It is almost time for Food Day. This year, National Food Day is on Wednesday, Oct. 24th, a time for celebrating real food and focusing on the food-related problems in our communities. The Lehigh Valley is hosting 17 different events throughout the month of October. You can check out the full line-up at www.facebook.com/fooddaylehighvalley.
Sounds good…..but do we really need a “Food Day”? There are days for everything now. April 24th was “Pig in a Blanket Day”. We are probably all looking forward to December 8th this year, more commonly known as “Brownie Day”. And who can forget “Quirky Country Music Song Title Day” back on March 27th (who comes up with this stuff?).
More than 2000 years ago, Hippocrates admonished his patients with this recommendation, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Pretty smart guy, that Hippocrates…but perhaps a little old-school for the 21st century. More recently, Michael Pollan gave more succinct and tweet-worthy advice about food saying, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” There is no shortage of food-related books, TV shows, websites, expert-committee recommendations and definitely no deficit of places to get something to eat (unless you live in a food desert, one of the areas Food Day is designed to bring to our attention). So how are we doing, as a society, with our relationship to food?
Well…..out of the top ten causes of death in the US, five of them are directly impacted by diet, and, more specifically, by obesity (heart disease, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes). We are spending approximately $150 billion every year on obesity related costs, and that doesn’t even factor in the cost of malnutrition. We live in a world where, on average, we are consuming almost 55 gallons of soft drinks per person, per year, and where the food and beverage industry spends $1,100 encouraging us to purchase fast food meals, sugary beverages and other types of nutritionally-empty concoctions for every $1 spent by government agencies and non-profits urging us to eat our 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Portion sizes have exploded beyond recognition, and we continue to spray chemicals on our food in the name of “efficiency and productivity”. (Quick factoid: In 1948, when American farmers first started using pesticides, about 50 million pounds were applied to the fields and crop losses were roughly 7 percent. In the year 2000, our farmers utilized almost a billion pounds of pesticides. But guess what? Crop losses were around 13 percent. Apparently the harmful pests are finding ways around our “efficiency and productivity”). Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to devote a day to thinking about our food, after all.
The goals of Food Day are to promote safer, healthier diets; support sustainable and organic farms; reduce hunger; reform factory farms to protect the environment; and to support fair working conditions for food and farm workers. Sometimes these problems seem so vast and entrenched that it is tempting to give up, close our eyes and hope for the best.
Whenever I feel that way, I remember the down-home wisdom I heard from Harvey Ussery, a small-scale poultry farmer that I met at the PASA conference last year. When asked what to do about the evils of the factory-farm poultry system, he replied gruffly“One dollar, one vote.” And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. We are probably not going to bus down to Florida and try to shut down the modern-day slavery in tomato fields brought to vivid life in Barry Estabrook’s “Tomatoland”, but we can choose to buy our tomatoes from our local Farmers’ Markets (or grow our own) and do our part to convince others to use the power of our collective pocketbook to keep our local farms solvent and sustainable. We are probably never going to completely renounce convenience/processed/fast/junk food, but small steps add up to big changes over time as long as you are headed in the right direction. Having the occasional French fries, ice cream, take-out meal or fill-in-your-craving-of-choice is not that big of a deal as long as you are fueling your body with healthy, nutrient-dense food most of the time. And never forget that even a small amount of money spent on local, sustainable food adds up to big benefits, both for our Lehigh Valley economy, and our health.
Can you steer $10 to fresh, local, sustainable, whole food this week? How about every week?
Wednesday, Oct. 24th, is Food Day. How will you vote?
Meagan L. Grega, MD Co-Founder, Chief Medical Officer Kellyn Foundation www.kellynfoundation.org