Just like water and air, food is the source of life. Unfortunately, while global leaders and inventors put a lot of effort into developing sustainable natural resources and energy, we are appallingly behind on a sustainable approach to agriculture and, consequently, food and nutrition. Numerous scientists insist that we, as humanity, must power up and develop sustainable food systems.
Strong food systems provide adequate energy and vital nutrients to preserve the health of the population now and future generations. The positive correlation between conditions like obesity and diabetes and the environmental impact of unsustainable food farming and processed food abundance is undeniable.
An alarming number of studies point to imbalanced nutrition leading to malnutrition. Whether it is too much of wrong foods or too little of wholesome foods, we are bound to face health consequences. Obese people are often malnourished and have health-threatening deficiencies such as Vitamin D, Vitamin A, iron, magnesium, and other essential micronutrients.
Diabetes and obesity rates are on a consistent rise and overwhelm economic costs. Moreover, heart and kidney disease are tagging along and cost our national budget a hefty amount annually. According to the American Diabetes Association, the economic cost of diabetes has increased from $245 to $317 million from 2012 to 2017.
So, where do we begin to target sustainability regarding food and nutrition? To start peeling the layers of this problematic onion, our authorities should pay attention to researchers and nutritionists who tirelessly keep building awareness by studying the impact of environment and nutrition on human health.
We cannot grow nutritious food in nutrient-depleted and treated with chemicals soil. Furthermore, we cannot sustain a healthy population by having processed foods dominating this nation’s market.
Here are a few solutions our national and global leaders should be looking into:
1. Sustainable Agricultural Practices
Together, concerned media outlets, independent journalists, and scientists have highlighted flows and mistakes that conventional agriculture keeps making by treating crops with toxic pesticides and herbicides. Several lawsuits took place and won million-dollar settlements for workers who were exposed to glyphosate and suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia.
Sustainable solutions are there, but our lawmakers are not ready to implement them. Intense Monsanto lobbying must be more appealing than a healthy population. Michigan State University has been offering educational services on using cover crops like broadleaf mustard beneficial for pest control, soil quality, and maintaining ecosystems. Companies like Contact Organics have been working on effective, natural, and safe herbicides made from acetic acid to eliminate risks of carcinogenic residue on fresh produce.
2. Safer food production regulations
These days, when browsing through most grocery stores shelves, it feels like drowning in boxes of processed foods with confusing nutritional labels. Processed food manufacturers do not hesitate to add toxic ingredients like BHT and artificial colors banned in most EU countries and Canada into our packaged foods like cereals, chips, bread, and crackers.
The USA commercial food industry has been focused on profits for so long that the concept of sustainable health has been lost. Scientists and healthcare professionals have questioned the FDA’s approvals of unsafe food additives and preservatives for a long time, but not much has changed.
Our grocery store shelves are still packed with cereals that Mexican food authorities rejected due to non-disclosure of unhealthy ingredients. Not many schools invest in nutrition education, and many families that struggle financially will often favor cheaper processed foods versus more expensive wholesome foods.
It is time that the public will pressure our federal regulatory agencies to follow the path of the EU and Canada and protect the health of this country. Concepts as unadulterated foods and sustainable health should have an equal sign between them and be implemented in most of food production systems.
3. Mindful consumption of the fish and ocean life conservation
The sustainable approach to nutrition should also include the mindful consumption of fish and seafood. Global oceans experience overfishing yearly, and it has tripled during the last 50 years. Other marine species like dolphins and turtles suffer during commercial fishing processes, and subsequently, the world ocean’s ecosystem bears the consequences. Pushing nature’s boundaries will eventually turn against humanity.
Thankfully, the World Wildlife Organization puts excellent efforts into conserving resources of the oceans and restructuring how fishing businesses operate globally. Consuming fish and crustaceans in moderation is the key. It is improbable we would run into health problems by eating fish once or twice a week, and studies about Blue Zone populations are there to prove it.
Making our meals more plant-forward and filling our plates with 50% vegetables will only benefit our health and help disease prevention. EAT-Lancet Commission on Planet and Health published their findings in Sweden in 2019 and confirmed that a diet rich in plants, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits might help prevent premature deaths by 19%. We can achieve conscious consumption and adopt conservation habits through appropriate education, awareness, and practice.
4. Better food service policies in schools
If school lunches’ grading were possible, most of the US schools would fail miserably. Time and time again, concern about processed foods served in most national schools has been voiced by parents, dietitians, and nutrition journalists. Countries like Finland and Chile have regulations that kids should get over 40% of fresh fruits and veggies on the plate, while school lunches in the USA mainly consist of heavily processed foods like pizza, fries, and chicken nuggets where % of chicken meat is often less than 10%.
For the sake of the health of younger Americans, pursuing environmental sustainability should walk hand in hand with pursuing sustainability in nutrition. Obesity and diabetes are also making their way on the medical records of many US children, but not many regulatory agencies seem to connect that outcome to processed foods. A starting point for intervention would be allocating more federal and state funds to increase wholesome nutrition in schools.
Together with state lawmakers, school districts should push for better funding, screening of ingredients, and hiring contractors to provide American students with healthier lunch options.
5. Community gardens
In 2006 a beautiful community garden that helped feed low-income working families in Los Angeles was demolished because the land was sold to a real estate and concrete industry mogul Ralph Horowitz. This story moved Hollywood celebrities deeply, and one of the filmmakers shot a documentary called “The Garden,” which highlighted corruption and back-door deals.
If conducting a basic search in Google maps, it is evident that community gardens do not exist in many areas, especially in those where food insecurity is high. Creating nationwide state initiatives about community gardens would be a significant step in improving nutrition for low-income families.
Besides improving food insecurity, community gardens can help improve the carbon print of grocery transportation to remote areas, create a platform for composting food waste, unite kids and parents with common goals, and help prevent non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes supplying a variety of fresh and nutritious foods.
Environmental and nutritional sustainability shouldn’t be something we fight over with blood, sweat, and tears. Voices of scientists, healthcare professionals, and parents deserve to be heard in the world of corporate politics, profits, lobbying, and corruption.
The only answer to sustainable nutrition would be a collective national effort to ensure cleaner farming, transparency in food labeling, nutrition education in schools, rights to plant gardens, and wholesome foods being widely available at affordable prices.