Wow, it seems like I can’t go anywhere these days without hearing something about how messed up the food industry is – even church. Yesterday’s sermon was one in a series on the environment based on a book by Bishop Sally Dyck called A Hopeful Earth. The sermon touched on food insecurity, modern farming and the environment.
While I’m all for conversations about food, nutrition and agriculture, I’m growing weary of the inaccuracies and negativity that tend to dominate these conversations. Buzzwords such as sustainable, local, humane, factory farm, and Big Ag evoke strong emotions and, in my opinion, are sometimes used without enough care and/or context.
Reducing our carbon footprint is certainly important – but if we cannot join hands instead of pointing fingers, then we cannot possibly work together to create and implement as many viable solutions to the problem as we need. We need as many solutions as we can conceive.
I have not read Bishop Sally Dyck’s book, but these are three main suggestions from her book that were shared at the end of the sermon:
1. Eat food that has not been treated with chemicals
2. Eat local food (within 150 miles)
3. Eat less meat (from humanely treated animals)
What do these really mean? How meaningful are they? Will they make a difference?
Here's what I think:
1. I’m guessing that eating food that has not been “treated with chemicals” means eating organically produced food. But even organically grown food allows the use of certain pesticides and fertilizers. Or, since certain GMO crops were created to use fewer “chemicals” maybe it means to eat more of them? Somehow, I doubt that.
2. It’s true, ‘local’ is the new ‘organic’. Organically produced food was seen as the best thing since sliced (organic) bread, until the realization hit that the carbon footprint created by transporting the food was a major problem . Eating ‘local’ is definitely a great way to support your local farmers and local economy, but from a nutritional standpoint, we should not limit ourselves to only the foods (and thus nutrients) we can get locally. I can assure you that would not be a well-balanced diet for good health. Nor should we limit ourselves to only the soil around us – we benefit from eating foods grown in a variety of soils to limit exposure to natural risks such as arsenic in soil.
3. There’s no argument that choosing a more “plant-based diet” is healthy for people as well as the environment, but oversimplifying the message and sensationalizing it by adding the “humanely” treated part is misleading at best. No one wants to see animals mistreated. Well, no one except for those ‘bad actor’ exceptions we see in the media which are shocking and unacceptable. But that is not how the majority of farmers and ranchers care for their animals, and to imply that it is just as unacceptable.
So, what would MY top 3 recommendations be?
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” I'll admit, sometimes the facts aren't very clear. But the bottom line is this: How can we help feed those who are hungry and help take good care of our planet for future generations?
Here are my top 3 takeaways:
1. Learn more about food, agriculture and sustainability. That means reading and listening to a variety of sources and perspectives, and realizing that those who promote the notion that the food industry is to blame (or worse yet, is evil) also have an agenda. Case in point, I’m planning to see the new movie Fed Up. But am I the only one who is offended by the movie’s poster? Honestly, that alone makes me suspicious of how "fair and balanced" the movie will be. But I will still go to see it.
And I would suggest to you, in addition to seeing movies like Fed Up or reading books like A Hopeful Earth, to consider also watching the new movie Farmland, or reading the book Tomorrow’s Table written by a married couple - an organic farmer and a plant geneticist. Talk about different perspectives! And yet, they show us how these two worlds not only can coexist, but can actually work together to solve many of our current and future food issues.
2. Learn more about food insecurity from credible organizations who are leading the cause such as Feeding America. Hunger affects us all. When people, especially children, are unable to get the nutrition they need to thrive it's not just their bellies that are hurting. Food insecurity can have wide-ranging detrimental consequences on the physical and mental health of adults, including more vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and seniors. Lack of access to a nutritious and adequate food supply has implications not only for the development of physical and mental disease, but also behaviors and social skills.
3. Find something you can do at a local level that will truly impact those who are food insecure in a positive way. Help those in need learn basic cooking skills or grocery shopping strategies that will help them get more nutrient-rich foods on a budget and in a food desert. Support your University Extension specialists – this is the work they do every day. Simply Google ‘University Extension’ and find your nearest county or state office. Or volunteer for your local food pantry like I do with my daughter. Through our church.
Now my post has come full circle. Farm to fork, church to church. Let’s join hands and work together. Let’s be informed and unafraid. Let’s have faith that, together, we can do better.
If you liked this post, check out my podcast A Grain of Salt: A Closer Look at Nutrition News with co-host Rachel Begun.