Sam Kass, the assistant White House chef and senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives, says that if we concentrate on nutrition, with an emphasis on children, we could see many of the dominoes fall in other critical areas, including soil erosion. “If we focus on the most fundamental aspect of food, which is our nourishment, I think we can solve a lot of the problems and challenges that we face moving forward,” he says.
The chef points out that, as a country, we are dealing with the consequences of a poor diet. “We’re already spending huge amounts of money, $150 billion a year, just on obesity-related conditions alone, and the CDC is predicting one in three Americans of our youngest generation will have diabetes in their lifetime,” Kass noted. “The breakdown of our health, unless we’re able to solve this, will make it such that every level our society will not be [functioning] the way it should be.”
Which explains why first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign focuses on kids. They’re young, open to new ideas and able to carry on the message of proper nutrition throughout their lives. In the process, they could possibly transform the way a country eats. At least that’s the idea. “Focusing in on our kids and their health will be the single most effective way” to deal with the nutrition problem, Kass said.
Vandana Shiva, the influential physicist who founded Navdanya International, an organization devoted to promoting sustainability and protecting small farmers, suggests that Big Ag will doom the long-term viability of agriculture unless it’s revamped soon. She says companies that patent seeds and force more chemicals on farmers are leading to the demise of food producers. Literally, in many cases. Shiva said that in India, according to government data, thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the past 10 years because of mounting debt.
“Seventy-seven percent of rural debt is through input costs: chemicals and seeds,” she noted. She’d like to see the end of seed patents. “The seed is not an invention,” Shiva said. ”Patents are given for an invention. Therefore, there should be no patents on seeds, and the minute we don’t give patents on seeds, everything gets sorted out.”
The final thought on this Level 1 Priority discussion will go to Samuel Fromartz, the Washington writer and author of “Organic, Inc.,” which explains the rise of the natural food movement into a multibillion-dollar industry. He said the first step needs to be something more fundamental: Big Ag must shift its thinking on how to address many of the problems we face.
“The whole mind-set has been relatively narrow for at least the past 30 years, and you hear it every day in the mantra of ‘We have to feed the world.’ Always, the next sentence is to promote solutions that basically have been used in the past 30 years, which have not achieved that goal,” Fromartz said.
“There is no discussion on the other issues, such as the amount of organic matter in the soil. There is no discussion of what crops we’re growing and how basically the diet’s changing to a more meat-centric diet as people get wealthier, which leads to a whole series of decisions on what to plant,” the writer added. “I guess my basic issue is that I don’t feel there’s enough discussion. I mean, there is in these kind of [organic/sustainable] circles, but I’m not sure it gets out beyond this.”
It would seem, then, that the time for discussion is not over.