Health and Wellness

Let It Go

I recently happened across an inspirational quote that truly spoke to me:

“You’ve done your best today, now let it go.”

A simple sentence with a deep and impactful meaning, one that I very much needed to read, and feel many others could benefit from as well.

Like many, I have an extremely busy life: full-time job (the American version, not the French or Swedish version, meaning over 40 hours per week as oppose to under 36 – get on board USA), a second job (teaching yoga), this blog (the writing and the social media management that comes with it), a household to run, an elderly dog to care for, and dedications to my family, friends, and interests. My plate is very full, sometimes to the point where I doubt my ability to manage all of it. In recent months, I have found myself struggling to keep up with all of my commitments and responsibilities, often feeling overwhelmed and drained.

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Friend-time Activities That Aren’t Just Drinks and Dinner

I love getting together to catch up with my friends over drinks and/or dinner, it’s one of my favorite ways to see my friends and spend my free time. At the same time, however, there are only so many dinner slots in our schedules to dedicate to friend meetups. Also, drinks and dinners add up fast from a cost perspective (amiright or what?) So in an effort to inspire more friend get-togethers because it is a part of a healthy and happy lifestyle, here are some other friend-time activities that aren’t just drinks and dinner that you can enjoy with those special humans you decided you liked enough to keep around for a while!

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An Open Letter to Food Bloggers with Perfect Food Photography

Hi there fellow food blogger!

My name is Johnny La Pasta, perhaps you’ve heard of my blog? Perhaps not, building up a popular blog is no easy feat. (Say, when do the advertisers start giving me money to put banners on my site? Still waiting).

Me too Brit, me too.

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Anyway, I love your food blog. Your recipe for that slow cooker salmon is giving me life. I can’t wait to try!

Also, I just have to tell you, your food photos are soooo beautiful! Or perhaps a better compliment would be pinable”, that’s a much better word of affirmation in the digital age anyhow.

I mean, that pizza looks like Michelangelo made it….

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Perhaps another way of saying your photos look great is to tell that they look photoshopped. Wait what? They are? No wonder!

Like, those potatoes have to be airbrushed…

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You see, I have to admit to you, I am jealous AF that your food looks like it was styled carefully by Martha Stewart herself while mine looks like it was styled by, well, me.

Martha approveth of you, disdaineth of me.

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You’re during an A+++ job with your food photography, and your blog gets higher views because of it. Bravo!

Do you pay the hand models? Or are your hands also as perfect as your food?

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However, wouldn’t you agree that perfectly photographed food is not always how REAL FOOD turns out looking?

Here is my real food. I mean, sure my dented fridge is in the background, but the pizza looks okay….

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Is it not true that food can come out looking messy and sloppy and not photographed in the right light or setting, but still be completely delicious and nutritious? I know it to be true, because that is the nature of real food.

My pasta is a little messy, but you can’t not know it’s delish, right?

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Sometimes, you just don’t have time to make it look pretty and magical, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Nice camera! Can you pay off my student loans, please?

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You see, you have that $3000 camera, and an advanced version of photoshop on your macbook pro, and you have all the gadgets for creating the illusion of perfect, soft, natural light, and you have a gloriously large and upscale kitchen to stage everything in, and you have different types of plates and tablescapes to stage against, and you sometimes even have an assistant pouring sauce into the picture to get that rad action shot. All of it maketh these gorgeous foodie photos.

But that’s kind of unattainable for the rest of us peasant level food bloggers.  Some of us have tiny, non-granite counter kitchens with very limited space and one set of plates. So, sorry if you see my overused toaster in the background of my dinner shot; I gots nowhere else to put it! And sorry if my photo turns out too bright or dim; I only have hideodeous flourscent lighting in my kitchen and dim orange lighting in my dining room and natural light in my abode is evasive, especially at prime cooking times.

Dream….

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Reality….

