I’m catching up on my reading and have just gotten to the special 2009 issue of the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition on food systems and public health. If you – like most public health people – don’t usually think of agriculture as a major factor in health status, the papers in this journal will come as a revelation. They demonstrate tight links between agriculture and public health issuees such as childhood obesity, food safety, and environmental health. Best, they are downloadable at no cost, which means they can be easily shared with students. I will use them in my food policy class next fall.
Currently browsing posts about: Food-systems
This week’s must read: Time Magazine on what’s wrong with industrial food production systems and all the good things lots of people are doing to make it better.
August 26 update: The American Meat Institute didn’t like the article much:
It’s dumbfounding that Time magazine would take one of the great American success stories — the efficient agricultural production of an abundant variety of healthy, safe and affordable foods for consumers in the U.S. and throughout the world — and turn it into an unrecognizable story of exploitation, manipulation and greed.
I’m just back from a long trip to Alaska where I gave a talk at the University of Fairbanks. Fairbanks, in central Alaska, is 200 miles from the Arctic Circle and has a short growing season from the end of May to the beginning of September, but those few weeks are brightly lit. The sun set at midnight in mid-July and it never really got dark.
As for the food revolution, it is booming. Even the local Safeway has gotten into locally grown foods, although not always accurately. When I saw the pineapples, I asked what “locally grown” meant. Somewhere in Alaska. Oh. But Safeway really does have locally grown food, mostly cabbages and root vegetables. Where were they grown? Someplace around here.
I saw vegetables growing everywhere, even in small urban spaces such as the entryway to the hotel where I was staying. The long daylight makes for big vegetables and this plot sported a two-foot long zucchini. Alas, it had disappeared by the time I got back to photograph it.
And yes, Fairbanks has a farmers’ market, and it was in full swing.
Calypso Farms has a terrific garden program in five schools in the area.
And here a few first-time tourist remarks:
Where is the most entertaining food? That had to be at Bigun’s Crab Shack in Skagway. Bigun is the chef, spelled that way, not Big-‘un (He’s the one that didn’t get away, according to his mom). What Cajun cooking is doing in Skagway is beyond me but it was wonderful to have it on a hot summer day.
And what was the best off-beat museum? It has nothing to do with food, alas, but I still vote for the Hammer Museum in Haines. Not to be missed.
When it comes to food, defining “healthy” is a major preoccupation of food companies these days. Marketers are falling all over each other trying to label food products with numbers or symbols to convince you that their products are better-for-you choices. These, as I keep saying (see posts under “Scoring systems”), are about marketing, not health.
Now, the Strategic Alliance, the component of the Oakland-based Prevention Institute devoted to “promoting healthy food and activity environments,” has produced a working definition of a healthful food. Its report, Setting the Record Straight: Nutritionists Define Healthful Food, applies three principles: Healthful food should be (1) wholesome, (2) produced in ways that are good for people, animals, and natural resources, and (3) available, accessible, and affordable.
This is a food system definition that makes scoring systems unnecessary. “Wholesome,” says this document, means foods that are minimally processed, full of naturally occurring nutrients, produced without added hormones or antibiotics, and processed without artificial colors, flavors, or unnecessary preservatives.
I wonder how many of those highly processed products in supermarket center aisles can meet this definition?
It’s been a big week for food politics in my local newspaper. First, the Obama’s new garden (see earlier post) and now Andy Martin’s recap of the events leading to the current push for a healthier and more sustainable food system. This starts on the front page of the Business section (note photo) and continues on to a full page on the inside. And in the Week in Review, Mark Bittman writes about the organic revolution. Full disclosure: I’m quoted in both.
I talked my way into a press screening of Food, Inc. last night. Good thing. This film is the riveting documentary directed by Robert Kenner due for release soon but already generating lots of buzz, and for good reason. It’s a terrific introduction to the way our food system works and to the effects of this system on the health of anyone who eats as well as of farm workers, farm animals, and the planet. It stars Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, among others, but I was especially moved by Barbara Kowalcyk, the eloquent and forceful food safety advocate who lost a young son to E. coli O17:H7 some years ago. I can’t wait for the film to come out so everyone can see it. I will use it in classes, not least because it’s such an inspiring call to action. Here’s the trailer.
The government of Great Britain has produced a major report on the need for healthier food systems, meaning the effects of current trends in food production and consumption on health, society, food safety, and the environment. It will be interesting to see if they do anything with it. I wish we could do things like this. Maybe soon?
Thanks to Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project for advice to check out the web pages of Professor Phil Howard at Michigan State University. Professor Howard, who I do not know but can’t wait to meet, has put together some terrific cartoons of how food systems work. Examples: who owns what in organic foods and the chain of distribution of spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in 2006. This last is especially useful, given the sharp increase in foodborne illnesses due to leafy greens. I fully intend to plagiarize.