To most people, food is more than just food: it’s an expression of culture, family, celebration and ritual. Yet for many, there’s an air of mystery to what we put in our bodies, a vague sense of its ingredients and origins that disconnects us from our meals. The average consumer –particularly the urban consumer - is left with questions about where our food comes from, what’s in it, and why.
Why we eat what we do
Though the sustainable food movement has gained momentum as of late, factory farms still dominate the market because of federal subsidies. This funding is primarily directed toward big business rice, tobacco, soybeans, wheat and corn. Over the past 15 years, 30% of the $246 billion in government subsidies has gone into corn production. Besides providing cheap feed for livestock, it’s used to make low quality ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, used in most highly processed food types.
This illustrates a common U.S. trend in which unhealthy food choices are made the most affordable for family budgets. The meat industry works similarly, with profits being prioritized over a quality product and the consumer’s health – not to mention a disregard for the ethical treatment of their livestock.
Where do my meals come from?
While of course the answer to this depends on the item in question, it’s estimated that the average food item in a grocery store travels 1,300 miles to reach your plate. With such a distance from meals’ origins, there’s little way to know whether antibiotics, GMOs, pesticides or hormones have been used in their production.
Isn’t there any good news?
Of course! With America’s recently sparked interest in the food movement, there are more choices today than ever in what and how to eat. Farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are excellent ways to find healthy, local vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy and more. Both support sustainable farmers - as well as your local economy – and reward those that are growing responsibly for doing so.
Though farmers markets can be pricey, CSAs tend to be slightly lower in cost. Some accept food stamps as payment from low-income members – others offer reduced rates in exchange for volunteered hours of food distribution or organizing. Stop by your local CSA and ask about the options!
What can we do to help?
*Ask your neighborhood supermarket to carry local options
*Reduce the amount of meat in your diet
*Support small-scale farmers by shopping at farmers markets
*Grow your own vegetable or herb garden at home
*Cook at home rather than ordering take-out
*Buy ‘Fair Trade’ whenever possible