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Also, if my photos look like they were shot quickly and then rushed on from so that the photographed food could be eaten, that’s because they were. I know that this food blogging gig is your full time job, so you can dedicate hours to shooting the perfect food photo to pin and insta, you might even make food just for a photoshoot and not even an actual meal; but I am over here trying to food blog my real life actual dinner at my literal dinner time because I work 55 hours a week between 2 jobs. Taking time to create the perfect shot is a non-option for me most regrettably.

Like, this is my actual dinner, I have to take this photo and eat now or die.

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I wish I could document the process of putting every ingredient in my slow cooker in the morning light and then capture the final plating at sunset with stunning, “LIKE” inducing snaps, but I am already running late for work by the time I am dumping all the ingredients in my slow cooker at one time so….not happening.

How did you even get up there? Are these your real friends? Can I have one of the succulents?

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I love that you can accomplish this seemingly impossible feat and make art of your food through photos, but please judge me not for when mine comes out a bit more gritty and less photoshopped looking, because my food is still good. You’re foodie photos might be the equivalent of a highly edited Vogue cover, while mine are the quick, realistic pics of the paparazzi, but I can’t help that right now.

The thing is, real food isn’t always pretty. And a recipe post that has less than airbrushed looking photos doesn’t mean that following said recipe won’t produce real food. Real food can be pretty and it can be okay looking, but it all tastes the same.

Maybe this isn’t to your photography standards, but it still tastes good AF.

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So if anyone is sad their food doesn’t plate just like the world’s most successful blogger, do not let your heart be troubled! If you followed the directions, your food still tastes good, you are just seeing the realist incarnation of it. And if you read a blog like mine where the photos are just okay, please know it is still good, but here again, it is just real food that was just plated and is about to be demolished by me so that I can continue pushing through my hellish 55 hour work week.

So keep doing what you are doing, keep making food look good, but don’t look down on us that don’t have the right tools, settings, and resources to do so. And the rest of you, be proud of anything you manage to plate at the end of a busy day no matter if it’s traditionally pinable or not!

Cheers and Namaste!

Johnny La Pasta

8 Things Fit People Do

Being the yoga instructor, #healthyfoodporn hashtag using Instagram cook, and lifestyle blogger that I am, I often receive a lot of questions about how to get fit and stay fit. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers come to me for my advice on how they can achieve greater health. I offer my tips and tricks like in the blog post here, and I always always always stand firm with my belief that being fit is about creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself that you can sustain over a long period of time rather than a quick fix diet or work out program. Also important, I always remind that a pant/dress size or scale number does not equivocate good health, but rather an overall feeling of wellness and ability.

All that being said, people still want to know how us-in-shape-people do it. I know lots of in shape people, and most of us have several things in common with the way we live our lives. So, I will share those with you now so that maybe you can see what we do and if those things appear to be ones you can do in your own life.

1. We prepare much of our own food

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Fit people still go out, fit people still get take out; but fit people also buy whole food ingredients and cook/prep many to the majority of our own meals. By purchasing quality ingredients and handling the preparation of them, we are able to control the amounts of fat, sodium, sugar, etc. in our food as well as manage our portions. It’s just an integral part of the lifestyle. It means carving out time to shop for the groceries, cook, and pack the food; it means hella Tupperware and a messy kitchen, but you feel great, often saves money, and it can be more flavorful too!

I have looked into the flames….

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…And I see Rubbermaid in your future!

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2. We make exercise a priority –

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It’s true; fit people make getting in movement an absolute priority in our day. I hear a lot of excuses along the lines of “I just don’t have time,” and that very well may be if you are just hoping for a random hour to open up in your day so you can fit a sweat in. The fact is, no matter how busy fit people are, they schedule the time for exercise in and rarely negotiate about it. It sometimes means getting up an hour earlier to make it to a before sunrise yoga or aerobics class or having lunch at your desk so you can squeeze in a gym sesh or spin class over your lunch break, but fit people will make it happen no matter what. Why? Because it makes us feel strong, it makes us feel good, and it makes us healthier and happier the rest of the time! The sacrifice of an hour is well worth it.

