Sustainable Food Systems

It is not our fault. Throughout the evolutionary history of the human species a high fat diet was vital for survival. We have adapted as a species to crave foods high in fat because that is what we once needed. As the cultivation of plants and animals was discovered, food accessibility started to boom. For centuries humans maintained a stable diet but as the population started to grow the demand for food increased as well. Eventually humans mastered the art of artificial high demand foods. This all lead up to the point of today. Two out of three Americans are obese. 31% of children are overweight or obese. According to the center for disease control and prevention, 9 out of 10 Americans fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables daily. So Is it really our fault? Do enough Americans even have access to the foods that we actually need? I will help explain a list of impacting facts on how corrupted our food systems are and how you as an individual can beat the systems by a few short steps.

Recently I watched an HBO documentary “Agriculture” by John Hoffman on the corruption on our food systems and how it effects our overall health as a society and individual. Basically what I learned from “Agriculture” is that our government has been feeding our obesity issues for decades. In the 2008 Farm Bill, congress directed USDA to provide 45 billion dollars to support farmers. Fruits and Vegetable programs received less than 3% of those funds. 70% of our arable land in the united states is grown for commodity crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat. All of these crops are used to make processed foods high is sugars, salts, starches, and fats. Can you guess how much land is used to grow foods we need like vegetables and fruit? Less than 3%. Cost of fruits and vegetables have gone up 117 % since the 1980′s, but the cost of soft drinks has only gone up 20 %. Although a good amount of the united states experiences less than half of a year of the ability to grow fruits and vegetables, I saw no evidence that small farms have much support during these vital seasons.

The documentary is based off of a small farm alliance developed in Iowa portraying the struggles they have as farmers to provide their community with healthy foods. At one of their meetings a farmer explains how he can only feed his daughter one healthy meal a day because she was in school. He said how he would love to provide the whole school with food from his farm but he does not have enough support from the government to feed that many students. It seems that the community enjoyed the fruits and vegetables that the small farmers could provide but the government corrupted the system so much the produce is sometimes un-affordable. Andrew Dunham believes that if broccoli was made to be just as cheap or cheaper than Twinkies, people would buy the broccoli. In Iowa, 90 % of fruits and vegetables are imported from outside of the state. Nationwide, the amount of fruits and vegetables imported has tripled since the 1990′s. This means that even the fruits and vegetables ( unless USDA certified organic) you buy at the grocery store are preserved and packaged to endure a cross country and sometimes overseas to get to your grocery store. This is where our food system has gone wrong. The foods we do not need for the artificial making are grown in our backyard but the foods we do need are being imported from endless miles away.

One of my favorite lessons I learned from this documentary is from Linda Barnes PhD an organic farmer and professor in biology, “The difference in conventional fruits and vegetables in grocery stores and local organic produce is from taste and nutrition. The reason why our fruits and vegetables have been depleted of those two things are for shipping quality. It is all about Biology. What you like to eat, other things like to eat (bacteria, fungi, insects) so if a crop has high nutrition and good flavor, than it has high nutrition and good flavor for other things to eat too so it rots.” William Dietz PhD director of division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity says, “If fruits and vegetables were bought for their taste rather than the ability to endure a cross country trip than we would have more children and adults liking fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.”

So how can we make a change? For starters, look at the foods biology. Will other things like bacteria, fungi, or insects like to eat it? If not that the food is most likely processed, preserved, pesticide, artificial, etc. One place you will find healthy and nutritional foods are local farmers markets. The beauty of farmers markets is that the food is grown within your state, no added chemicals or preservatives, most likely USDA certified, and they taste a lot better than produce found in grocery stores. Also, try to avoid prepackaged foods. These foods are found every where in the grocery store and are fairly inexpensive. They are inexpensive because of the government paying farmers to grow crops that will make these foods. Lastly, search for natural food markets in your area. Foods sold at these stores are not always fruits and vegetables but a lot of them are USDA certified organic, natural, and supports human labor laws in other countries. They sell products environmentally friendly and foods healthier for the human body than other artificial foods. So with a natural craving for foods high in fat and salt (because of our evolutionary history), I do not think you can blame individuals anymore for the countries obesity issues.

For more information on the documentary you can search for it on HBO under the weight of the nation —– “Agriculture” produced by John Hoffman.

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