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An unhealthy obsession with eating healthy?

Marketplace Staff Oct 16, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The United Nations has declared today World Food Day. The U.N wants us to concentrate on agriculture. Especially in Third World countries where often what people eat is what they grow. In the developed world we have the luxury of making choices about what we eat. And Catherine Price discovered while she was a student that learning how to eat well can sometimes make you feel a little sick.

CATHERINE PRICE: As I stood in my kitchen one evening stir-frying my organic kale, I thought about one of my professor’s favorite points. We Americans gladly fork over money for cable TV and cell phones, but try to buy our food as cheaply as possible.

It’s kind of weird, considering the fact that you can live without your TV. Shouldn’t we be willing to spend more on food, since we actually put it into our bodies?

Talking about food for three hours a week in class made me painfully conscious of everything I put on my fork. I found myself wondering whether my strawberries had been fumigated with methyl bromide, or if the pig that became my ham sandwich had its tail snipped off so his cramped stall mates wouldn’t chew it.

Understanding where the food around me was coming from was making it impossible to eat.

There’s a word for this: orthorexia. It means having an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.

That irony’s not lost on me when I stand in line at the Berkeley Bowl and watch the checker ring up my groceries. Wild salmon, pesticide-free blueberries . . . By now, those are normal.

But organic, $5 ice cream? I burn with self-righteous anger. Anger at having to be so self-righteous. It turns out that eating with a conscience takes money.

At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself to justify signing up for weekly deliveries of local farm produce.

Sure, I feel a little weird about spending $24 on food I probably could have bought at Safeway for half the cost. But here’s the thing about orthorexia: Unlike most afflictions, the worse it gets, the better you feel.

I spend more money on food than I do on gas. My parents accuse me of becoming an elitist. And you know what? I feel great.

RYSSDAL: Catherine Price is an online editor in Berkeley, California.

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