3. We drink tons of water –

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We are very blessed in the Western world to have access to clean running water. As much fun as water slides are, a much better use for all that water is using it for hydration! Hydration comes with many various health benefits including aiding digestion, purifying internally, releasing water retention and bloating, and even revving up metabolism. Fit people end up sweating a lot, and so we need a lot of water to replenish, and when we get it, our bodies are the happiest!

4. We sleep –

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Fit people make sure to get ample rest and sleep; when you’re active, it is important to allow your body to recuperate on the daily. A lot of us might be considered grandmas in that we choose to turn in early so that we can catch a full 7-8 hours, but here again, we make it a priority and it feels so good!

5. We are active in our free time –

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A lot of fit people choose hobbies and activities in their free time that involve getting outdoors and moving, and they genuinely enjoy it. Here again, it is all part of the lifestyle! For me, I enjoy taking my dog to the park after work or going on a Saturday hike, some people enjoy surfing in the mornings or playing football in the park on a weekend afternoon. These are all activities enjoyed in addition to normal exercise and movement that we simply find fun and fulfillment in while also being active and getting fresh air.

6. We eat, a lot –

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Yes, we prepare much of our own food, yes we control our portion sizes, but that doesn’t mean we are eating just kale and orange segments. Healthy people eat every few hours and make sure to get plenty of good foods with lots of nutrition. Starving yourself for 10 hours straight does not equal health, feeding yourself nutritionally rich foods every 2-4 hours usually does. Which would you choose?

7. We say no –

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Sad Panda, but sometimes we have to say no. Sometimes we turn down the slice of cake if we’ve been having too much sugar or we opt for the chicken and vegetables rather than the burger if we’ve been going to town on the carbs and salt. This is NOT to say you can never have the cake or the burger, but you have to check in with yourself and see what is going to make you FEEL the best, and sometimes that means saying no.

Here’s a sad Panda for you

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8. We say YES!

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Living a life of strict eating patterns that never permits a little indulgence is not fun or sustainable. It is important to enjoy what life puts on the plate for you, and sometimes that is a big pizza or brownie Sunday. Don’t be afraid to indulge and enjoy: make sure to treat yourself! Complete deprivation is not the goal here, its balance. Your dessert Monday through Thursday might’ve been a small piece of dark chocolate, but on Friday go ahead and have the Pizookie! You are golden! I live by an 80%/20% rule: 80% of the time I eat those traditionally healthier choices, 20% of the time I eat whatever the hell I want without apologies! So eat up me hearties yo-ho!

So, those are some of the things us “fit” people do. But remember, even if you are starting a new fitness journey, be kind to yourself and love yourself as you are now and along every step of the way!

Why Meatless Monday?

Ciao friends! If you read this blog and/or follow me on social media, then you will know that I am a big supporter of the Meatless Monday movement that is taking the globe. This past month, the folks behind all the vegetarian magic at Meatless Monday reached out to me and have made Johnny La Pasta (that’s me!) an official representative of Meatless Monday!

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So, today, I want to talk to you a little bit more about Meatless Monday, why I practice it, and why you should try it out!

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Many reasons!

So what is Meatless Monday? It is a simple movement aiming to inspire the world to cut their meat consumption completely one day a week for our bodies and for the planet. The statistics around the benefits of what going meatless one day a week does and can do are frankly astounding.

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Saucha and the Spring

In yoga, we practice principles called the Yamas and Niyamas. These principles are essentially positive codes to live by – I often refer to them as the 10 Commandments of Yoga. Back in November around Thanksgiving time, I discussed Santosha, which translates to contentment or gratitude, and is one of the Niyamas. For that post, please click here. Today, I am moving onto another of the Niyamas: Saucha.

