Food for Thought—and Action
What You Can Do
to Ensure Healthy Food, Healthy Communities, and a Healthy Environment
Facing Reality: Food is Political
Be the Change: We Are What We Eat
DIY: Grow Your Own
Surpluses & Scarcity: Feed the Hungry
Make It Happen: Agitate, Educate, Organize!
Keep Learning: Further Resources
Facing Reality: Food is Political
i “The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat” (Jules Pretty).
i “Food, the weak link that brought down earlier civilizations, is the sector most affected by [and that most affects] climate change. And it could bring our own civilization down if we stay with business as usual” (Lester Brown).
i Food consumption is based on a variety of factors, including: availability, convenience, familiarity, cost, comfort, feeling, taste and texture, status and lifestyle, health and nutrition, packing and appearance, social justice, origin, chemicals, ecological impact, and opportunity cost.
i About 35 - 50 million people are “food insecure” (that is, hungry) in the U.S. (and about a billion people worldwide).
i There is approximately 830 million acres of crop and pasture land in the U.S. About 2900 acres of farmland are lost per day due to so-called development. The U.S. has about 2 million farmers with an average age of about 55.
i Control of food (for humans and other animals) is monopolistically concentrated in a very small number of agri-business industrial mega-corporate conglomerates (e.g., production: Cargill, ConAgra, ADM, Monsanto, BASF, Aventis, Syngenta; and retail: Nestle, Altria/Philip Morris (Kraft/Nabisco/General Foods), General Mills, McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Tyson, Wal-Mart). (www.oligopolywatch.com/2003/12/17.html)
i McDonaldization, Coca-Colonization, and Wal-Martization, as forms of economic globalization, are powerful forces influencing food production, distribution, and consumption and therefore health and lack thereof and the environment.
i Most Americans get most of their information about food from corporate advertisements. Americans are exposed to about 10,000 food messages per year.
i An average American consumes about 2,200 pounds (1.1 tons) of food a year, translating into 3,747 calories per day, which is 1,200 to 1,700 calories more than what is recommended; about 1/3 of those 3,747 calories comes from junk food. Average Americans eat 260 pounds, often more than their body weight, of meat per year.
i Thousands of U.S. schools have contracts with fast food and junk food corporations to sell or serve their unhealthy products to the captive audience of students.
i Over 95% of wheat flour eaten in the U.S. is white flour, yet the process of refining whole wheat into white flour creates a substantial loss of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while using valuable energy.
i The U.S. generates 26 million tons of food waste each year; Americans waste about 14% of the food they buy and more is wasted by growers, producers, distributors, retailers, hotels, and restaurants.
i There is much more than enough food to feed the U.S. and the world: The world has 6.7 billion people, yet we produce enough food for about 12 billion, while we allow nearly a billion people to go hungry.
i Maldistribution of food and other necessary resources occurs at all levels—global, continental, national, regional, local, and even familial.
i Corn is, by far, the most subsidized U.S. crop (meat and sugar are also subsidized), receiving billions of dollars; corn is used for livestock food, human food, exports, ethanol, plastics, sweeteners and sugars including corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, oil and margarine, vegetable shortening, corn starch and other food starches, acids, MSG, caramel, glycerides, dextrose, dextrin, sorbitol, xanthan gum, and more.
i Up to 3/4 of major food crops (e.g., corn, wheat, soy, alfalfa, oats) in the U.S. are inefficiently fed to livestock, who are cruelly treated as objectified units of production.
i Certain important food crops (especially corn and soy) are increasingly, inefficiently, and immorally being used as bio-fuel, leading to higher prices and more hunger, while better and non-food alternatives exist (sugarcane, switch grass, hemp, algae, and other cellulosic plants).
i Factory farms produce nearly all the meat sold in the U.S., while producing a tremendous amount of waste. Only four corporations control about 80% of all beef sold in the U.S.
i Hunger is leading to malnutrition, disease, missed learning and lost productivity, and other forms of suffering. Hunger is not inevitable, is avoidable, and can be eliminated.
i Obesity is associated with heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, higher health care costs and lost productivity, and other forms of suffering. Obesity is not inevitable, is avoidable, and can be eliminated.
i A world of hunger alongside a world of obesity, each with their own attendant health crises, is a combined example of misnutrition.
