In defense of food in the South Valley

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Food has been on my mind a lot lately. This year’s Silicon
Valley Reads book features Michael Pollan’s book,

In Defense of Food.

A quick read and an eye-opening expose on the food industry, it
argues that what we stuff in our mouths shapes our health, our
environment, our society and even our personal relationships.
Food has been on my mind a lot lately. This year’s Silicon Valley Reads book features Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food.” A quick read and an eye-opening expose on the food industry, it argues that what we stuff in our mouths shapes our health, our environment, our society and even our personal relationships.

As part of the Silicon Valley Reads program, I attended Farm City author Novella Carpenter’s lecture at the Morgan Hill Library a few weeks ago. A student of Pollan’s, she described her hilarious adventures in “squat farming” in inner city Oakland. She told how she took a vacant lot and planted a large vegetable garden on it. She also raised farm animals including pigs, chickens and turkeys in her Oakland apartment. Carpenter almost nightly went dumpster diving in Oakland back alleys to retrieve restaurant waste food. She used this slop to feed her pigs and poultry.

Americans discard a lot of food, and it’s astonishing and embarrassing how much is chucked into the garbage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans throw out more than 25 percent of the food we produce for domestic consumption. That’s 25.8 million tons. But that figure might be too low. A University of Arizona study showed that 50 percent of our food is discarded – equaling $43 billion every year.

There’s a moral issue here. In a world where one-third of the human population is hungry or starving, why is so much food being squandered? This waste also impacts the environment. As food goes into landfill and rots, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the potency of carbon dioxide in retaining heat in Earth’s atmosphere. The food we toss out as a society is part of our carbon footprint.

From reading “In Defense of Food” and listening to Carpenter’s Farm City lecture, I’m beginning to see that something as basic as eating creates a tremendous complexity in our lives. Food influences everything.

One of the major things food impacts is our physical and emotional health. If Americans really want to get serious about health care reform, we must start amending our nation’s awful eating habits. Americans could cut this nation’s medical treatment costs by at least half if we simply started eating a whole lot healthier.

The current national health care debate isn’t really about reforming health care so much as it is a question of how to fund medical treatment. If we Americans really want to improve the health of our citizens, let’s begin by being proactive. Not only must we reduce abuse of tobacco, alcohol and drug products, we must encourage people – especially children – to exercise more and eat healthier.

Pollan’s book makes the case that the chemically-enhanced food manufactured in factories and sold in carefully-designed packages on supermarket shelves is causing Americans to get fat and sick. We’re putting into our mouths substances that contain hard to pronounce chemicals Mother Nature never intended our bodies to assimilate. The U.S. government and nutrition scientists (many of whom are sponsored by food industry firms) are also participating in getting non-natural foods into the American diet. Billions of dollars in marketing are spent every year to convince us all that fake food is good for us.

Pollen makes the case that one of the reasons we’ve seen a significant rise in obesity over the last two decades is because Americans are eating food lacking the stuff our bodies need. It’s an irony that we as Americans eat massive quantities of food substances from the supermarket, we starve for the quality nutrition nature intended us to consume and which fake food does not contain. We feel hungry and so eat more calories because our bodies attempt to raise the odds through increased consumption of getting those nutrimental elements necessary for good health.

During World War II, to help with the national war effort Americans started planting “victory gardens.” Between 1942 and 1945, we ate more fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat and processed foods such as sugar. Gasoline rationing also meant that people walked more or exercised more. Interestingly, during those years, heart attacks and other coronary problems went down significantly. In the post-war years, Americans saw a dramatic rise in processed food consumption. Along with it came a dramatic rise in health problems.

We’re now seeing the early stages of a movement to get back to basic foods. Morgan Hill, Hollister and Gilroy are developing community gardens programs. And farmers markets in our South Valley cities – which sell organic foods grown locally – are popular weekend outings.

These trends reflect Pollan’s main point which is placed prominently on his book’s jacket cover: “Eat food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” It’s wise advice to take to heart for our health.

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