SHOULD CHEFS SPEAK OUT? LET’S MAKE FOOD ISSUES PART OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE AND PLATFORM

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This is not my normal type of article, and yes it is a bit long, however, I think that the issues pointed out are worthy of consideration.

There is no question that the breadth of issues facing our country is unprecedented – each demanding the attention of the public and those who represent us. Prioritizing those issues is daunting and maybe impossible to do, but without question, as a country, we must focus on those that impact our well being, our way of life, and those that represent who we are as a people. In all cases, we have an obligation to state what we believe in at the very least through exercising our right to vote, but when possible through the process of informing our representatives about those issues that are close to our hearts and minds.

Following the current chaotic forums of presidential debate I was struck with a total lack of discussion, or statement of beliefs regarding the challenges to our food system, the impact of food on our health, the challenges of a growing population who are unable to adequately feed themselves or their families, and increasing concerns over the integrity of the food supply.

Consider the following examples:

[]         CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS:

According to a 2012 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study, approximately 117 million Americans had one or more chronic health conditions and nearly 25% of the population suffered from two or more if these conditions. The major culprits are:

  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

What is most interesting is that aside from those individuals with a genetic disposition to any of these issues, much of the effects are preventable and/or diminished through better food choices. The report continues by defining the cost associated with these conditions (aside from the human health tragedy): “86% of all health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic health conditions.” 1

1 –http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/

Controlling our intake of empty calories, excessive amounts of sugar, fat, salt, and processed foods can have a dramatic impact on the prevention or control of these chronic diseases.

[]         DRUGS TREATMENT VS. PREVENTION THROUGH NUTRITION:

Better living through chemistry has its merits when other preventative measures fail to work, but in many cases these drugs can be eliminated or minimized with proper diet and use of more appropriate cooking methods.

[]         CHILD HUNGER IN THE U.S.

According to The Hunger Fact Sheet presented by Feeding America – more than 15 million American children lived in “food insecure” households in 2014. 2 In a country known as the greatest on earth and flush with the ability to produce incredible amounts of food, this seems to be a real tragedy. This goes beyond the debate of proper parenting or the strength of our economy, it simply should not exist anywhere, but especially within our own borders.

2 – CHILD HUNGER

http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/child-hunger-fact-sheet.html?gclid=CInp1tTs8cgCFQ0XHwodyDgL6Q?referrer=https://www.google.com/

[]         FOOD ALLERGIES AND PROCESSED FOODS:

According to the CDC, food allergies among the population of U.S. children increased by almost 50% between 1997 and 2011. 3 No one knows for sure why this increase is taking place, however there are some who have noted parallels to the increased use of processed foods in our diet, increases in the use of pesticides and the modern manipulation of food genetics. The research is not clear yet, but there are enough indicators to warrant significant study.

3 – FOOD ALLERGY FACTS

https://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=194

[]         GMO LABELING:

Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are prevalent in our American food supply. The majority of Corn and Soy, as an example, come from GMO seed. There is a strong public movement to require, at the very least, labeling of products that include GMO products so that the consumer can make a personal choice when purchasing food. The resistance to any such legislation by those companies producing or using GMO seed or products is very strong with a Vermont test case currently in the works. Again, there is no definitive study that unequivocally states that GMO products are harmful to humans, but there is enough concern to warrant third party studies and consideration for labeling laws.

[]         PESTICIDE USE AND CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS:

One of the reasons for using GMO seed is to design a crop that is resistant to absorption of chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers. This type of seed allows the farmer to use more and more of these chemicals in an effort to increase crop yields. Since the FDA does not allow human trials of pesticides and fertilizers, there is minimal hard evidence of their impact, yet with the rapid increase of cancer and other chronic diseases and allergies, there should be reason for concern.

[]         DROUGHT AND THE IMPACT ON FARMING:

We are all familiar with the multiple year droughts on the west coast and chefs know that a significant portion of the produce used in restaurants across America comes from that fertile region. Without access to ample water for crop irrigation, many crops such as lettuce, peppers, avocado, oranges, almonds, and grapes are in jeopardy, or at the very least – escalating in wholesale price.