From Sanskrit, Saucha translates to “cleanliness” or “purity”, and it applies to many different facets of our lives. Saucha is a concept, or in the definition of a Niyama – a positive duty – that I have come to value a great deal. When we talk about Saucha, we talk about cleanliness in our environments, in our bodies, and in our mental and spiritual spaces as well. The big idea is that when we regularly purify and keep clean these different areas of our lives, it allows us to live in our best health physically and emotionally, which then allow us to more freely pursue our spiritual journeys.

So what does it mean to practice Saucha in these various corners of our lives? Let’s break down.

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The practice of Saucha in environment means a few different things. The first is keeping clean our immediate living spaces; yes, this means cleaning your room, organizing your cubicle, clearing out the fridge every so often, and so forth. We need to have clean spaces to live and operate in, when we have our immediate environments clean and tidy, it allows us to operate more efficiently and healthfully which allows the mind to reflect that state of purity and order as well. Friends of mine have commented on how impeccable I keep my room and how I seem to be quite diligent about cleaning my apartment; this is because I really value having a nice, clean space for myself to live in and especially at home rest in.

Beyond our immediate living spaces, Saucha in relation to environment also means working to keep a clean community and ultimately world. Saucha would encourage us to adopt sustainable practices, to not litter, when we see litter to have a hand in helping to pick it up and dispose of it properly. For me, this means lending a helping hand every so often at a beach clean-up through my yoga studio, it also means being more diligent about recycling and actively working to reduce my plastic consumption, and at the very least, it means not littering myself. If we can all work to practice Saucha on a larger scale through small individualized means, it can equate to a cleaner and purer Earth for all, which is very important at this time.

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The practice of Saucha in the body is much what you would think it be: taking care of your body, your temple. Saucha in the body means nourishing your body with whole foods, providing it with the necessary amount of sleep, moving it to keep its internal functions working well, sweating to cleanse from within. In many ways, this is the simplest part of the practice of Saucha; we all know that we should strive to take good care of ourselves, but it’s often an area we fall flat in. Once you practice taking good care of your body, however, it is amazing the difference you feel; and that eventually translates from a physical space to a mental and emotional one as well.

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That is the perfect transition into the final practice of Saucha; Saucha in the mind space. This area of the practice is a bit more challenging, and one could argue it is a bit subjective as well. The way I look at the practice of Saucha when it comes to the mind is cleaning out and releasing old thought patterns and mentalities and generally negative thoughts that are not serving in the present. Sometimes, we mentally cling to old ideas or ways of thinking about or working out happenings in our lives; when they no longer serve us, it is time to let them go and embrace new types of thoughts that are positive and do serve us. Just as it is important to regularly clean your bathroom and detox your body, it is also equally important to tend to the mind and emotions in such a way as well, constantly cleaning out so that nothing potent grows and always making space for good and light to come in.

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As we transition into Spring, we enter into a season of cleaning, a season of Saucha. We resew and water the garden, we deep clean our homes, and we reorganize the disarrayed garage. This is a great time to reconnect with the idea of Saucha, recognize how good it feels to practice it, and then make a commitment to regularly practice Saucha more often throughout your daily life. Clean space, clean body, clean mind – feeling clean typically means feeling good and who doesn’t want to feel good all of the time?

The American Food System: Grocery Shopping in Europe vs. USA

There is a lot to be improved upon in America when it comes to food; the way we look at food, grow and raise food, treat food, value food, and much more. If I wanted to critique all of the many different facets that there are to food and what we could do better at (meaning what we do completely wrong), well then, I’d be writing a full on critical book. As much fun as that might be, since this is a blog, I will focus on one aspect at a time that I would like to commentate on. Today, I am writing about how we structure our food system in terms of selection and pricing of whole, natural foods versus junk foods.

