We Are What We Eat

By - December 7, 2009 (Updated: November 25, 2014)

Food Inc Movie PosterMy passion for food is no secret, but it goes beyond simply enjoying a meal. Since arriving in Belgium I’ve changing my entire outlook on food. I know I blather on about sustainability in food, eating local and avoiding the processed stuff and I hope it doesn’t all sound too preachy. The thing is, I’m angry.

  • I’m angry the American (and to a lesser but no less detrimental sense, the Canadian) government has made it difficult for the average person to understand where our food comes from.
  • I’m angry that food labels reading “light” and “heart healthy” don’t mean what we expect them to mean.
  • I’m angry that enormous animal factories are allowed to churn out chickens that can’t walk and never see the light of day.
  • I’m angry that it’s cheaper for a person on a limited income to buy a Big Mac than a bag of carrots.
  • I’m angry that many school children have never seen a meal being prepared from scratch.
  • Most of all, I’m angry that we think we are making good food choices, based on what we read or are told about certain food, but we are being mislead.

I’ve been reading more and more about the industrial food system in place in the world today and its effect on our bodies and health. Currently I’m in the middle of  The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. (I’ve also read his latest book,  In Defense of Food and it’s fantastic as well). The book looks at the food we eat, from its beginning days as a grain of corn, to its end as a meal on our plate. It’s pretty disturbing stuff.

The most frightening statistic I read the other day is 1 in 3 children born after 2000 in America will have type 2 diabetes… 1 in 2 if they are from a minority group.  How can we sit back and let this happen?

This morning I was curious to find out how bad the situation is in Canada and Belgium vs. the United States. After a bit of digging, I found some statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), taken in 2004.

The following stats are based on the Body Mass index or BMI, which is a person’s weight in kg divided by height squared (m²). According to the WHO “Analysis of the relationship between BMI and mortality and morbidity suggests that the theoretical optimum mean population BMI is around 21 kg/ m².”

Percentage of people who have a Body Mass Index greater than 30 kg/m², making them obese:

  • The United States – 32.2 %
  • Canada – 23.1 %
  • Belgium – 12.7 %

That’s a pretty vast difference and I’m curious about all the factors that may cause those particular numbers.  My gut tells me it has to do with the amount of processed foods that are consumed in each country (although I am sure there are many other factors as well).

The truth is, it takes work not to eat processed food.

  • It takes work to find local producers.
  • It takes work to educate ourselves about what we are eating and what those labels really mean.
  • It takes work to figure out the food-miles involved in our meal.
  • It takes work to cook a meal from scratch.

Although, it’s not as much work as you would think. The best thing is – if we do the work now, maybe the next generation won’t have to.

Before you throw up your hands and say it’s too much work, I would highly recommend watching one or both of the following films.

Food Inc

King Corn

I would also highly recommend these books: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and  Fast Food Nation.

It’s never too late to start eating real food again.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
- 1 day ago


  1. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert December 9, 2009 at 00:34

    OK, so next on your list to watch should be We Feed the World, then you’ll be really angry!

    “My gut tells me it has to do with the amount of processed foods that are consumed in each country”.

    On that point you made, I can’t remember if it was in one of Pollan’s books or one of the movies you mention, but they talk about the difference in cultures where if you put a bowl of food in front of someone they’ll keep eating until all the food is gone. Put more food in front of them and they’ll keep eating.

    That was contrasted with cultures where food is seen as more of an experience, something to be savoured and enjoyed, rather than a task or a challenge to be overcome and measured by volume.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison December 9, 2009 at 09:54

      Pollan mentioned that in Omnivore’s Dilemma but I’ve seen it done somewhere else with a ‘never-ending’ bowl of soup that people kept eating.

      I think you’re right that culture has a lot to do with our eating habits as well. In America the attitude is often quantity over quality. Restaurant eating is all about how fast you can turn over a table for the next customer.

      Have you watched Super-size Me? Speaking of disturbing…
      .-= Alison´s last blog ..We Are What We Eat =-.

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  3. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler December 15, 2009 at 06:13

    Corn… That’s why the US is #1 on that ranking.. You fatten your livestock with it, so why not fatten people with it too!

    It is very sad. Serving sizes are smaller in Europe, there are less fast food restaurants in Europe, and so many people actually buy their fruits and veggies at a local market. In the US and Canada, you cannot find fruits and veggies to eat like that…

    Take a local Safeway for example… They barely have any edible fruits and veggies around..

    Eat rice!

    It is sad, but it’s a big eye opener…
    .-= expatraveler´s last blog ..An Undesirable Visitor =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison December 17, 2009 at 15:05

      It is an eye opener. Too bad that most of us need to see films like this before we even stop to think about the impact of what we are eating.

  4. Comment by Floh

    Floh December 21, 2009 at 23:21

    Hi there!
    I came across your blog as I’m also an expat in Belgium but I work & live in Antwerp! I lovee food!
    I come from Singapore and food culture’s really strong back home. I’m hoping to see if there’s any food club/gourmet club/food bloggers club in Belgium or Europe that organizes food events which perhaps you know, and I will like to join!

    By the way I think that processed food is really unhealthy and honestly I would prefer if food are freshly prepared – doesn’t have to be organic or anything, but just that ingredients have to be fresh!


    • Comment by Alison

      Alison December 22, 2009 at 11:05

      Hi Floh,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a coment. I sent you a personal email. Please let me know if you don’t get it. Cheers!

  5. Comment by Adam

    Adam December 22, 2009 at 04:13

    I’m glad to see that you’re angry about how we deal with food. I’m right there with you. I just started reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (I saw him at a book reading recently, too) and have learned so much I’ve decided to make some drastic lifestyle changes.

    Thanks for the book and movie recommendations! Added to my lists 🙂
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..How to be Semi-Successful at Your Job =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison December 30, 2009 at 14:07

      Hi Adam, Thanks so much for your comment. I think the most important weapon in the battle against factory food is education and information. I hope you enjoy the books!

  6. Comment by Sharon

    Sharon December 28, 2009 at 17:53

    This has been on my mind lately too – I did an interview for Flanders Today with Peter Scholliers, who wrote “Food Culture in Belgium”. It’s an academic take on food here but it’s fascinating and so was he (

    If you find any particularly locally-based and/or eco-conscious restaurants in Brussels, do let me know. I’d love to write them up for my blog!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison December 30, 2009 at 14:09

      Hi Sharon! I’m definitely going to have to check out that book because I was hard pressed to find info on the state of food and farming here in Europe. I also just noticed that I don’t have your blog in my blogroll although it’s been in my rss for ages. I will fix that right now!

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