Something’s wrong with the way we eat in this country. Or maybe it’s just what we eat in this country. Because we’re packing away a whole lot of this:
The food we eat in America is not just a personal choice; it’s systemic and entrenched. Most farmers (and all agribusiness) grow what U.S. farm policies favor, and the majority of government support goes to five commodity crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice — and not one fruit or vegetable. Despite the fact that two-thirds (yep, you heard right) of Americans are overweight or obese, and new USDA guidelines call for more vitamins and minerals in our diet, our fertile country does not produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet those guidelines.
In fact, only 2.5% of total U.S. cropland under production is devoted to growing the fruits and vegetables that could keep us from being so overweight and malnourished at the same time. And people who are poor suffer disproportionately from this malady since the cheapest food is often the worst for you, while the cost of unsubsidized fruits and vegetables has been kept comparatively high.
But what we’re saving at the grocery store, we’re paying out in health care — $147 billion annually on obesity-related illnesses every year. And down the road, 50% of all children of color are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, thanks to a deadly combo of fats, sugar, processed food and inactivity.
Obviously, we need to change what we grow and how we eat — but as we all know, changing bad habits can be really hard (and I’ve got the bitten nails to prove it). I’d love to see the mega-farmers and corporations that control 70% of all harvested U.S cropland and earn $5 billion a year to grow one of the commodity crops, divert just 1% of those acres into growing fruits and vegetables. That would immediately increase fruit and vegetable production by 33% — and hopefully encourage more people to grow and eat the good stuff.
Then, we could work really hard in our own communities to support local food movements like Heifer is doing in the Appalachia region of western North Carolina and the Arkansas Delta. If there is one thing I’ve noticed in my travels around the world is how utterly removed most of us Americans are from the land, animals, and food we eat. That seems sad to me – and disrespectful. So before I leave the beautiful hills of Appalachia, let me tell you some of the cool things Heifer is doing to promote small farms and big gardens, and reawaken the long tradition of fresh, homegrown food that has been the backbone of Appalachia for centuries.
The Farmer Incubation Grower program provides land, equipment, markets, and training to limited resource folks so they can become the next generation of knowledgeable farmers– co-supported by nearby Appalachian State University, which has committed to buy locally 15% of the food it serves its 14,000 students. Wow! New Meat Processing Facilities (like Heifer is creating with Pastor Bubba!) will allow cow/calf operators to capture some of the $60 million regional meat market with grass-fed, hormone-free beef. And Aggregation/Distribution centers are being planned to handle all the glorious, locally-grown produce and get it to stores and restaurants at its peak of freshness. (I could include the concentric circles-crazed Logic Model of Heifer‘s own Jeffrey Scott that explains all this, but it gave me a huge headache so I’ll spare you.)
Suffice it to say that building a robust regional food system that can create jobs, improve health and nutrition in our homes and schools, and help end poverty and hunger is a pretty appetizing thought.
p.s. These are all my opinionated opinions (you bet!) and don’t reflect Heifer’s views or policies.