You Are What You Eat

Gerri French
Paul Wellman (file)

Gerri French pulls a crowd at Adult Ed, but you’d have to know more about her than the innocent title of her class reveals: Food for Our Future. In case you’re thinking NASA space food in a tube, well, no; it’s an opportunity to empower yourself to make a difference in sustainability three, four, five times a day. She gives a crash course in putting your money where your mouth is if you’re talking green. And at the same time, you get fresh and delicious. You support our area economy by keeping farmers secure on their fields, you minimize food mile transportation, and you choose to avoid packaging, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, and additives with unpronounceable names. French is optimistic and says change begins with one individual, one couple, one family, classroom, school, hospital, restaurant, community, city, and so on. And she should know. She’s been on the front lines of the organic scene for a long time.

Since anyone can hang a shingle as a nutritionist, it’s worth knowing whose advice you’re taking. French has a master’s degree and is a registered dietician. She teaches nutrition at SBCC School of Culinary Arts and works at Cottage Hospital, where everything once came out of a can. Under her influence, the kitchen now contracts directly with a farmer for delivery of fresh produce. The politics of food is related to the health of big business, and in a sense, Food for Our Future is a longing paean to the food of our great-grandmothers: Organic food is not new. The goal, she says, is to enjoy your time in the kitchen and savor a cuisine dedicated to the least amount of processing possible. Convenience comes at a price; ready-grated cheese, for example, will contain an anti-caking agent. Genetic mutations allow foods to tolerate long-distance transport. This is a food appreciation course with a bias for the fresh, local, and unprocessed.

The true cost of food must necessarily involve quality-of-life issues, since abused land, air, and water are all unwanted side effects of “cheaper” food. Grass-fed meat versus grain-fed meat seems, on the surface, to be a price issue, but the potential for human resistance to antibiotics is a genuine, hidden cost. The question is: How much and when do you pay? Voting with your fork is a phrase finding its way into the lexicon. “We don’t grow pretzels,” French said. Learning about the anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties of nutrients is a first step toward healing and weight reduction. Avoiding diabetes is certainly easier than managing it. Childhood obesity is a real threat to our youth. So making choices that promote health is cheaper in the end. But since we want our convenience, too, French is profoundly interested in the availability of to-go options that service the informed consumer.

You don’t need to be a fulltime food warrior to want hormone-free, antibiotic-free food. It may be a long time before California gatherings proceed without the chips and dips, but the pressure is on. Pasture-fed, wild-caught, sustainable. It’s the vocabulary of the times.

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