Our food system fills us up, but leaves us empty!
(Reprinted from the October 2009 Health Journal, Cumberland Times- News.)
This is the second in a series* of articles on food and nutrition.
“WARNING: This hamburger may be hazardous to your health. Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, the economy, and our environment…..”. This chilling statement from the August 31 cover of TIME magazine is flashing through my brain as I head home from the college, contemplating my next article for the Health Journal.
But I’m hungry and it’s been a long day at work. Ten hours to be exact.
As a card-carrying flexitarian, I have the right – maybe even the obligation - to occasionally stop for fast food on my way home.
I mean, why not? It’s quick, cheap, and ready to eat food in minutes. Employs kids and older people in these tough economic times. Keeps them off the road and safe. What more could I ask for?! Other than a $1.00 off coupon which I seem to have misplaced, not much!
Despite the looming Hamburger Hazard, I proceed through the drive-through, eagerly anticipating the crunch of hot fries and the melt-in-the-mouth impact of that first bite o’burger. With a certain smug self-righteousness, I pass on the double cheeseburger special and opt for a regular one- patty plate. And a diet coke, of course. Life is good!
As anticipated, my wildest dreams of gustatory desire are fulfilled and I proceed to feast on the fries. Ten minutes later, I am on the road, fighting the overpowering pull to circle round the parking lot for another swipe at the drive-through window.
By the time I arrive home to write this article, the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have been successfully addressed. I am no longer hungry and can move on with life. Self-actualization is around the corner.
Fortified with a glass of (red, boxed) wine and safely settled in my rocking chair on the porch, I am ready to confront the more global repercussions of my food choices. The cover story from TIME is before me – my starting point for the next series of articles for the Health Journal which will focus on “food as medicine”.
Given that TIME Magazine is hardly a source of radical commentary or revolutionary revelry, a cover story from this source means the issue has emerged on the radar of the mainstream majority. Rather remarkable – and rather alarming. It gets my attention – especially after attending the life changing intensive training on “Food as Medicine” this summer sponsored by the Center for Mind/Body Medicine.
So let’s start with “food from the ground up”. According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, Senior Scientist with the Food and Environment Program of the Union of Concerned Scientist, “The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment, and us.” Here are some facts from the TIME article that hit home with me:
- 19% of all fossil fuels are consumed by the US food industry – more than any other aspect of the economy.
- 23 tons of chemicals are used to grow crops, resulting in runoff hitting the Gulf of Mexico and creating a dead zone that destroys the fisheries which produce one of our leanest and healthiest sources of food.
- CAFOS (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) raise large numbers of animals in close quarters to quickly fatten them for slaughter. In fact, the space is so tight that hogs have their curly tails chopped off to prevent them from biting each other.
- 70% of antibiotics used in America are given to farm industry animals - not people- in order to keep these animals alive and healthy in such close quarters. The result is a dramatic rise in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria which cost the economy $4 - $5 billion dollars a year.
- 280 tons of waste a week are produced on a typical 1,000 head feedlot, contaminating nearby streams and rivers, overloading our water supply with antibiotics, and creating a disgusting stench for neighboring communities.
- Corn raised on farms is used at the feedlot to quickly fatten animals for slaughter and to produce the marbled taste we love in beef, contributing to a product higher in fat. This in turn fuels the obesity probiem in America.
Powerful facts. And also a wake-up call that nutrition is not only about personal choices – it is about industrial choices and power and profits. But the TIME Magazine article is very clear that farmers aren’t the enemy – many ordinary farmers are struggling to make ends meet. It is the tax subsidized food industry and the CAFOs who are pushing family farms out of business.
So what’s the solution? Stay tuned for next month’s article…some pretty cool ideas on “sustainable farming” and also some signs of grassroots consumer support for healthy alternatives. As for me, I think I may just need to take a deep breath, count to 3, and initiate a DBBI (a drive-by the beef intervention) the next time I am gripped by a Mac Attack.
But no doubt about it. The truth hurts.
*This column is prepared by Allegany College of Maryland’s (ACM) Integrative Health Core Curriculum Project (IHCCP). A collaborative initiative between ACM faculty and health professionals from five Community Partner agencies (Western Maryland Health System, Archway, Allegany County Health Department, Family Crisis Resource Center, and HRDC Aging Services), the Project’s goal is to introduce evidenced-based mind/body medicine approaches into academic education and community health/mental health practice.
Cherie Snyder is the Director of the Human Service Program and the Integrative Health Program at ACM. She received her certification in mind/body skills from Dr. Gordon’s Center for Mind/Body Medicine (CMBM) in Washington, DC in 2001 and serves on their faculty. She can be reached at (301) 784-5556 or by email at