i Over 2/3 of Americans are now considered overweight or obese, up from 1/3 in 1991 and 1/4 in 1980. This “nutrition transition”, in which more people are over-consuming calories than under-consuming them, is becoming a global trend: for example, about 28% of Chinese, 40% of Brazilians, 60% of Egyptians, 70% of Mexicans, and more than half of South Africans are overweight or obese and the trend is increasing. (www.nutrans.org)
i When fad diets appear to work, it is because they restrict calories, along with whatever else they do, and people almost always gain the weight back because they no longer keep restricting calories. Up to 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 5 years. Americans annually spend $30 billion fighting fat and are mostly losing the fight. (www.tinyurl.com/2llhdn and www.tinyurl.com/3cj5bf)
i The average food item in the U.S. travels 1500 miles from producer to consumer.
i Typically, Americans get over 90% of their food-crop calories from only a dozen species: one each of corn, soy, wheat, oats, rice, potato, tomato, lettuce, bananas, coffee, chocolate, and sugar. Poor people in the U.S., but especially in poorer countries, enjoy an even smaller number of species for nearly all of their caloric intake.
i We are losing genetic and cultural diversity: “Over 90% of U.S. vegetables have become extinct in the last century.”
i An overwhelming amount of our food and other crops is grown with chemicals and petroleum products, including synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics.
i All European Union countries require strict labeling of genetically modified foods. In the U.S., there is no labeling requirement and about 70% of processed food products contain genetically modified ingredients (produced mainly by Monsanto, but also Cargill, ADM, and Syngenta). More than two-thirds of genetically-modified crops (knows as GM, GE, or GMOs) are grown in the US (and more than a fifth in Argentina) (www.cqs.com/50harm.htm). A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows the patenting of life forms for commercial purposes. According to Bioneers (www.bioneers.org), “The biotech industry hasn’t published a single article in a peer reviewed journal or anywhere else on the safety of genetically engineered foods.”
i The USDA has $128 billion in assets, spends $77 billion annually plus makes $100 billion in loans, plus issues loan guarantees and crop insurance, and has 100,000 employees in 14,000 offices and field locations.
i The food industry annually spends $25 billion on marketing (Philip Morris spends about $2 billion and McDonald’s $1 billion per year?). Perhaps one thousandth of that amount, or less, is spent promoting fruit and vegetables.
i Americans spend about $821 billion each year on food.
i Americans spend about $134 billion on fast food, one out of every six dollars spent on food, which is more than on higher education, computers, or new cars.
i The annual cost of food-borne illness in the U.S. is about $152 billion.
i About 90% of Americans spend about 90% of their food budget on processed food.
i In 2007, people spent $22.4 billion on dietary supplements (up from $14 billion in 1999). www.organicconsumers.org/nutricon.cfm
i Americans spend $40 billion per year on their pets, $16 billion of which is on pet food
i There are over four times as many fast food outlets and convenience stores in the U.S. than there are supermarkets and produce vendors.
i It is not only healthier to snack on fruits and vegetables instead of junk foods, but it is also cheaper and better for the environment.
i Coffee, grown exclusively in tropical countries, is one of the most valuable legal global commodities (after oil and copper, and after some illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana).
i Americans purchased 8.3 billion gallons of bottled water in 2006, spending $11 billion. Besides the 16 million barrels of oil used for this, it takes two or three times as much water to make the containers as is bottled.
i Soda is one of the largest sources of dietary calories in the U.S.
i Sodas (“liquid candy”) are typically too sweet, too acidic, and may contain cancer-causing benzene and calcium-leeching phosphoric acid; the drink itself is usually the least expensive component of the product.
i Chocolate is a $15 billion industry in the US (about 70% is milk chocolate), dominated by just a few corporations (Hershey, M&M/Mars, and Nestle). About 3/4 of cocoa is grown on farms in West Africa, where poverty is rampant and many cases of child slavery are reported. (www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12754 and www.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm).
i What we eat, how it is produced, and where it comes from has personal, social, political, economic, and environmental implications.
i “Hazards in food cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year” (www.cspinet.org/foodsafety).
i Threats of agricultural terrorism are “exacerbated by structural features of U.S. agriculture”, including “low genetic diversity of plants and animals, extensive monoculture, and highly concentrated animal husbandry” (Mark Wheelis et al.) (www.fas.org/bwc/agr/agwhole.htm).
i “Food is an agricultural act” (Wendell Berry).
i Food can and should be delicious, healthy, plentiful, diverse, safe, and sustainable.
