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The 10 Powers of Food


Food is powerful because small, easy changes count.

Food is too humble and modest for its own good. Yet it's such a routine part of our day that its extraordinary qualities as a catalyst for personal, health and social transformation are hidden in plain sight. Here are 10 powers of food.

1. Food is powerful because small, easy changes count.Food comes in bite-sized pieces. So do positive food changes. The menu of opportunities for small but significant improvements is almost endless. Starting to make changes to your diet is as easy as crumbling some tofu into a spaghetti sauce, or adding an extra clove of garlic to your salad dressing. You don't need to go for retraining, get a licence, form a support group, get on the Internet, buy equipment or give anything up. It's not easy to give up your car or quit your job. But changes in food choices can take place easily and quickly, on your say so.

2. Food is powerful because it unleashes the Power of One.Food is more subject to individual choice than most decisions. There's no way around the fact that changes in food practices will happen one person at a time. This is not cause for lament but for celebration of the power that food endows each of us with. Food gives individuals a taste of power and a rare chance to make a difference. Choosing ethical and fairly traded products breaks the biggest food habit of all--the habit of divorcing individual shopping decisions from their social and ethical consequences.

3. Food is powerful because it brings people together.Most people enjoy meals more when they have company. The link between food and sociability is a distinctly human trait. A surprising number of food problems can be best solved through co-operation of small, informal and casual groups. The breakdown of our food system is in some ways a symptom of the breakdown of our ability to link food and sociability.

4. Food is powerful because it creates extra, unintended benefits from simple acts.Food is so central to the operation of nature, society and economics that a tiny pebble of improvement sets off a ripple effect of elegant and positive changes. The popular term for these positive but unintended benefits is "serendipity." You might think that the inherent elegance of food would be evident and encouraged. Most of the time that doesn't happen. To use the lingo of economists, "the market cannot capture side benefits." In other words, the market has no way of rewarding a homeowner who plants an apple tree that saves public money on water treatment, air cleaning and global warming all side benefits of the apple tree.

5. Food is powerful because it can be used to increase the value of other things.The value of food so far exceeds its cost that a number of opportunities present themselves to capture that value by increasing access to quality food. As soon as governments learned that business lunches oiled business deals, they made them tax deductible. But few companies and government tax policies build on the value of food much beyond the free lunch. Some companies subsidize healthy meal programs because they more than pay their way in reduced absenteeism and drug plan costs. Just as today's life insurance plans offer discounts for non-smokers, tomorrow's life, health, workplace disability and drug insurance will offer deep discounts for organic eaters.

6. Food is powerful because it creates employment.Food takes work. The number of people who work the land has gone down dramatically since 1900, but not the number of people who work on food. Food production is recession-proof. No matter what, people have to eat, preferably a few times a day, every day.

7. Food is powerful because it can be grown anywhere and make good use of unused capacity.Food is a great sideline activity. It's perfectly adapted to be grown and prepared in the nooks and crannies of opportunities left over from other activities. This means we can grow and prepare food at greatly reduced costs by taking advantage of the most productive untapped resource in Canada: unused capacity. And we have lots of it from roofs of public buildings where food can be grown to people drawing social assistance who want to work.

8. Food is powerful because it stimulates generosity.People who would never share their computer, car, home or money will share their food. That's why food is such a logical starting place for efforts to bring out the best in people, to increase equality and co-operation. There are only so many lots with mountain or lakefront views to go around, and if everyone owns a Mercedes, it takes some of the shine off. But if you have potatoes, there are still potatoes for me, and I don't enjoy my potatoes less because you enjoy yours, too. I'm even happy to share my family recipe for potatoes with you. The dirty secret behind the Canadian and world hunger crisis is that there's more effort put into manufacturing scarcity than abundance.

9. Food is powerful because it satisfies both humble biological needs and deeper social and spiritual needs. We celebrate the major rituals and turning points of life with food. We honour great people and causes with banquets. We mark religious events with feasts. When we want to get closer with people, we invite them over for dinner. We say a grace or toast before dinner. No other physical object enjoys this universal status.

10. Food is powerful because it has positive energy.From the loose and stray energy in sun, soil and water, food comes on with a force strong enough to defy the laws of gravity and grow upward. Food takes dispersed energy and organizes it, both biologically and socially. The opportunities to organize around food defy the most pervasive, dangerous and disempowering myth of our time: TINA, There Is No Alternative. There are plenty of alternatives, all of which rely on the positive energy food generates. When we grasp this power, we will have real food for a change.

Source: Adapted from Real Food for a Change (Random House of Canada, 1999) by Wayne Roberts, PhD, Rod MacRae, PhD, and Lori Stahlbrand.

10 Strategies to Eat Smarter

    1. Shop at a local store where you know the owner and the owner knows you.


    1. Eat low-fad foods. Most of the best foods have bargain basement prices.


    1. Buy in season.


    1. Waste not, want not. Organic foods become affordable when you use the whole food (as our grandmothers knew).


    1. Pay the extra cost of organic on the installment plan. Eat now, save later on your health and that of your community.


    1. Turn your kitchen into a profit centre. Take the time to prepare food you used to buy.


    1. Turn your lawn into a profit centre. The yard (the word comes from the ancient Anglo Saxon word for herb garden) can become what it used to be. Grow your own food.


    1. Turn a walk in a meadow into a profit centre. Weeds are wildflowers with bad PR. Learn about the different edible greens and make them a part of your diet.


    1. Start a community garden. Contact City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture at (604) 685-5832 or for more information.


  1. Turn your workplace benefit plan into an organic profit centre. Smart employers ask for an "undertime bonus" that gives employees half-pay to take a day off work to grow, gather or prepare organic food.


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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD