ColumnAmericans have a hard time accessing good food. Are we destined for bad health?
If there ever was a time to rethink our attitude towards food, it’s now.
We cook less, we eat more processed foods, and our health is failing because of it. Meanwhile, we’re so engrossed in reality cooking shows and obsessing over which three star chefs are opening new restaurants this year that we forget that the most important thing in the food world is that people simply have access to food. Real food. Good food.
Not potato chips in a convenience store, not a hamburger in a drive thru. No, people have to have access to whole grains and seasonal, fresh produce (that isn’t 99 percent toxic because of the pesticides sprayed on it), and if they don’t, Americans can only expect more of the same. More obesity. More heart disease. More cancer.
Because in the United States, we are literally eating ourselves to death. That Standard American Diet is referred to as SAD for a reason.
Oxfam recently published a study called Good Enough to Eat? which looked at the best and worst places in the world to eat well. No, it was not an assessment of how many local food co-ops served kombucha or whether or not there was a burgeoning food truck scene. The study consider four key factors:
1. Do people have enough to eat?
2. Can people afford to eat?
3. Is food of good quality?
4. What is the extent of unhealthy outcomes of people’s diet?
Can you guess where the United States ended up? Number 24.
People living in the Netherlands have the best chance to eat well, and right behind them are the French and the Swiss. The come Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Belgium.
Why does the U.S. rank so low?
In regards to the fourth metric of the study – health issues related to diet – Americans don’t do so well. Looking at obesity and diabetes rates, the U.S. ranks 120th out of 125 countries in terms of how eating influences our overall health.
And then there’s the question of economics. There’s plenty of cheap food in the U.S., but it’s highly processed. Fresh vegetables? Those are often more expensive. Result? A country that eats a lot, but at the same time is highly malnourished.
“Food is very, very cheap in the U.S. compared to most countries,” Max Lawson of Oxfam told The Salt in an interview. “But the fact is you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don’t have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price to make a balanced diet.”
We live in a modern, developed society and a large percentage of the population doesn’t even have access to fresh vegetables? Something is very wrong with this picture. And I won’t even go into the nutritional aspect of the produce that we do have access to – I recently read a pretty depressing statistic in Michal Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” that over the last few decades, the rise in industrial farming has basically lowered the amount of nutrients in the produce that we eat. We literally have to eat more vegetables to get the same nourishment that our grandparents did.
To say there’s an issue with the food system is an understatement. As Lawson puts it, “Basically, if you arrive from Mars and design a food system, you probably couldn’t design a worse one than what we have today on Earth. There is enough food overall in the world to feed everyone. But 900 million people still don’t have enough to eat, and 1 billion people are obese. It’s a crazy situation.”
Are we destined for bad health in the United States? If we want to eat better, we have to consciously choose to do so, seeking out the products and ingredients that aren’t simply food “products” but actual food. Real and good food. There are frozen muffin tops in the frozen section after all. Muffin tops.
But there are many people that don’t have the choice of better food, be it for economic or for access reasons, making it all the more important that we continue to push for change on this issue so that eventually, they do. Everyone should be able to go to a nearby grocery store and buy fresh vegetables.
The longer that we leave health in the hands of big business (like the french fry and muffin top producers of the world), the worse we can expect our health to become.
Buy real food and be a part of the solution.
This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Alex Cameron