Today is Food Day 2012

Today is Food Day, with the goal to improve the health and quality of life for everyone by promoting healthy eating, supporting local farms, making sure everyone has access to healthy food, and reducing the influence of food corporations that produce and advertise unhealthy food, particularly to children. Food Day is the topic of my weekly Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard.

Here is an example of the wide impact that our food choices have on our health, the environment, and the health of others:

Say your next meal is lunch and you will have a burger. Sure you know that the beef comes from a cow, but do you know that the conditions in which the cow lived and what it ate have an effect on the quality of your burger, your chances of getting a food-borne illness, and the environment? Most of the meat we eat comes from animals that live on huge confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and are processed in plants that are hazardous to workers, the environment, and our health. At CAFOs cows eat primarily grain and the meat has higher levels of unhealthy fats and is more likely to be contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria. Huge feedlots with as many as 50,000 cows have to use antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease and the tons of waste created leads to local air and water pollution. Because your burger likely came from the western U.S., there is an environmental cost of transportation across the country. And consider that the money you pay goes to the corporations that own the cows, farms, and processing plants, people who likely have no connection to you.

But what if your burger came from a cow on a farm in our area. Smaller farms tend to let cattle graze in fields and meat from grass-fed cattle have higher levels of healthy fat and a lower risk of contamination, in addition to tasting better. The relatively small amount of waste created is probably used as fertilizer on the farm and since the farm is local, the transportation costs, both in dollar and environmental terms, are lower. The money you pay goes to the owners and workers on the farm who most likely live, and pay taxes, in this area.

So, how will you celebrate Food Day? For starters, you could learn more about what you eat and take steps to eat more real food and less processed “food-like substances.” Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about the health, environmental, and economic issues related to Food Day:

A good place to start is the Food Day website.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is the consumer advocacy organization behind Food Day and an excellent resource for nutrition and health information.

Michael Pollan is one of my favorite experts on food. He is the author of several books, all of which should be required reading for pretty much everyone (kids, too–he has kids versions of his books). Start with In Defense of Food, which offers this elegant bit of advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.

Marion Nestle is an expert on nutrition and food policy, in particular the politics that surround these topics. Her book, Food Politics, explains the political and corporate factors that influence government decisions and policy regarding food and nutrition. What to Eat is a comprehensive guide to making smart choices for healthy eating.

Maybe you would prefer a movie instead. Food, Inc. is a 2008 documentary that examines the health and the environmental impacts of food production. The themes are similar to those in the book In Defense of Food, but this is a compelling movie whether you have read the book or not.

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