My dogs had chew toys, and when they didn’t, they found other things to chew on. Chairs in the living room, the kids’ toys, clothes, blankets, and even their own dog house. We gave them chew toys to distract them from chewing our house apart.
When I don’t eat, I tend to get cranky. This becomes most apparent to me during a round of 25 in Change (which is not a great time to start getting cranky). I become irritable and tend to snap at people. In that moment, I blame low blood sugar, but recently I wonder if I’m any better than a poorly trained puppy who needs a chew toy so he doesn’t chew the head off something (or somebody) in the house.
That being said, I’m pretty sure there is some food in my life that is nothing more than tasty chew toys that keep me distracted. Things that aren’t nutritious and basically just stop me from going nuts—although I really should go for the nuts, because those are actually good for me. No, I’m talking about the stuff in my life that I chew on and (sort of) digest that provides no food-like value. I get done eating them, and I still feel hungry. I viciously open a bag of them, consume them without bothering to taste them, and later find myself covered in orange dust wondering how it all happened so quickly.
In order to not be sued by corporations for slander of their “food” product, let me just say my chew toy is usually orange, crunchy, “cheesy” (I’m told it’s cheesy on the bag, though I’ve never eaten actual cheese that tastes like this), and is almost as nutritionally worthless as gum (without that Clean Orbit smile). I think we all know which chew toy I’m talking about.
I read about a dozen books per year on the food system, and the one that hit me hardest most recently was Michael Moss’s “Salt Sugar Fat”. Page after page shows the transformation of real food over the last century into the processed food from corporations we know today. In one end of the machine goes corn, in the other end Xanthan Gum pops out. Countless examples like this exist. My orange chew toy apparently wasn’t designed with my interests at heart, but rather is the byproduct of excesses from corporate dairy farms that didn’t know what to do with all the wasted fat from skim milk. Here’s a quick video on it. People want more skim milk and a couple year’s later Andre has an orange chew toy addiction.
My last meal before this round of 25 in Change was a grass-fed, dry-aged porterhouse steak from my in-laws’ farm in Larkspur. I cooked it over a searing heat of hickory and cherry wood coals. It took ten acres of land to raise this one animal, and as I ate it, I didn’t treat it like a chew toy. I remembered moments of feeding the cow by hand, fetching its hay, corralling it, and accidentally stepping in stuff that cows tend to leave all over the place even when they have ten acres apiece (come on cow, you’ve got ten acres; choose a corner!). This cow, now dry-aged porterhouse steak wasn’t a chew toy or something to distract me from my boredom, stress, or anxiety. This meal made me be present. I was present to my wife who savored it with me, grateful to her father who raised them both (an odd feeling and comparison for sure), thankful to my mother who instilled in me the passion for cooking, and aware that this meal was something that billions of people would never experience in their lifetime.
While we know that billions of people will not be able to afford a dry-aged grass-fed porterhouse steak at a restaurant–this steak would have been $50 at a restaurant capable of serving it–my “cheese” flavored yellow chew toys cost around the same price per ounce at the store as raising grass-fed beef and making seared porterhouse steaks out of it. I’ll say that again: Ounce for ounce, it cost us the same to raise the cow, and pay a butcher to cut it into steaks, dry-age it, and sear it over an open flame as it does to feed my orange chew toy addiction.
What’s more is that the active time it takes to dry-age and grill a grass-fed porterhouse is about the same time it would take to walk down the aisle and buy a bag of orange chew toys, pay for them, and open up the bag. Yet, my orange chew toys are considered convenient, while dry-aging a grass-fed porterhouse and cooking it is somehow not.
My orange chew toys exist not because our food system is awesome and great with dealing with excess milk fat, but because it is broken. They are byproducts of a broken food system that makes them as expensive to consume as it is to raise grass-fed beef and eat delicious steaks. This is the madness of our food system.
Over the next 25 days of 25 in Change, my hope is to help provide around 52,000 school meals to hungry students in Haiti, and to help the hundreds of people who financially partner with us and give up their chew toys for 25 days find the value of the real food in their lives and become more mindful while they eat it.