Do you know what you're eating? I thought I did too! But after taking a course last semester called "The Hidden Landscapes of Food," I think differently. Dr. Lines taught about how the American diet is hidden from the public view and issues such as environmental sustainability, nutrition, crop diversity, the transparency of the American food system, and the ever-present corn.

Although I believed I was knowledgeable about my food choices, this class completely changed my view and I realized I don't really know what I'm eating. Sequentially, my diet changed based on 3 major points.

1: Corn is everywhere

corn, cereal, popcorn, kettle corn, sweet, wheat
Sara Carte

The American diet consists of a shockingly large amount of corn. Corn finds its way into nearly everything between the produce and dairy aisles of the grocery store. It hides itself as High Fructose Corn Syrup and a range of different chemicals in pancake syrup, soft drinks, cereal, chips, and chicken nuggets. This corn is over-processed, industrialized, and subsidized, resembling more of a starchy powder than a real food. Even cattle, chickens, and pigs raised on industrial farms are fed corn (against their natural diet), so by consuming these animals we are still ultimately eating one thing: corn. This scary fact is unavoidable if you want to shop at supermarkets, eat at fast food joints (especially McDonalds), or dine in America.

How my diet changed: I try to shop around the outside ring of the grocery store and avoid the processed products full of corn that typically are in the center aisles. I started reading the labels on most of the products I usually buy in the grocery store (always a good idea!) and put back the ones that are mostly corn. I make sure any beef I buy or eat was grass fed. Hopefully my CMI (corn mass index) has decreased slightly and I can avoid some this corn epidemic. 

2: The Western Diet

sweet, bread, pastry, pancake, McDonalds, sausage, breakfast
Alex Frank

Running rampant across America for decades is a disease known as "The Western Diet." The problem with how American's eat has a lot to do with the food, but mostly to do with their lifestyle. We eat cheap food quickly and either in the car, alone, or in front of the TV. The fast food industry has perfected the art of making food to fit all of those needs. None of these things make for a healthy, well rounded person. The answer lies in changing our lifestyle: by adding a higher proportion of vegetables on the plate, eating slower, avoiding eating alone/in front of the TV, trying to eat whole ingredients, and to adding some form of exercise. Basically, by adopting "Eastern Diets" like those of the Italians, Japanese, Greek, French, Indian, and so on. 

How my diet changed: I began incorporating more whole foods into my diet like fruits, vegetables, and legumes. I try to avoid the foods that taste good but are packed with fats, salts, and sugars that are so typical of the western diet. I try to not eat lunch alone while I work on homework, and I try to exercise daily. 

3. Nutritionism

apple, juice, sweet, pasture
Santina Renzi

Much of the way American’s eat is dictated by nutrition science. Nutrition science is great for studying diets, tracking health, and suggesting dietary alterations for patients, but it attempts to identify single variables (macro- and micronutrients) in foods that are the responsible for beneficial effects in people. This has caused many people to check off boxes when they eat, like “protein, vegetable, and grain.” This is helpful when trying to regulate a diet, but we need to be eating foods for their individual qualities, not their group qualities. Also, when scientists isolate these variables, like the Vitamin A in carrots, they can extract them and add them to processed foods like cereal, granola bars, and even cookies. Is eating an Oreo with Vitamin A better than eating carrots themselves? Definitely not. 

How my diet changed: I began to look at how I eat differently and holistically. I still try to get a good ratio of vegetables, grains, and proteins, but I try to eat complete meals instead of breaking it down into categories. I also try to be aware of the items (especially granola bars) that advertise their “large amounts of vitamins and minerals” or are “heart-healthy,” and make sure I don’t substitute them with actual fruits, veggies, and proteins that naturally contain these things.