Do you know what you are eating and where it came from? If you are like most people, you probably have no idea. Over the years, the way food gets to our table has changed. Since half of our meals are eaten outside the home, it’s not even our table anymore. And when we do eat at home, prepackaged heat-and-eat meals are becoming more common. When we leave the meal preparation to someone else, where it came from, the method of preparation, and the quality and nutritional value are all out of our control. We are increasingly disconnected from our food, a fact that has implications for our health and the health of the environment.
Food Day is Wednesday, an opportunity to raise awareness about the food we eat and the impact it has on our health, our environment, and quality of life. Food Day 2012 aims 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.
These goals are all related, so making progress in a few areas can have a wide impact. It turns out that eating healthier food promotes sustainable agriculture and supports local farmers. These farms can provide fresh fruits and vegetables to residents who live in “food deserts,” areas without access to grocery stores. These local farms are likely to have a lower environmental impact than a factory farm, and transportation costs will be lower.
For example, consider the tomatoes you buy at the grocery. Like much of our produce, it may well have traveled all the way across the country, even though locally-grown tomatoes were available. Incidentally, the tomatoes at the grocery were probably picked before they were ripe, meaning the nutrients (and taste) haven’t fully developed. The green tomatoes were shipped across the country, stored in a warehouse until needed, then chemically ripened using ethylene gas so they were bright red when you bought them. Contrast that with a tomato from a local farm, which was picked when fully ripe, driven a short distance, and sold at the peak of freshness. In addition to lower environmental impact, the local tomato certainly tastes better and is better for you.
This is the point of Food Day. We should make ourselves aware of where our food comes from and do our best to eat food that is good for us and the environment. Given our current system of food distribution this is a challenge to say the least. But it’s not impossible. Farmer’s markets are probably the best source of local produce but some large grocery stores also sell produce, meat, and dairy products from local farms.
What can you do on Food Day? Think about what you eat and the impact it has on your health and the environment. Make an effort to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and real food as opposed to processed and pre-packaged foods that tend to be high in calories, added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats. When possible, buy foods that are grown locally to minimize the environmental impact and support local farmers who live, work, and pay taxes in our area. Advocate for others who may not have access to quality food—schools are a great place to start. These steps will not only benefit your health, it will likely have a positive impact on the environment, and improve the quality of life for you and others.
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.