I grew up amidst several conflicting approaches to food. My family, having survived decades of war, poverty and hunger in China, practically shoved food down my throat. Food was sacred. At the dinner table, I'd better be quiet, feel appreciative, and eat, or else. We planned our meals around seasonal fruits and vegetables, holiday food rituals, and moderation in the usage of salt/oil/sugar.
On the other extreme, there was the food industry. One of the most disconcerting moments of my life was when I was 8 and attempted to decipher the ingredients on my Hi-C juice box. It was horrifying to find out that what I previously had thought of as “strawberry” juice was really red food coloring and high fructose corn syrup. I couldn't believe that I was sucking up corn through my bendy straw. But that was that – as long as the product in question tasted “good”, was priced low enough, and was served quickly, it didn't matter what it actually was.
It wasn't until high school when I was researching vegetarianism that I felt empowered to take charge of my own health, and also began to understand how food affected the world beyond just myself. Since becoming vegetarian, I explain that my dietary choices are more for the conservation of natural resources (eg land and water) as well as my opposition to the poor conditions that most slaughterhouse employees work under. In the past few years, with books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, the Slow Food Movement and farmer's markets quickly becoming mainstreamed, these ideas aren't so uncommon. Now, a good number of consumers can probably list off environmental reasons to buy organic or explain how our food system contributes to the obesity epidemic. People are also caring more about their bodies, which may explain the recent spate of commercials promoting high fructose corn syrup by the Corn Refiners' Association.
In this environment, it's not surprising that the Obamas decided to plant a garden on the White House's South Lawn. This garden has immense symbolic value, in exploring how we eat and community involvement in health and wellbeing. However, not everyone has the resources to eat fresh, local food; how we eat is not merely a product of our individual choices, but also of what's available and ACCESSIBLE. Additionally, food doesn't just appear at the supermarket, ready to be purchased. There are several steps involved in getting food to the average consumer, and each of these steps involves a PERSON. It isn't enough just to promote and protect the health of consumers, or else we'd essentially be asking the workers that produce food to give up their health and bodies for ours.
For more information on farm workers, including action alerts, check out the United Farm Workers.