I have thought a lot about the way we select, place, and price our food here in the United States after visiting Europe in 2014 and again in 2015 and seeing how the Europeans do so. Now, my intention is not to sound pretentious or unpatriotic for glorifying Europe over the USA, but they really do food better overall.

Let’s talk about grocery shopping in the United States versus in Europe, namely France and Italy where I experimented with grocery shopping during my travels.

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Here’s me buying local, organic fruit at a market in Verona, Italy.

Shopping for Produce in Europe – Fresh fruits and vegetables are displayed without stickers on their skins with digitated codes. Rather, they are left naked and pure, some of them still showing signs of the soil from which they were pulled. I know I don’t have to worry about GMO vegetation or certain heavy brands of pesticides on these fruits and vegetables because these practices and chemicals are not permitted in the European Union. The primary selection of these fruits and vegetables have come from local or semi-local farms from the country side; very little has been imported from outside of the country. Because of this, I can leave the produce market with enough fruits and vegetables for a week for only about 20 euro – and it’s mostly organic, local, and seasonal. Yay!

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Shopping for Produce in America – There is every type of fruit or vegetable imaginable available for the taking, regardless of season. Therefore, I must comb through the produce, reading the little labels stuck to the food that I will have to peel away later and wash the skin. Nope, that one is genetically modified. Nope, that one isn’t organic and is in the dirty dozen. Oh great, an organic apple, that’ll be $3 for 1. I make my selections, buying enough vegetation for the week ahead. I don’t buy everything organic; I’m an American peasant after all, but any fruit or veg that is part of the “Dirty Dozen” I have purchased organic. I get a week’s worth of produce for $40 to $60 depending. If I was in Europe, I could’ve saved $20-$40 and used that money towards savings for a condo! But I am in America trying to be healthy, so I will accept the penalty for my choices and continue being a peasant.

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Fromagerie in Paris selling fresh, local cheeses.

Shopping for dairy in Europe – Firstly, cheese in Europe is unrivaled by anywhere else in the world. It is all so pure and so fresh or so artfully aged. It’s incredible. America doesn’t stand a chance. But this isn’t just about taste. I go to the local cheese shop to select my cheeses. I am allowed to sample as I shop so I can make a better selection (#winning). Reading the labels and talking to the cheese monger, I learn that there is really nothing to the cheese except milk and the other flavor fixings. The milk is pure and unaltered, no added hormones, chemicals or America’s favorite – sugar. It’s just milk from a cow; a cow roaming widely over green pastures. Also, the cheese has come from a nearby dairy farm, so it too is local. I am able to purchase a hulking wedge of both the creamiest brie and the tangiest bleu for a mere 5 euro. 2.50 euro for gourmet cheese?! How is this possible? I am going to eat all of it now and come back tomorrow for more, life can never be this good again.

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Shopping for dairy in America – My cheese selection is stressful. I have to really read into the labels to see where the cheese is coming from and if the milk it is made from was overly treated with chemicals and hormones. Also, finding cheese from a grass-fed, free roaming cow is an Olympic challenge. Oh yay, I found some great selections. That’s $5.75 for a medium sized wedge, that’s $7.25 for an average block. Well, there’s go $13. It’s okay I guess, cheese is worth it, but I know the truth; this cheese could never measure up to the cheese in Europe, and that would’ve costed me ¾ of what this cheese costs for a lot more. Oh well, I knew life would never be that good again, like I said. This is the life of an American peasant.

Shopping for meat in Europe – The meat is fresh, it has not been frozen. Here again, the meat has come from a nearby farm or ranch. Due to the normal European practices when it comes to meat, I know that the beef is from rolling pastures and was grass-fed, I know the chicken was free-range, I know that the fish was not fed coloring. The meat has not been sprayed down with chemicals and preservatives, it doesn’t need to be because they have taken good care of it and are selling it fresh after the catch or kill (sorry veggie friends). This is quality meat, this is the way meat is meant to be treated and eaten, this is somewhat sustainable. The meat – again being grass-fed/free range/wild caught/not treated etc. – costs maybe three quarters of what the same quality of meat would cost in the United States. Also, the Europeans don’t sell you huge cuts and chunks, servings are much smaller so that even though you are eating meat, you are eating less and really enjoying it.

