An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 6: Diet, Food Environments, and Food Access

Here are my notes from Week 6, the final week of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. This week wrapped things up by discussing the final stop on the food production highway: who is eating the food, and what food they are eating. How can we get good food to more people, and use food to improve people’s lives in ways other than nutritionally? Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5. This course was an excellent introduction to food systems and policy, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about those topics.

‘Continue to ask yourself, “where did this food come from?”‘

Lecture: Advocacy for Better Health and a Smaller Footprint: The Meatless Monday Campaign

The Science

  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes–most US deaths caused by those, by far. Sat fat and cholesterol are factors in all 4 of those
  • Meatless Monday: We eat 15% more fat and cholesterol that we should = 1 day a week. Hoover had a Meatless Monday originally, because of insufficient product.
  • Many different reasons to eat less meat:
    • Health, health care crises
      • Studies show shifting protein sources away from red meat reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
    • Environment concerns, climate change
      • Livestock production contributes 18% of all greenhouse gases globally
    • Health and ethical concerns around industrial animal production

The Marketing

  • Monday is natural because it’s the start of a new week, and people tend to live it up over the weekend, so Monday is a day of resolution. Fresh start, reset cycle. Most people in study said a healthy change on Monday would help them sustain healthy habits for the rest of the week
  • Keep it simple, doable, memorable (alliteration), grassroots (not a brand, anyone can use it as they wish)
  • Provide consumers recipes for meatless meals on the website. Make it easy for people to follow, understand
  • Some pushback from consumers, since it’s a campaign to deprive people of something
  • Working to expand reach and visibility, send positive message
  • Allies: veggie burger companies, low-fat companies. Media, promotional dollars create interest
  • Meat industry reaction: not happy! Putting pressure on institutions (school systems) to NOT do Meatless Monday, but their argument is not compelling, but the controversy generates awareness for the MM campaign
  • Celebrities talking about it, chefs including it in weekly menus=huge outreach
  • Next for Meatless Monday: shift focus from individuals to institutions. Provide tools to organizations, get more media coverage. School districts and colleges are important targets, to teach kids and fight childhood obesity. Corporate cafeterias. Sodexo, biggest institutional meal-provider, developing menus and promotional/educational materials. Stores, restaurants too.

Expanding to Healthy Monday

  • Healthy Monday–more than just meatless–fitness, healthy lifestyle program, quit smoking, etc. Get other medical center communities in on it
  • “The day all health breaks loose” slogan
  • Kids Cook Monday: get families to cook and eat together
  • Worksite Wellness pilot programs underway: eating, health screenings, activity. Promote health and wellness, help organizations design programs
  • Campus Wellness programs: at over 20 college campuses
  • Implement Community Wellness programs
  • National Cancer Institute: Smokefree Monday
  • Monday 2000: calorie consumption awareness

Lecture: Moving Toward a Better Food System

A Canadian perspective

Community food systems, business, and the green economy: The role of food policy councils and nonprofits

  • The food movement’s themes are bigger: policy, social enterprise, non-profit sector, public notions of good health
  • Toronto Food Policy: We live in a world of plenty, and our problems stem from not being able to manage abundance.
    • Food charter: based on “backcasting”: Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Where do we start today to get there?
    • The city is in the food business, and citizens have the right to food
  • Food is the largest:
    • Source of pollution
    • Land user
    • Occupational group
    • Employer of child labor
    • Source of poverty
    • etc in the WORLD
  • Food impacts health, economics, environment–everything. It is a public policy issue, not just a consumer issue.
  • Paid staff is necessary, can’t just be volunteers. Keep staff small, encourage civic activism, work with universities, create work-study options.

Functions of a food policy council

  • Issue management for policy innovation. Take a raw concept and test it out, create a pilot program, see if it’s practical, make a policy change.
  • Find common ground.
    • Food is not a zero-tolerance issue (like drinking and driving, sexual harassment, etc). Can change it a little at a time.
    • Many styles. Don’t force a style suitable to another movement to this one.
  • Serve as a catalyst. Help other groups learn to create their own policies, bringing people together to solve their problems.
  • Advocacy. Get out and promote new ideas.
  • Coordinate. Education, getting groups together
  • Support things. Provide support to make things happen.
  • Innovate. Do something with unused capacity.
  • Take a multicultural approach.
  • Don’t take on implementation–create the policy and pass off the implementation part.

Why the food movement is spreading

  • People want to make a difference. “Yes, we can!”
  • We need a way to make sure important issues don’t fall between the cracks
    • Ex: food and water departments aren’t together in City Hall
  • Connections to everything
    • Public health has many side effects. Need to think bigger than the problem and look at the whole system
    • Food links everything together.
  • Food has multiple entry points
    • Form a community around food
    • Everyone eats, at every age and every income level
  • Solving food problems solves other urban problems
    • Ex: reducing miles driven by people getting to grocery store. Widen, repair roads vs using money to make those trips unnecessary by supporting corner stores, farmers markets.
    • Food is the anchor of main streets. Use food to build streetscapes, required for public transit–to engage people. Create living streets with shops and coffeeshops and street vendors and streetcars. Get people to walk and linger. So food is part of preparing a town for public transit
  • Food helps convert unused space to green space
    • Beautify city with edible landscaping. Plant in vacant space, make urban garden, teach young people, inspire community.
    • Unused urban space used for food: green roofs, urban gardens, goat grazing. Bring nature into city–good for people.
  • Help cities build resilience. Resources are becoming scarce–oil, water. Food issues will be a training ground to help build resilience.
  • Food waste as a tool
    • Food waste makes up much of overall waste. About 50% of food is wasted globally.
    • Food packages can be recycled/reused, food can be composted
    • Plastic bags: charge a little for a bag at a store to motivate people to bring reusable bag from home
    • Coffee cups: charge a little less if you bring your own cup
    • Need to look at waste as resource opportunity, not garbage problem. Get producers, ex soda companies, to figure out what to do with bottles, not cities.
    • Give food scraps to farm animals, or compost, don’t throw it away
  • Promote local and sustainable food
    • Local artisans on main streets; money goes to local economy
    • Local businesses create local jobs
      • Celebrity chefs are role models for jobs in new food economy
      • Job skills for youth
      • Jobs in food production
        • Grow rare, high-quality food
        • Get paid for taking waste food
    • Intercultural food
      • Communities have their own food markets
      • Cook globally, eat locally

Food as part of a new, broader concept of health

  • Ottawa Charter of Health Promotion, 1986
  • New ideas about good health
    • Pool fishing event, to intro people to fishing skills who can’t get out into nature
    • Community ovens, to intro people to real food, cooking skills
    • Taking people out of isolation, giving them a skill, making them feel good about selves and have some fun
  • Producers of health, not consumers of healthcare
  • Food connects us to each other, to nature
    • People need to feel connected to where they belong in the world. Community gardens help with connecting to place
    • Farmers markets help people connect to each other
    • Food is associated with most important life events
    • Food creates simple pleasures: you can be poor, but still have fun, eat well
    • Often involves spirituality: grace, mother nature

Reading: The Pleasures of Eating, by Wendell Berry

http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/pleasures-eating/

“The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who therefore is necessarily passive and uncritical–in short, a victim.”

“The consumer… must be kept from discovering that, in the food industry–as in any other industry–the overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price.”

Eat responsibly.

How can we eat responsibly?

  1. Grow your own food, as much as you can
  2. Prepare your own food
  3. Learn the origins of your food, and buy locally as much as you can
  4. Deal directly with the farmer/grower as much as possible
  5. Learn as much as you can about industrial food production
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening
  7. Learn as much as you can about the life history of the food you’re eating

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