Be the Change: We Are What We Eat
i Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” He continues: “the best decisions for your health turn out to be the best decisions for the farmer and the best decisions for the environment”, as well as the best decisions for the animals and the rights and beauty of the natural world.
i Minimize “mindless eating” (www.mindlesseating.org), eat slower, and enjoy growing, buying, preparing, cooking, sharing, and eating food for a more enjoyable life (www.slowfood.com or www.slowfoodusa.org).
i Eat more regionally-grown food and fewer faraway foods for freshness, seasonality, better nutrition, sustainability, and to keep it local (www.eatlocal.net, www.100milediet.org, www.locavores.com, www.eatwellguide.org); likewise with water (www.allaboutwater.org and www.foodandwaterwatch.org).
i Eat a plant-based diet with little or no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy for your health, for public health, for the animals, for our environment, and for social justice (www.brook.com/veg).
i Shop at Farmers’ Markets, join Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs (www.foodroutes.org), and go to food co-ops (www.localharvest.org and www.sustainabletable.org/shop) for freshness, for health, for our environment, to make social connections, and to support local farmers, organizations, and businesses.
i Purchase more fair-trade foods (www.transfairusa.org) to support workers, communities, and social justice.
i Minimize processed products, junk food, typical fast food, empty calories, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), MSG, artificial additives, sweeteners, preservatives, flavorings, dyes, and other unhealthy and unnecessary “foods” and “food products” (www.eatbettermovemore.org).
i Avoid genetically-engineered organisms (sometimes called genetically-modified, bio-engineered, or “frankenfoods” aka GE, GM, or GMO) for personal and public health and safety (www.cqs.com/50harm.htm, www.centerforfoodsafety.org/geneticall7.cfm, www.thecampaign.org, and www.sustainabletable.org/issues/ge).
i Refrain from over-eating, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. (www.pcrm.org).
i Avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, excess salt and sugar, chemicals, hormones, and anti-biotics for better health (www.cspinet.org/nutritionpolicy/nutrition_policy.html).
i Increase your food diversity, eating more species of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds, including heirloom varieties, to maximize nutrition, health, and biodiversity (www.research.amnh.org/biodiversity/center/living/Food/index.html).
i Eat lower on the food chain. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that what we eat is actually more important for global warming and the environment that what we drive (www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448 and www.dissidentvoice.org/2007/05/the-warming-globe-and-us). A 2009 World Watch article updates the UN study, concluding that the livestock industry is responsible for 51% – a majority – of greenhouse gases (51percent.org).
i Quit smoking for your health, everyone else’s health, your pets’ health, for the forests, the environment, and to free up fertile land for productive use (brook.com/smoke).
i Incorporate exercise into your daily life for maximum mental and physical health (www.preventioninstitute.org/nutrition.html).
i Encourage stores, markets, restaurants, schools, clubs and organizations, offices, hospitals, religious institutions, prisons, military bases, governments, friends, family, chefs, and others to buy, sell, and offer more fresh, local, organic, fair trade, and vegetarian foods and to avoid ingredients and foods that are detrimental to the health of individuals, communities, animals, and the environment.
DIY: Grow Your Own
i Plant a home garden, a Victory Garden, an herb box, and/or help others start and grow gardens.
i Plant a fruit tree and/or support the planting of fruit trees around the world (www.ftpf.org).
i Join or start a community or municipal garden (www.communitygarden.org/starting.php).
i Become a modern Johnny Appleseed (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed).
i Turn lawns into a gardens and farms (www.foodnotlawns.net).
i Transform unused land, a parking or vacant lot, or a lawn or strip of land into a farm or garden (www.spiralgardens.org and www.guerrillagardening.org). Guerrilla gardening has been called “the most beautiful crime in human history”.
i Encourage those with gardens to plant completely or mostly edible crops.
i Engage in permaculture (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture).
i Learn about and experiment with “green roofing” (www.greenroofs.com).
i Learn about foraging for food (e.g., finding wild food, reclaiming surplus or wasted food, practicing freeganism).
