Posted by & filed under Food Philosophy, organic.

I read an article online last week about a new eating disorder that is apparently causing problems for some people. They call it “orthorexia,” and the idea is that folks become so obsessed with the wholesomeness of what they eat that they stop eating much of anything at all. The article described people eschewing not just animal products, but anything they perceive as being not righteous or pure — either because of the food itself (dairy, meat) or how it was grown or produced (GMO, nonorganic, etc). The article went on to describe, in quite dire terms, cases of extreme weight loss, vitamin deficiencies and a compulsive obsession with the content and character of one’s food. Theoretically, these are not conscious vegetarians or vegans they are talking about, but rather folks for whom healthy eating has become a clinical obsession. Nevertheless, the article definitely inferred that a “meager and unbalanced diet” of organic fruits and vegetables was the ultimate outcome of this new “disorder.”

The “ortho” prefix means straight, upright or correct (ie: orthodox), and the idea that there are wholesome foods and unclean ones has been around for centuries — think kosher and halal, the diet strictures followed by observant Jews and Muslims, respectively. While some foods are frowned upon under those systems because they come from animals with “unclean” lifestyles, many of the ancient prohibitions have to do with concerns about how a food is grown, raised, slaughtered, stored, prepared or served.
All this got me thinking about my own food choices and how I decide what is wholesome (or not) to put in my body. I have been vegetarian on and off for many years throughout my life. I even went strictly vegan for about eight months last year to see if it helped with arthritis-related joint pain (unfortunately, it didn’t). But currently I do choose to eat some meat, fish, eggs and dairy, and, like many of you, I am increasingly choosy about where those things come from.

Those of us in the Bay Area are truly blessed to have so many healthy and conscious food options available to us. Not only do we have access to certified organic fruits and vegetables from many of our local grocers, farmers markets and delivery box programs like Golden Gate Organics, but those of us who do consume meat, fish or dairy have access to some of the cleanest, healthiest and most humane beef, poultry, eggs and dairy in the country.

Without too much hassle, we have the answers to the questions: Is it GMO? Is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it local? Is it humane? Was it grown with antibiotics or hormones? Are the eggs free-range? Is the fish wild caught? Where did it come from? Was the produce grown with respect for the earth as well as the workers involved? People in, say, Indiana, don’t have such easy access to those answers, and they don’t have our plethora of options, either. In that context, though, our choices here in the Bay Area do beg the questions:
Am I orthorexic because I won’t eat the super-cheap eggs from Costco?
Am I orthorexic because I won’t eat nonorganic strawberries bought from the sweet Latina woman selling them under an umbrella at my freeway exit?
Am I orthorexic because I won’t eat Tyson chicken, farmed salmon or commercially grown lettuce or cucumber?
No. Unequivocally not.

To my mind, it’s pretty easy to see Big Ag’s (and the processed food giants’) influence in creating a clinical disorder based on noncompliance with mainstream food consumption. If “normal” is to consume chemical-laden produce, feed-lot steroid meats and salty, processed convenience foods, then aberrant is to make food choices based on environmental consciousness, ethical husbandry and a deep understanding that food is truly wholesome when it nurtures not just the body but the spirit and planet as well.
All this talk has made me realize that there may finally be a word for those of us who are making such daily choices toward a healthier, cleaner and more sustainable diet: Orthotarian.
I am thankful for the opportunity to be one.