[]         CENTRALIZED VS. DECENTALIZED FARMING:

Environmental impact

Modern technology and equipment has allowed farmers to focus their land on one or two crops to increase efficiency and yield. To accomplish this the farmer is positioned to manage land production by energizing the soil with fertilizers and aggressively using pesticides to ensure return on seed and land management investment. These crops are not rotated, as was the case in the past – depleting the soil of its natural nutrients and requiring even more fertilizers from year-to-year. Additionally, the carbon footprint due to transportation costs incurred in a centralized farming environment is quite significant.

Impact of climate change

As our country is battered every year with unusual climate change (deep frosts, forest fires, hurricanes, droughts) these centralized crops are in jeopardy as never before. A drought in California creates shortages and sizeable cost increases of avocados, iceberg and romaine lettuce. A freak frost in Florida drives shortages and wholesale increases in the cost of oranges. Adverse weather in the grain belt causes yield reductions of wheat and other grains that not only impacts the cost of flour, but also the cost of animal feed and in turn the cost and yield of beef, pork, and poultry.

[]         AN AGING FARMER POPULATION:

Farming is one of the most difficult, yet most important careers in America. The demands on farmers from both the cost of operation and risk of crop failure due to weather change has taken its toll. The average age of the American farmer is 58.3 years compared to 50 only 30 years ago. 4 This is an indication that fewer and fewer young people are attracted to the life-long career of farming. In the long run, this could be a deciding factor in how America approaches the production of its food and how we view the importance of human nutrition.

4 – THE RAPIDLY AGING U.S. FARMER – U.S. News and World Report

http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/02/24/us-farmers-are-old-and-getting-much-older

[]         SEAFOOD SAFETY:

Ironically, much of the seafood that Americans buy in the market and their local restaurant comes from overseas, and much from China and Thailand where regulations are skimpy at best. U.S. coastal waters are sometimes plagued by mercury, oil and oil byproducts, and other runoff that can contaminate some of the fish that we buy. Regulation of this falls often times in the lap of wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants simply because the business is far too vast to control with the programs in place.

FOOD SAFETY NEWS – 10 Things You Should Know About the American Seafood Supply

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/07/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-american-seafood-supply/#.Vjdhq2SrSog

[]         EXCESSIVE SUGAR AND SALT IN OUR DIET:

Read the labels: it seems that nearly every product on the market that is processed contains significant amounts of sugar and sodium.

In a recent study by Harvard University Department of Nutrition, the following statement was made:

“At HSPH, the Department of Nutrition is helping to lead the charge for healthier consumer fare. In April, at a widely covered press conference, the department’s faculty publicly challenged beverage makers to create a class of drinks with 70 percent less sugar—a partial reduction that could lower obesity and diabetes rates within a year, they believe. On the salt side, experts estimate that cutting average sodium consumption by one-half could prevent at least 150,000 deaths annually in the United States.”

[]         KNOWING HOW TO COOK AS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT:

Finally, one of the root causes of our problem with health and diet is that far too many Americans no longer know how to cook. As a result, they lean on inexpensive restaurants and the convenience of processed foods. There is very little dialogue taking place about the following:

  • The loss of family tradition (families don’t pass on recipes, traditions, and cooking skills)
  • The loss of cooking classes in elementary & secondary education (most elementary and secondary schools have eliminated the skills once taught through Home Economics that focused on foundational cooking skills that could translate to healthier eating habits for life.

Where are discussions surrounding these issues that impact each and every one of us? Why is this not part of the public discussion and integral to the platforms of both parties?   Chefs and cooks have a unique opportunity to serve as the voice for the community of over 300 million residents of the United States. These 300 million people are equally impacted by all of the aforementioned food issues. As a community of food professionals we have an obligation beyond our immediate jobs to represent the importance of healthy food and food systems and promote the issues that best represent the integrity of both. Share this article if you think this should be part of the national debate platform leading to election 2016.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericaventures.com

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