Surpluses & Scarcity: Feed the Hungry
i Volunteer at a local food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen, Second Harvest food bank (www.secondharvest.org), homeless or women’s shelter, Food Not Bombs group (www.foodnotbombs.net), or a meals-on-wheels home-delivery service (www.mowaa.org).
i Gather food and donate to programs and organizations that feed the hungry and help people and organizations become more self-reliant.
i Grow food to donate to a food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen, or Food Not Bombs (www.foodnotbombs.net), or share with neighbors, friends, family, and others.
i Learn new words and donate food for free at the same time (www.freerice.com).
i Work with your school and other institutions to improve meal programs so that they offer more fresh, local, organic, healthy, vegetarian foods for all students and the campus community (www.peoplesgrocery.org).
i Support expansion and improvement of the Food Stamp, WIC, school meals, and other food-support programs, including foreign food aid and food sustainability programs to decrease hunger. Work to de-commodify food, so that it is not solely produced and sold for profit.
i Promote good nutrition, personal and public health, sustainability, and public participation.
i Work to end hunger (which can lead to malnutrition, anxiety, pain, ethnic tensions, violence, warfare, and starvation).
Make It Happen: Agitate, Educate, Organize!
i Learn (and teach) as much as you can about agriculture, permaculture, food, nutrition, hunger, ecology, and social solutions (start with “12 Myths About Hunger” at www.foodfirst.org/12myths and “You Can’t Eat Gasoline” at www.doublestandards.org/peter1.html).
i Learn (and teach) as much as you can about food growth and distribution systems (locally, regionally, nationally, and globally).
i Bring Fruit Tree 101 to your outdoor classroom (www.ftpf.org).
i “Food is at the apex of our social, environmental, and economic health. Every time we eat something, we are voting” (Matt Amsden).
i Join or form a group, organization, club, or policy council working on food-related issues.
i Talk to friends and others about food, wild plants, flowers, herbs, nutrition, health, bio-remediation, permaculture, agricultural & environmental issues.
i Work with others to start or expand a campus or community farm (www.farmtocollege.org).
i Work with others to start or expand local compost and recycling systems.
i Work with others to conduct community food and health assessments.
i Work with others to conduct nutrition awareness and anti-hunger programs.
i Encourage farm-to-cafeteria initiatives in schools (www.farmtoschool.org), businesses, government offices, unions, congregations, prisons, food courts, hotels, military bases, and other organizations and institutions.
i Keep food issues on the agenda and in the public consciousness (e.g., social network with friends, write letters to editors and politicians, post on blogs and other web pages, call talk radio shows, speak up in group settings, forward to friends and others, conduct research and write papers, share this info).
i Encourage organic agriculture for better health, nutrition, productivity, and sustainability (www.monbiot.com/archives/2000/08/24/organic-farming-will-feed-the-world).
i Fight against factory farming (aka CAFOs) (www.factoryfarming.org).
i Redirect a portion of the bloated U.S. military budget (currently over half the entire world’s military budget) and wasteful corporate welfare (more than what’s spent on welfare for the poor) toward poverty-reduction, hunger-eradication, universal healthcare, nutrition education, and agricultural-sustainability programs.
i Support a Strategic Grain Reserve as a complement to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (www.fao.org/docrep/W4979E/W4979E00.htm).
i Advocate and vote for expanding food assistance and other safety net programs, fairer trade and agricultural policies, higher minimum wages and living-wage jobs, green careers, affordable housing, expanded education, universal healthcare, extended mass transportation, community economic development, community gardens, green roofing, revitalized neighborhoods, decentralized renewable energy, and increased democracy.
i Demand food democracy and support greater self-sufficiency.
i Live your values, “walk the talk”, eat, drink, and enjoy!
