A short rant about food.

The good stuff…

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:

Soybeans as far as the eye can see…found in almost every processed food in America.

And not nearly enough 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.

Small is beautiful.. and healthy.

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.

Dig in!!

p.s. These are all my opinionated opinions (you bet!) and don’t reflect Heifer’s views or policies.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “A short rant about food.

  1. Nice thorough article. I have always wanted to live on a farm/ranch w you know cattle, horses n orchards. N gardens etc. I gave up that idea about two years ago. Guess we need a mule n forty acres to give out. Just the other day I saw a beautiful stretch of land that’s been for sale n I was secretly hoping the city would put a community garden or horse farm there, but sadly I think it is being cleared for houses. I have n husband have always had gardens. I’ve been thinking of selling seeds n products online as a business. Keep up the wonderful talks. Thanks Betty!

    • Thanks, Kim — and boy, you should grab that land while it’s still … land! I hate when they carve up farmlands for developments; it’s just so great to see more farmland preservation being done! We’re on the same page … I can’t wait to get back to my gardening .. it’s gotta happen soon!

  2. I’m delighted to see you address the issue of respect–or rather the disrespectful disconnect between Americans and the food we eat–also the very sad disconnect of too many Americans from the way much of the rest of world has to struggle for food. Great post, Betty. Happy Monday to you!

    • Thanks, Kathryn — I’m in Rwanda now and I can tell you for sure – these people are not disconnected from the land! Only problem is, there is way too little of it for farming and so many of the hills are completely deforested for farmlands … it’s such a dilemma but the one thing I know for sure is that food, animals and the earth are all precious (if not sacred) and we have to start behaving that way or we’re going to be in deep doo-doo! Happy Monday to YOU, Miss K!

  3. Earth Ocean Sky Redux

    Tough issue and I wish it were as simple as eating and producing more fruits and veggies. The soybean, like rice and cotton, is a highly traded commodity on the stock market and is integral in keeping our economy strong. Soybean meal is also a top choice for livestock feed; so too the hulls. The daughter of a chemical engineer, I am less inclined to believe the hype that the hexane in soy is toxic but I’m not one who feels organic is the answer to everything. That’s just my opinion.

    NOW, all that said, in a perfect world we would all eat healthier, produce more good stuff. And that’s where I see how private funding comes in. Not government choices to say stop producing something, but local groups who are willing to fund small local farmers. I see all around me how that works. So many organic farms popping up all over, farmer’s markets thriving, all thanks to $ given by friends and neighbors. Yes, I live in an affluent zip code where there are many retired hedge fund guys who LOVE to start farms, so translating that to impoverished areas is tricky but even when I traveled to Appalachia, I saw, like you, civic groups, churches, colleges, taking up the cause of growing healthy food. If you see people all around you eating summer squash or blueberries, you are inclined to do so.

    But, we still need soy. It’s the same mentality I have that we still need coal. Take it all away, then what?

    Hope you and Lulu have a remarkable time in Rwanda.

    • Good point, EOSR — and certainly, I have to agree that our agricultural productivity has been remarkable and enabled us to feed ourselves, drive down costs for everybody, and export tons of food. And farm supports have certainly driven a lot of the innovation. The problem is, there have been lots of unforeseen consequences … and I truly believe that having $5 billion in farm supports to crops that are way over-produced at this point (or paying people to NOT produce, or not to plant anything as long as the land is dedicated to a commodity crop) is kind of nuts. And that hasn’t been challenged in the last farm bill, either — because there is too much money (and lobbyists) at stake. I feel as if the government has to intervene in this horrific food/health dilemma we’ve created (I love bloomburg outlawing those hideous big soda, for instance) .. because it’s been the cause of promoting it. How about we subsidize a little of the healthy stuff and stop paying people to produce so much of the stuff that’s killing us? That sounds about right to me! Thanks for the thoughtful answer … and the good wishes for Rwanda!!

  4. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Once again love the post!!! My family origins are a long line of farmers, but they themselves got caught up in too much corn and soybean for sale. They all have their own gardens for fruits and veggies.And am proud the pigs they raise aren’t feed antibiotics etc, but their pigs leave as piglets and the big production takes over from there. How can we get government to support the smaller farmer and not the big business is one of the problems. Larger farms have problems with picking and shipping before rotting with veggies and fruits. Also locally grown where ever you are supplies more natural vitamins and allergy suppressants for the area so everybody find your local farmers markets!!! Meats are another problem and the eastern shore of Maryland has been fighting chicken production since I moved here in 1985. We are finally making small headway, but it is headway Thank you God. Thanks again Betty for informing us of our need to open our eyes and see the real world around us!!!

