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    Archive for the ‘education’ Category

    Is Agriculture The Next Wall Street?

    normal_iil-ian-aj-0163The economic crash of 2008 forever changed the financial landscape.  Consumer confidence sank, investors balked, construction projects around the world halted, and recovery is expected to continue well into the next decade.

    I can’t help but think of Wall Street’s most recent implosion as a possible preview of what may happen with agriculture in the United States.

    After all, the economic crash was the end result of an unsustainable financial system.

    I use — as well as italicize and underline — the word “unsustainable” because it also happens to describe our food system.

    We are, currently, at the peak.  It all appears to be going well, as far as most people are concerned.  Fast food chains offer plentiful food for low prices, while the amount of available calories for each American is at an all-time high.

    You can’t help but wonder, though, how sustainable is the current agricultural system?  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the answer is “not very”.

    Increased pesticide and herbicide use over the past three decades has poisoned bodies of water and severely altered biosystems.  Cattle-feed operations produce millions of tons of manure each year, placing a huge burden on the environment.  Fish farms pollute nearby waters.

    There is no possible way in which the current food system — which essentially sticks up the middle finger at Mother Nature — can continue as is for another decade without serious consequences.

    Unlike the Wall Street scenario, there are no bailouts for the environment.  You can’t simply bring life back to a poisoned river or lake overnight, no matter how many millions of dollars you throw at it.

    This is not a doomsday prophecy.  I believe, more than ever, that we are at the early beginnings of what could be a powerful collective shift in how we view food.

    These issues can be often be daunting — at least they are for me — because it can be difficult to pinpoint what the best starting point is.  For now, I believe that informing others of how our current food system works is crucial.  There is no need for self-created pedestals, or belittling.  After all, each and every one of us, at some point, had absolutely no awareness about any of this.

    Similarly, “the sky is falling!” scare tactics often paralyze, rather than stir people into action.

    While activism and advocacy are great services to society, not everybody has the time, personality, or unbridled energy for headline-making moves.  You don’t have to be a policy maker to take action, though.  If you are part of a book club, suggest that one of your upcoming tomes be “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle, “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, or “Appetite for Profit” by Michele Simon.

    Are you a school teacher?  See if you can fit “Supersize Me”, “King Corn”, or “Food, Inc.” into your curriculum.

    Discuss.  Analyze.  Engage in conversation.  And, always, continue learning.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Nutrition plays an important role in three of the Top 3 causes of death in the United States.

    Those three being — in order — heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

    Looking at the entire top ten, nutrition is a risk increaser or decreaser — depending on what you’re doing — for half of it (diabetes comes in at #6 and kidney disease takes the #9 spot.)

    Although I suspect the majority of the population is aware of the link between food and health, nutrition is too often taken seriously only when a problem is well underway (after a heart attack, once diabetes has been diagnosed, etc.)

    In simple terms, a lot of this comes back to education. More specifically, the lack thereof.

    When I say “education,” I am not referring to socioeconomic status or Ivy League diplomas. I am actually talking about a public education system that largely ignores a little something known as “life skills.”

    There are two subjects that should be part of every high school curriculum (not only in this country, but around the world): personal financing (so people know what to do — and NOT do — with their money when they start earning it) and nutrition.

    I don’t expect a room of tenth graders to understand carbohydrate metabolism or explain the causes of sarcopenia among the elderly.

    But how about teaching them the tools to choose a healthier meal at McDonald’s? Helping them understand why Oreos don’t make for a good breakfast? Letting teenage girls know that having nothing but a medium frozen yogurt all day is not a healthy way to lose weight?

    Otherwise, we’re just going to be in an eternal game of catch up with diseases and conditions that are years in the making.

    Image: Nutrition Matters, a free newsletter distributed in Toronto, Canada (produced by the Toronto Public Health Department and written by Registeed Dietitians.)

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