Keep Learning: Further Resources
Books (check your library or local bookstore): Ken Albala, Beans; A. Beardsworth, Sociology on the Menu (1997); Harvey Blatt, America’s Food (2008); Harriet Brown, ed., Feed Me!; Melissa Caldwell, The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating (2005); Judy McCoy Carman, Peace to All Beings (2003); C. David Coats, Old McDonald’s (Factory) Farm; CCPHA, Searching for Healthy Food (2007); Sophie and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate (2000); Christopher Cook, Diet for a Dead Planet (2006); Wendy Cook, Foodwise (2003); Ann Cooper, Bitter Harvest (2000); Richard Franke & Barbara Chasin, Seeds of Famine (1980); Carole Counihan, Food and Culture (1997) and Food in the USA (2002); Greg Critser, Fat Land (2004); Karen Davis, More Than a Meal (2001); Gail Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse (2006); Steve Ettlinger, Twinkie, Deconstructed (2007); Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Near a Thousand Tables (2003); H.C. Flores, Food Not Lawns; Robert Foster, Coca-Globalization; Michael Jacobson, Six Arguments for a Greener Diet (2006); John Germov and Lauren Williams, A Sociology of Food and Nutrition (2004); Marvin Harris, Good to Eat (1998); Brian Halwell, Eat Here; Andrew Heitzman & Evan Solomon, Feeding the Future; Amanda Hesser, Eat, Memory (2008); Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved (2007); Andrew Kimbrell, Fatal Harvest (2002) and The Fatal Harvest Reader (2002); Mark Kurlansky, Salt (2002); Frances Moore Lappé et al., World Hunger: 12 Myths (1998) and Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge (2002); Harvey Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty (2003) and Revolution at the Table (2003); Sylvia Lovegren, Fashionable Food (2005); Richard Manning, Against the Grain (2005); Ken Midkiff, The Meat You Eat (2004); Marion Nestle, Food Politics (2003), Safe Food (2004), and What to Eat (2006); Erik Marcus, Meat Market (2005); Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power (1986) and Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom (1997); Moby & Miyun Park, eds., Gristle (2010); Fabio Parasecoli, Bite Me (2008); Russ Parsons, How to Read a French Fry (2001) and How to Pick a Peach (2007); Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved; Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and In Defense of Eating (2008); Barry Popkin, The World Is Fat; Peter Pringle, Food, Inc. (2005); Leon Rappoport, How We Eat (2003); George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (1996); John Robbins, Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution; Ken Roseboro, Genetically Altered Foods and Your Health; Peter Rosset, Food Is Different; Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (2005); Eric Schlosser & Charles Wilson, Chew On This (2006); Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (2000); Michele Simon, Appetite for Profit (2006); Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (c.1905); Peter Singer & Jim Mason, The Way We Eat; Alisa Smith & James MacKinnon, Plenty; Jeffrey Smith, Seeds of Deception; Alan Snitnow et al., Thirst (2007); Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me; Tim Stark, Heirloom; Reay Tannahill, Food in History (1995); Will Tuttle, The World Peace Diet (2005); Ann Vileisis, Kitchen Literacy (2008); Margaret Visser, Much Depends on Dinner (1999); Tina Volpe, The Fast Food Craze (2005); Murray Waldman & Marjorie Lamb, Dying for a Hamburger; Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating (2006); William Whit, Food and Society (1995); Larry Zuckerman, The Potato (1999).
Films: A Delicate Balance (2009); All Jacked Up; Backwards Hamburger (2006); Banana Split (2002, 47m); Beyond Organic (2000, 33m); Black Gold (2006, 78m); Broken Limbs (2004, 57m); The Cappuccino Trail; Chew on This; Compassion Over Killing’s 30-second ads; Deconstructing Supper (2002, 48m); Diet for a New America (1991, 60m); Diet for a Small Planet (1974, 28m); Eating (3rd ed.); The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals; Farming the Sea (2004, 60m); Fast Food Nation (2006, 116m); Food (2000, 49m); Food for Thought; Fragile Harvest (1987, 49m); Fresh (2009); Food, Inc. (2009); The Future of Food (1990, 28m); Garden Song (1980, 28m); Global Gardener (1996, 112m); The Greening of Cuba; Hungry for Profit; King Corn (2007); Mad Cowboy; McLibel (2005, 85m); Meat (1976, 113m); The Meat with No Bone; Meatless (2010); Meet Your Meat; The Meatrix (Parts 1 (2003, 4m), 2, and 2 ½); My Father’s Garden (1995, 56m); Our Daily Bread (1934, 80-90m); Peaceable Kingdom (2004, 70m); Processed People (2008); The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005, 82m); Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Sorrow (1994, 52m); Silent Killer (2005, 57m); Sowing for Need or Sowing for Greed? (1990, 56m); Super Size Me (2004, 100m); Thirst (2004); Unnatural Selection; We Feed the World; What Color is Your Steak? (2007); What’s On Your Plate (2007); When the Cows Come Home (2004, 23m); World According to Monsanto (2008).
% Inspired by Community Food Security Coalition. There is more information, with many organizations listed and linked, at www.foodsecurity.org/links.html and Eco-Eating at www.brook.com/veg. Food is a four-letter word!
© DB. Dan Brook, Ph.D., is a writer, poet, photographer, speaker, activist, healthy eater, and freelance instructor of sociology and political science. He welcomes comments, questions, constructive criticism, and any other contributions, whether monetary or otherwise, via firstname.lastname@example.org. Please distribute freely for non-profit purposes only. All rights reserved.