    • Thanks for the insight, Deb!! You are entirely right about the chicken production on the eastern shore of Maryland — it’s been one of the major polluters of the Chesapeake Bay for years, and that influences all our seafood on the East Coast. I realize that agribusiness and farm technology has been responsible for driving down the cost of food and increasing production hugely – but we do need to look at some of the real costs of that process. We can do better!! Buying local, doing away with some of the farm supports for ONLY commodity crops and spreading the cash encouragement for food that is good for us is certainly one place to start!! Thanks for the comment ….

  5. Wow, just 1%? That is not a good thought.

    Living in a rural area, the farming co-ops–we get spoiled by all the farming taking place around us. We send our 11 year old over to his friend’s farm a few times a month to help out with whatever they need done (they feed him very well).

    Thanks Betty, r shedding light on these issues abroad and at home.

    • Wow, SD, sounds like you’re living in a GREAT place! I only wish more kids were being raised with some idea of where their food comes from (like, not Safeway or McDonald’s) … that sounds pretty great, plus it’s always good to have kids know what hard work it is to raise food, right??! Thanks for the comment!!

  6. Thanks for the Rant! We see a large resurge in our fertile Northern Arizona area of local foods, local farming, CSAs, education in schools about plants and how to grow vegetables, and questions on genetically modified seeds. Actually… I am curious about “concentric circles-crazed Logic Model of Heifer‘s own Jeffrey Scott .” Where can I find more info? I unsuccessfully googled it.

  7. Oh, I will totally send you Jeffrey’s email address… he’s absolutely nuts about this subject and it sounds like you would have lots to talk about!! Jeffrey is Heifer USA’s Enterprise Director — and a super cool dude!

  8. Brenda

    Thanks for bringing attention to this issue Betty-it seems hard to believe that organic food (which is better for the farmer, the workers in food processing as well as the consumer) is financially beyond reach of many people. I believe those of us who Can afford it should continue to support the organic process so hopefully prices will come down and be within reach for all people.

  9. It’s funny…I was just leaving to go to my local farmers’ market. Obesity is an epidemic and I believe an addiction. I’m not sure though that many of the obese would eat differently even if they had the bit of extra money it would take. (My husband won’t eat many of the healthy options I provide–he won’t eat bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. etc.–The ones he’ll eat are corn, green beans, broccoli, lima beans, and peas. He’ll eat squash and zucchini if there is a lot of cheese on it. He’s not overweight…well maybe 10 lbs., but we exercise a lot and he controls his portions (most of the time).) I think I’ll research what the cost difference truly is. Hope you’re having fun in Rwanda!

  10. I agree that something’s wrong with the way we eat in America.
    I agree that it’s “sad and disrespectful that most of us Americans are so utterly removed from the land, animals, and food we eat.”
    Did you see Jamie Oliver’s TV show where he dressed up as a carrot and went into a First Grade class (I think in Virginia?) to talk about vegetables and none of the kids could identify a single vegetable? Not even a carrot or a tomato!

    • I love Jamie Oliver! But boy, did he get his head handed to him when he went into West Virginia schools and tried to replace the tater tots and pizza FOR BREAKFAST with eggs and fruit. You can just imagine…. but we have to start somewhere!

  11. I’m looking at Rosie’s comment and astonished by it. I recall how years ago we lamented that kids had never visited farms and seen cows or sheep — but not knowing what a frikkin’ carrot looks like. Time to close all the McDonalds and their ilk.

    • I seriously do think that in ten years, those 3/4 pounders with bacon & cheese are going to be outlawed. And not a moment too soon — we can’t afford the way we’re eating with health costs to treat diabetes going through the roof. It’s just totally illogical.

  12. What a great post Betty. Thanks again for all you are sharing, what an amazing journey!

  13. Martha Radatz

    Amen, sister! I’m with you. Well said. Bravo! And what about genetic modification????

  14. This is such an interesting post. I read a book a while back called “Methland” which is basically about the methamphetamine epidemic in the “American heartland” and how small towns are affected by it. But one of the aspects it discusses in detail is the changes in farming in the US over the last decades, and how large scale farming has changed things dramatically for people trying to run smaller farming operations.

    We have a similar problem in South Africa with nutritious fruits and vegetables being very expensive. There are various vegetable garden projects here too, encouraging communities to grow vegetables themselves.

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