My ultimate goal is to work towards a National Food Policy, but I know that no such thing can endure the ever-changing political climate of our federal government when built upon the Washington method of lobbyists and vote-wrangling.
The best way to ensure a healthy food system is to start, literally, from the ground up. Local farms are small businesses who are often left out of conversations about the economy, but they are at the heart of community and sustainability. We should be increasing awareness of local farms in support of their role as providers, and supporting their efforts to bring healthy food to our schools, hospitals, and shelters.
One of the biggest challenges we face is the paradoxical dual threat of food insecurity and obesity. In this country, both urban and rural areas contain food deserts where residents don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, they rely on fast food chains and convenience store snacks. These areas are also likely to coincide with poverty, meaning these people don’t always have the money to buy fresh food even when they can reach it. Farm subsidies are heavily applied in favor of commodity crops, a substantial portion of which is used to make many of our highly processed foods. This subsidy scheme is one reason why a quick burger and fries or bag of chips is often cheaper than fresh food. The problem is complicated, but we can make progress by acknowledging the long-term consequences of spending our tax dollars on propping up food industry giants. We must strengthen the modes of local food distribution and preparation into low income areas to make sure that those who need assistance in obtaining food aren’t also limited to unhealthy food options.
Another way to correct the price imbalance in nutrition is to shift those subsidies from commodities to diversely producing farms, especially small, local farms. This will bring down the price of fresh food while supporting local economies. Taxing sugar-added foods like sodas and snacks will bring their price more closely in line with their true cost to society. We as a nation pay for the health problems caused by poor diet, so the foods that contribute to a poor diet should be valued at a price that considers these long-term effects. These two strategies combined will make fresh food the more affordable option.
Adjusting cost is only one approach to improving our food system. Education is also a key element, to let people know what nutrition is and why it matters, where they can find fresh, local food and how their buying choices affect their community, and how to prepare or purchase fresh food that is even more tasty and fulfilling than their processed alternatives. By bringing this campaign to the places people see the most – transportation hubs like bus stops and train stations, sidewalks, billboards, places usually occupied by advertisements for unhealthy foods – we can begin to change the conversation about value from calories-per-dollar to nutrition-per-dollar, and offer credit to those who are responsible for creating healthier eating options. Schools are especially important here, as we need to deliver this message to people as early and as often as possible. Allowing our kids to grow up in an environment that traces food to its source and that is supportive of the overall well-being of everyone is the best way to guarantee that our mission of a healthier food system can outlive political swings.
Only when communities take up the responsibility of caring for themselves as individuals and as small businesses can a National Food Policy survive on their shoulders. I’m looking for like-minded, dedicated and inspiring folks to join me in this mission. Collaboration is key, no one person can do this alone. Will you join me?