring 2017:
It wasn’t until I took this class, starting winter term, that I realized there actually may be a solution out there for my problem. Through reading Eating Animals, watching Fed Up, doing in depth research on today’s food products and having engaging class discussions with my peers, I learned what I have to do: be aware. What? I’ve spent SO much time analyzing different food groups and keeping a food journal of what I ate and how it made me feel, there’s no way it can be that simple. I had been coming up with a million different possible allergies or intolerances that I could have when what was really wrong was standing right there in front of me the whole time. The solution was hidden in plain sight.
I do not have a food allergy. I do not have celiac disease. I am not lactose intolerant. But, what I am is a better consumer. I am a conscious shopper, cooker, baker, and, most importantly, eater because of this class. The theme of “being aware” has come up in nearly every topic I have written about this year, which has led me to see how essential it is to keep our minds actively noticing our everyday small decisions and what their impact will be.
The first time this concept came up in our class was when we watched the video, This is Water, which was narrated by David Foster Wallace’s commencement address. He explains that most of the time, we are in an auto-default setting where we act robot-like, make assumptions, and act as if the world revolves around us. This happens in nearly every habitual activity we do like waiting in line to get a sandwich, driving in traffic, or going to class. In This is Water, Wallace gives his graduating class a powerful piece of advice: they need to try their best to step out of this auto-default setting and into a sense of awareness where they can have the choice of what to value which leads to meaning and purpose.
One example of how I have become more aware in my everyday life is by looking carefully at the ingredient lists on food product labels, not just the obvious things that stand out. Through my research, I found that eighty-three percent of students (from a survey I sent out) claim to look at the labels on packaged food before buying them, and of that majority, seventy-five percent of students pay attention to the grams of sugar on labels. This suggests that we already do care, and want to eat healthy, which sets a foundation for success. Now all that is left for us to do is learn more about our products and why their labels may be confusing us more than they are informing us. The packaging makes certain things stand out, like high protein or zero grams of sugar. However, I learned that zero grams of sugar is a misleading label. Food companies can put this on their packaging if their ingredients do not contain any natural sugar, and only contain sugar alcohols (a name for sugar alternatives that essentially have the same effect as sugar does). By being aware of this, we can turn to the ingredient list and, with the knowledge of which ingredient names sugar alcohols are hidden in, we can be more aware of our purchases.
Another way we can be aware is by eating food that comes from the earth, and acknowledging that we, as consumers, are a part of the “agricultural act.” In the essay “The Pleasures of Eating,” Wendell Berry suggests that the agricultural process does not stop when the food is brought to the store to be sold. This is a common misconception we hold today, because we have becomes so far distanced from the production of the food we are eating. By eating food that comes straight from the earth, we can have a greater sense of what is actually going into our bodies. While growing all of our own food in our backyard may not be very realistic, we can shop locally and be mindful of choosing natural products.
Lastly, on a slightly different note, I have learned to be aware during the writing and research process. I used to search on google for “healthy diets” and “foods to eat for a stomach ache.” I would read blog after blog and never seemed to find a solution. Similarly, when doing research for essays I would do general searches on google and use websites that appeared popular or legitimacy. After taking this class, I have learned how to evaluate a source and determine the author’s qualifications for writing on a particular topic, as well as the cite’s reliability.
While I still get stomach aches every now and then (I actually have one right now while writing this), I feel so much better every day, knowing I am taking care of my body by think[ing]SMART and constantly making conscious decisions. I have learned not to be ignorant when it comes to food consumption. Being aware on its own may not solve every problem, but it is the essential foundation to living a healthy life. t is so easy to lose track of purpose and meaning and to go about our everyday lives without even looking up, but according to David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water, if we are aware, we might even end up falling in love in the line at the grocery store.
Berry, Wendell. “Wendell Berry: The Pleasures of Eating.” Ecoliteracy.org. N.p., 29 June 2009. Web.
Fed Up. Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, The Weinstein Company, 2014.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” 2005. Web.