Food should be the healthiest, safest thing our society produces and we consume. But it's not.
In honor of national Food Day, I'd like to suggest 10 ways we can revamp our food system to make it healthier for people and the planet, and more delicious, too! What do YOU think we should do?
1) Help more farmers grow organic food. Right now, U.S. agriculture policy provides price supports and subsidies to farmers who use pesticides and insecticides – and penalizes those who don't. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
2) Charge more for food that's grown using pesticides and herbicides. Organic food can cost as much as 30% more than food that's been raised using all kinds of chemicals that pollute our air and water and make us sick. Organic food is more expensive because there's less of it, and it's more labor intensive to grow because (see 1 above) organic farmers don't get paid not to use pesticides and herbicides. Given the cost to society of cleaning up the environmental and human health problems created by pesticide use, shouldn't there be a "HEP" (health/environment penalty) imposed on conventional food that would help bring its price more inline with the price of organics?
3) Require all restaurants to compost food. In fact, not just restaurants, but hospitals, government buildings, school cafeterias – any institutions that throw away massive amounts of food — should be required to compost food waste rather than throw it away, turning it into organic fertilizer for use locally. FYI, you could be composting your own kitchen waste, too!
4) Define "natural." A lot of food is marketed as natural, even though it's been highly processed, is overpackaged, and doesn't bear one iota of resemblance to the food it originally came from. Working with biologists and botanists, let's define what "natural" really means – and prohibit flagrant misuse of the word by marketers who know we want to eat natural food, even if that's not what they're selling.
5) Stop wrapping food in plastic. Plastic wrap, plastic boxes, plastic clam shells, plastic bags, plastic bottles: these days, it's hard to find food that's NOT wrapped in plastic. What's the big deal? Plastic doesn't biodegrade, and there's some research indicating that chemicals in the plastic can leach into the food itself. How can you avoid the plastic? Buy fresh food, fill your own safe containers from bulk food bins, and choose food packaged in glass jars or wrapped in paper.
6) Get rid of BPA in the lining of canned foods. Bisphenyl-A has been linked to a variety of health disorders. This new study suggests that pregnant women exposed to BPA could give birth to girls with behavior disorders. It's time to ban the use of BPA in any food container, including soda cans, baby bottles, and plastic food containers.
7) Make cooking a required class for all high school students. When I was growing up, girls in middle school were required to take "home economics" (the boys got away with "shop"). These days, both of those classes are optional – which means many kids opt out. Yet I'd argue that one of the reasons why fast food is so popular is because so many people don't actually know how to cook. Why not make cooking class a requirement in senior year of high school, regardless of whether kids are heading off to college or to live on their own? The semester-long curriculum would focus on nutrition, locally grown food, organic agriculture, and composting, along with how to make a decent omelette or a delicious salad.
8) Prepare more of your own food. If you don't know how, here are a few good cookbooks to get you started.
9) Grow your own. If you have a pot, a patch of sun, and a patio, you can grow cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and herbs. With a 10×10 plot of land and some good compost, you can grow plenty more. These 10 tips will get you going.
10) Sit down at the table when you eat. Preferably, with friends or family. One of the reasons we may not mind eating junky food so much is that we don't give ourselves enough time to enjoy our meals. If you get up a few minutes earlier, can you actually eat a nice breakfast instead of snarfing down some kind of McMuffin on the run? If you get your kids and spouse or partner involved in the cooking, can you all pull together a meal of what Food Day sponsor the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls "real" food? Yes, time is of the essence. But delicious food is the very essence of life!
Surely you must have other ideas for ways we can make our food system better for us and healthier for the planet. Please share, and Happy Food Day!