- Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front, by Joel Salatin
- All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?, by Joel Berg
- Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, by Carlo Petrini
- The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society, by Janet A. Flammang
Food in America has been more or less invisible, politically speaking, until very recently. However, according to Pollan, writing in AlterNet, these books show that:
"... Food is invisible no longer and, in light of the mounting costs we've incurred by ignoring it, it is likely to demand much more of our attention in the future, as eaters, parents, and citizens. It is only a matter of time before politicians seize on the power of the food issue, which besides being increasingly urgent is also almost primal, indeed is in some deep sense proto-political."
The food system in the United States is in desperate need of an overhaul, and with resources like Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin and others -- who are either getting the word out through books and the media or are working right in the field to grow food according to the laws of nature -- the tide may finally begin to turn.
At the forefront of any revolution is knowledge, and that is the stage many are at right now with regard to the food system. Finally, many are realizing that the bulk of the packaged, processed foods found in supermarkets are not real "food" at all, but conglomerations of excessive subsidized farm crops and chemicals manipulated to taste and look edible.
In many parts of the United States, the small farmers who once prided themselves on supplying wholesome foods to neighboring towns have long since closed their doors, replaced by giant CAFOs -- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations -- and expansive fields of genetically modified corn, soy, cotton and canola.
Why are these crops making up the majority of U.S. farmland? U.S. food subsidies are grossly skewed, creating a diet excessively high in factory-farmed "corn-fed" meats, grains and sugars, with very little fresh fruits and vegetables or healthful fats from nuts and seeds.
U.S. Government Subsidizes Junk Food
The food crops currently subsidized are corn, soy, wheat and rice. With these crops making up the bulk of the harvest, what do you end up with?
A fast food diet!
If growers of subsidized fresh vegetables were in a clear majority, you might start to see some fine advertising campaigns promoting the consumption of those veggies …
Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture is deeply entrenched with agribusiness, and current legislations protect the profits of these large industries at the expense of public health.
In fact, the agriculture lobby is more powerful than even the pharmaceutical industry! You don't hear about it as often, but the ramifications of their political influence are just as hazardous to your health as that of Big Pharma.
As this recent New York Times article states, "Thanks to lobbying, Congress chooses to subsidize foods that we're supposed to eat less of."
Is Food Reform on a Political Level Realistic?
Real reform on a political level is a long way off, but as Michael Pollan points out in The New York Review of Books article linked above, even on a national level there are small signs of change apparent. For instance, environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group are attacking the food system for its massive environmental pollution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that 75 percent of U.S. health care spending is for the treatment of chronic diseases, most of which are preventable through healthier eating. Even Michelle Obama told the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a prominent food industry trade group:
"We need you not just to tweak around the edges but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children."
These are admittedly small ripples in an ocean overrun with agribusiness scruples. As Pollan wrote:
" … industry-friendly appointments suggest that while the administration may be sympathetic to elements of the food movement's agenda, it isn't about to take on agribusiness, at least not directly, at least until it senses at its back a much larger constituency for reform."
Yet as Pollan also explains, our food policy reaches VERY deep into our everyday lives -- from the rise of diabetes all the way to our national security. Unless the food policy is addressed and corrected, little progress will be made to improve the current health care crisis, increase our energy independence, and reduce the negative impact on our environment and climate.
It is ALL connected and at the root of the problem lies the broken U.S. food system.
Beyond Policy: A Return to a Food-Centered Culture
Moving beyond Washington, there is much more to the food movement than the passage of new laws and regulations. What is attracting many to the myriad of "food movements" out there -- the locavores, the foodies, the supporters of the slow food movement -- is a love for real, pure food -- and the community it builds along with it.
For those looking to enhance their health and remove themselves, at least partially, from the corporative society in which we live, there is no better starting point than food.
"It makes sense that food and farming should become a locus of attention for Americans disenchanted with consumer capitalism. Food is the place in daily life where corporatization can be most vividly felt: think about the homogenization of taste and experience represented by fast food.
By the same token, food offers us one of the shortest, most appealing paths out of the corporate labyrinth, and into the sheer diversity of local flavors, varieties, and characters on offer at the farmers' market."
Nowadays, 90 percent of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods, a relatively new phenomenon. It has only been in the last several decades that the concept of "food" expanded from meat, vegetables, raw dairy products, fruit and other such natural items to include the highly processed, preserved, artificially flavored and often brightly colored concoctions that now exist in supermarkets.
Sadly, this quasi "food" really caught on, but the good news is that when you hear the term "what's old is new," it can now be applied to food. That is, increasing numbers of people are reverting BACK to the ways of our ancestors, and choosing to purchase food directly from local farmers, and cook it using slow, traditional methods.
For instance, after declining for more than a century, the number of U.S. small farms has increased 20 percent in the past six years. This is in large part a result of the growing demand for higher quality, pure and fresh locally grown foods, which is slowly but surely shaping the business of food in the United States.
Ready to Join the Food Revolution?
With nearly 7 out of 10 Americans being overweight, and 1 in 4 being affected with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the American diet is clearly in dire need of a radical overhaul. Drugs won't fix these dismal health statistics. Only a return to sane, healthy eating habits will.
If you still have not taken a long, hard look at your diet, I urge you to evaluate what you're really feeding yourself and your family on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, many people simply don't know how to cook with fresh ingredients anymore. That's how far we've strayed from our roots. British chef, Jamie Oliver, has realized this travesty and has launched a campaign to teach Americans how to cook again.
Most chefs teach you how to switch up the flavor. Oliver teaches basic skills to save your life -- cooking is that important!
I've said this for many years, and it's worth repeating many times over because it's one of the main solutions to the health hurdles facing much of the United States -- you've got to prepare your food at home!
I also encourage you to support the small family farms in your area. You'll receive nutritious food from a source that you can trust, and you'll not only be supporting the health of your own family but the health of your entire community.
A great Web site to check out along the way is www.localharvest.org. There you can find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other healthy goodies.
Try as they may, industry lobbyists still cannot force you to buy junk foods and foods raised in unhealthy "agribusiness" conditions. The choice is entirely yours, and consumer demand will always win eventually, so the more you demand healthy, unadulterated foods, the more they must produce, one way or another.
Further, knowledge truly is power, and the more people become informed, the faster it will prompt real change to come about. Several wonderful movies that will give you an excellent overview of the problems with modern agriculture and the need for a food revolution, which I highly recommend you watch and share with your friends and family, are:
- Food, Inc.
- The Future of Food
- Food Matters
- Fast Food Nation
- The World According To Monsanto