by Paulette Lambert, R.D., C.D.E.
Chief Dietitian at California Health & Longevity Institute
Food choices can have both health and environmental consequences which makes it difficult to determine the best options in order to protect our environment and to equally keep our bodies healthy. Due to the correlation between agriculture and overall health, we are starting to see some changes in the food industry that may cause some confusion.
In the last few decades we have seen our country drastically shift from the hearty, whole, real food system to a 75% processed food diet. Due to convenience of fast food, take-out and the ease of dining out, we have lost touch with the source of the products we consume. When eating at a restaurant, do you ask the wait staff where the produce is from and the conditions in which it was grown? Do you question how the meat at your local drive-thru is nearly 10 times cheaper than at a 5-star restaurant? Is it the same meat?
While the issues with our food system are very complex and overwhelming, we can do our part by choosing organic and buying from local farmers and vendors. Small steps from everyone, can put us in the right direction and help improve both the environment and your health.
According to David Wallinga, M.D., MPA, Director of Food & Health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy at Minneapolis, today’s agriculture is large-scale, specialized and concentrated, contributing to a range of negative effects including but not limited to:
– Impaired health
– Spread of pathogens
– Antibiotic resistance
– Metabolic syndrome
– Reduced access to fresh produce
– Less resilient agriculture
– Unhealthy animals
– Impaired soil quality
– Contaminated groundwater
Even climate change is affected by our agriculture system. Most aren’t aware that food production in the United States accounts for 17% of U.S. fossil fuel use and the global livestock production accounts for 18% of greenhouse gasses worldwide; doing more damage than transportation alone.
Generally speaking, in the U.S. food travels roughly 1,300 miles from farm to plate. Due to small farms not having the resources to be certified, USDA organic products are traveling thousands of miles to get to its final destination, rather than small local farm that hold the same ideals and values as certified farms. Many local farmers are taking organic to another level by taking important issues like sustainability and the distance food travels more seriously. Food systems such as The Slow Food movement are modeled after nature, being regional, valuable, flavorful, nutritious and most importantly local. It’s about a cultural shift and a realignment of values, building a healthy, sustainable local community that eats a diet with minimally processed whole foods all while taking less energy to produce. Taking it a step further is reducing our calories to a healthy level versus our too high calorie consumption of poor quality food that takes a high level of energy to produce, benefiting health and the environment.
Supporting a local food system is a big part of the sustainability. Buying from local sources would help put an end to the distance our food would need to travel and ultimate minimizing the vast quantities of fossil fuels needed to burn in order to get to you. Buying local and supporting our local farmer’s supports a community-based, diverse agricultural system which helps protect farmland from urban sprawl and reconnects consumers with the food supply. Having a connection with the person growing the food is a very favorable thing.
Small Steps towards Local and Organic Shopping
– Prioritize that perishables products come from local sources
– Learn and consume what’s in season
– Shop at farmers markets and ask about farming practices
– Join community supported agriculture (CSA)
– Shop at stores that label food origins
– Shop the perimeter of grocery stores
– Get ultra-local: plant a garden
– Visit u-picks & farm stands
– Chose restaurants that source locally
– Frequent local owned food producers
– Buy fair trade or family farmed if local is not available