Hey y’all, Henry here.
First of all, new readers, welcome to the blog! Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy what we have to share with you. This post is a summary of my thoughts on food and what we can do as individuals to change the world by changing what we eat.
The global food system is in dire need of attention, particularly in the United States. Big agriculture has taken over what Americans eat, and it is detrimental not only to our human health but to the health of the planet. A dance teacher of mine introduced me to the plant-based diet, so I did some research and I decided that the right choice for me was to join this movement. I decided to eat only plant-based foods, and to emphasize whole foods (as close to their natural state as possible), which includes reducing added oils, sugars, processed flour, and salt. My reasons for eating plant-based are many, but it is easiest to summarize in three categories: Health, global sustainability, and ethics.
One cannot discuss the health-care crisis in the United States without addressing food. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, children are developing type 2 diabetes (something virtually unheard of until recently), and the list goes on. All of these issues are diet-related. We are a society obsessed with health (according to the Boston Medical Center, roughly 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $33 million on weight-loss products) and health-care (as a hot topic in most political debates), and yet we are becoming increasingly unhealthy.
There is strong evidence suggesting that a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet can prevent and often reverse heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and keep the body closer to its natural weight. However, large food, pharmaceutical, and supplement companies, seeking to increase their profits, market their products and push legislation such that diet information is scarcely to be found. Instead, we see ads for low-fat yogurt (loaded with sugar), or diet soda (loaded with artificial sweeteners), or a host of other products marketed in such a way that one might believe they are healthy or at least not that bad. When was the last time you saw an ad for vegetables?
This is why I say that any talk about the health-care crisis has to begin with food. The best research suggests that the WFPB diet has massive potential to cure or reverse a whole host of chronic diseases and save the government billions of dollars, yet the possibility never enters the conversation. This can be explained best by a quote from Bill Maher: “There’s no money in healthy people, and there’s no money in dead people. The money is in the middle; people who are alive, sort of, but with one or more chronic conditions.” With a WFPB diet, there is no need to worry about calories, fats, carbs, vitamins, or anything. Your body can do whatever it needs to do if you give it the right foods. That is the information that should inform how the government creates policy around advertising and nutritional guidelines.
The broken food system is even more terrifying to think about when the topic of global climate change comes up. Animal agriculture, in particular, is not a sustainable way to feed the planet. Just in terms of land and water usage required to produce meat products, there is no way that the planet can sustain itself with even a fraction of the meat the population eats every single day. It requires orders of magnitude more resources to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods if compared calorie to calorie. This massive depletion of resources leads to deforestation, ocean dead-zones, methane produced from animals, and ultimately is a huge contributor to global climate change. Estimates conclude that animal agriculture contributes more to global climate change than all of transportation (boats, planes, trains, cars) combined. With the population increasing, hunger all over the world, and global warming as an imminent threat to the planet, it is essential to think about what kind of impact food has on the environment.
For most of my childhood, I was an ethical vegetarian. I was the first one to say “think about the poor pig that died so you could eat your bacon.” This accusation was usually not met with a very positive response. Most people don’t care or are disconnected enough from where their food comes from that they just don’t think about it. For this reason, ethical treatment of animals is usually one of the last things I bring up when talking to frequent meat-eaters, if I bring it up at all. However, there is still a lot to be said on the subject and this post would not be complete without this section.
Purely from an ethics perspective, I have no problem with a local farmer raising cows in a pasture and killing them humanely. However, fast food and massive meat packaging companies, just as they do with health and environmental issues, have covered up the reality of how the vast majority of their animals are treated. They are raised in confined spaces and in conditions that lead to all kinds of diseases. To put this in perspective, t is illegal in several states to even photograph at these locations.
Furthermore, large meat-packaging corporations treat their workers terribly. Workers face unsafe working conditions and efforts to thwart the formation worker’s unions. These companies also take advantage of immigrant workers. I have yet to do sufficient research on this topic, but it is definitely something to be aware of.
My sister likes to say that stating a bunch of problems does not solve anything. So, here is what I propose. If we want to halt these growing problems and eventually reverse them, we need to completely change the way we think about food. We need to think of food for its potential to either harm or heal us and our planet, and make decisions about what we eat consciously and with compassion for each other.
Unfortunately, money is what motivates companies, organizations, and policy makers to keep this information from being widely known and healthy foods from being widely available. That incentive is not likely to change any time soon, and certainly not soon enough to reverse the health and environmental epidemics we are facing. Lasting change must come from us, the consumers. After all, our money is what keeps these companies running. We dictate what the market provides when we vote with our wallets. So, before buying food, ask a few questions:
- Where did my food come from before it got to my plate?
- What resources were expended to grow it and transport it?
- Who did all the work and how were they treated?
I realize that not everyone is in a position to think this way about their food, whether it be a lack of knowledge or a lack of resources. This means that if you are in a good position to make such a change, it is even more vital that you do so.
Research, join the conversation, change the food paradigm.
Madi and I are both super excited to come up with more content for you, and we hope you enjoy it. This blog is about sharing thoughts and ideas in a productive, conscious way, so don’t hesitate to join the conversation.