Six weeks of classes remain in my second year of law school. Tomorrow we begin selecting classes for fall of our third year, so today I grapple with whether to take tedious courses that may help me pass for the Bar exam, or invigorating courses and clinics that will help me stay motivated to finish law school and become a lawyer. Both goals are important, and my fall schedule will probably reflect a little of each one.
To mark the first days of spring, the daffodils bloom here in Williamsburg, even as frost continues to cover the grass each morning. I ran the annual Ali's Run 5K yesterday morning in crisp, cool air.
A hundred and eighty miles up the road in Washington, the president continues to grapple with the financial crisis. I'm as appalled by anyone by the AIG bonus fiasco, and the capitalist money-grubbing it stands for. President Obama certainly has his hands full. But this week, the First Lady has identified another critical cultural issue that deserves at least as much attention — food.
Michelle Obama has begun work on an organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House, citing several goals. The garden is meant to provide healthy food for her daughters, feed Washington's poor people, and to please an eager kitchen staff longing for fresh ingredients. More importantly, however, the garden addresses a national issue: our long overdue need to think about what we eat.
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a longtime advocate for changing the nation's food policies, first argued for a White House vegetable garden back in 1991. Instead of worshipping our chemically treated, unnatural lawns, he said, we should either let our yards return to their natural state, such as wetlands or meadows, or turn them into gardens and orchards. This helps the environment but just as important, it also helps our stomachs. We are a nation of obese people, and although we continue to experiment with diet and exercise fads, even cutting back on fat and red meat, the problem continues to get worse, not better.
Michelle Obama has put the focus back on the larger problem: we eat too much processed food. The prime culprits are partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a dangerous preservative found in everything from Oreos to peanut butter, and high fructose corn syrup, the primary sweetener in Coke and Pepsi. We can put the blame on at least four groups of people for getting us into the processed food diet. First, companies like Archer Daniels Midland (sorry, Cedar Rapids) have successfully lobbied the government for huge subsidies to prop up high fructose corn syrup production. They've also engaged in a shameless ad campaign. At one point, our consumption of high fructose corn syrup even passed our sugar consumption, though that trend has recently started to go the other direction. But ADM could only be successful with help from the second group: members of Congress and the USDA, which have only exacerbated the problem by granting the subsidies and failing to enact helpful regulations. Third, we can blame the food companies that make highly processed foods, but even they are starting to turn things around (in Canada, too). Some local governments and hospitals are doing their part as well. Finally, though, we can blame ourselves for buying and eating the junk. It's cheap and it's easy, but it only makes us fat.
The good news is that the solution is easy. We can do what millions of Americans do already: grow much of our own food, go to the grocery store more often for fresh ingredients, and toss all the processed foods from our cupboards. Thanks to Michelle Obama for drawing attention to food. That reminds me, I'm hungry.
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