Weekly Newsletter: Creating a Healthier Food Environment

Dear Shoppers: I read lots of good stuff about farming and farmers’ markets all the time. But I also read three newspapers and many, many books every year, some of which are written by the big names in our business, such as Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben and of course our very own Joel Saladin. The points of view are varied, of course, from the worldwide view to our own national food system narrowing to how we eat at home and school. There is always a thread that runs through these writings, and the basic point is that we can make a difference. I believe that myself and know from my own experience that small lifestyle changes can lead to bigger impacts on a system, but it takes leadership, not just exhortation, and it takes a plan, not just rhetoric.

I read three newspaper articles over the last few weeks that made it pretty clear that there is not yet a plan that connects what we can do ourselves to the larger picture. And the participants in the larger scheme of things are not even aware that those of us on the ground — and working with the earth — are committed to and busy about affecting change in that scheme. That scheme includes the ever-consolidating commercial farm industry in this country, which has been nurtured by many years of farm policies that reward size and foster the creation of foods such as plant-based oils used for deep-fat frying in fast food joints all over the world. These oils contribute to our demise rather than our good health.

In an Aug. 22 article in the New York Times Business section, Natasha Singer focused on “Fixing a World that Fosters Fat,” with the challenge being to change the environment, not just our personal behavior. There are indeed academics who are “proposing large-scale changes to food pricing, advertising and availability, all in the hope of creating an environment conducive to healthier diet and exercise choices.” These specialists in the behavior sciences as well as the health and environmental sciences are looking at the connections between personal decisions and the environment in which they are made. And they are “grappling with how to fix systems that are the root causes of obesity.”

So someone is working on this for us. I am sure I will be seeing more articles, and there will be numerous papers presented at national and international symposiums that propose new systems for changing the environment in which we make our food choices. But we still need leaders to accept that these are systems that need to be changed and to talk about them in public, not just write about them in private. The three authors I mentioned earlier are three of those who are willing to speak out, but I am thinking we need to work at the local level to encourage our elected officials who are closest to the consumers to begin talking about these things too. This is our health, our environment and our economy that are out of whack, and if we are waiting for the federal government, big business or academia to initiate the changes we need to see in our own communities, another 40 years will pass, and what will we be eating then?

More on the ways we effect local change later.

See you at the market!