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Shopping for meat in America – There are lots of meat selections, and of those selections, a very small percent of it comes from good, healthy practices. If you want grass-fed, free- range, not color treated, you have few choices and they are expensive. That filet mignon that comes from the ranch in the center of California where the cows are standing in their own dung and have cancerous puss on their faces costs a reasonable amount, but why would I eat that? Gross. No, if I am going to have beef, it is going to be from a cow that was treated right in its life. Oh hot damn, that single filet mignon is $14; but damn it, I am going to buy meat that is quality because I support the meager amount of sustainable ranching we do in this country. At least the cost keeps me from eating too much red meat, right? But what about the fish? Yup, that salmon was fed pink dye through it’s feed – yummy! No thanks, I’ll go with the wild salmon. *Deep sigh* It’s $13.99 a pound and I’m feeding four people, so I need a pound; so now that’s another $14 after my $45 worth of semi-organic produce and my $13 of cheese, and we haven’t even gotten the most important item on the grocery list – wine; maybe I shouldn’t go to the movies tomorrow after all.

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What about the junk food – Oh yeah, let’s not forget that food group! Europe has junk food just like us, a lot of the same brands in fact, though some of their products are banned because they put additives in the foods that are not permitted in the EU, but America doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with them! The big difference, however, is that you have to really go out of your way to get it. The normal everyday markets don’t have it; they’re too busy selling real, whole foods at decent prices and supporting the local economy. If you want sugar laden bags of cookies and sodium rich chips, you’ve got to go to the convenience store, like a liquor store or gas station; you won’t find it at the markets. In America, the processed, sugar filled, chemically laden stuff is mixed in right next to the good foods, and it’s cheap, so it’s easy to gravitate towards all the junk and skip the good food choices because it is right there and it is cheaper than the $3 organic apple.

Also, Americans like stuff. If you’re spending too much money on healthy foods, you can’t buy as much superfluous stuff. So naturally, they make dinner a sodium and sugar frozen entrée and go shopping for poorly made clothing from China.

In conclusion – here’s the big difference between Europe and America when it comes to groceries: Europe makes healthy, nutritious eating accessible and America does not. Sure, America is the richest country in the world and we have access to everything, but because of the way we price the good food and then place it next to the bad food, and because of normal American saving and spending habits, shoppers make the in-nutritious and downright unhealthy choices.

Europeans can easily purchase fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, well cultured dairy, minimally processed grains and bread, and soundly raised and cared for meats without breaking the bank. In this way, even a struggling family can feed themselves whole meals. In America, if you want to make healthy choices, you are forced to pay a premium, as if you are doing something exclusive and risqué. Many Americans are unwilling and often unable to pay these premiums, so they make the unsound choices, and this leads them to being overweight, malnourished, and often sick, which ultimately feeds into the risen numbers of obesity, diabetes, and cancer that we are seeing in this country, which then all feeds into our wonderfully sound healthcare system (sarcasm). It’s a vicious cycle.

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We simply must evolve our food system to be one that supports the selling and eating of whole foods. If we can find avenues to make fresh and often organic produce, minimally processed diary and grains, and well cared for meats (while also lessening meat consumption), then we will be supporting a healthier and happier society overall, which I think is what we all ultimately want. It is going to take a lot of work; work within ourselves for how we look at food and value it, and work for how we go about growing, cultivating, and selling it.

Again, this is just one of the many critiques I and many others have for the American food system. Again, I wish not to sound unpatriotic (though I often feel that way). Keep in mind, however, that we are a country of free thinkers who are encouraged to critique in order to help us to become an even stronger and better nation; and that is probably something I will do until I die. Namaste.