The experience of the global pandemic has led all of us to understand that sustainability extends far beyond the traditional arenas of energy, environment, air, water and agriculture. It reaches into the entire realm of human and animal health and even into survival itself.
Sustainability is therefore ultimately a question of life and death.
As a nutritionist, I experience the current world situation from the perspective of what I see in our food industry and our health statistics. The future of our food industry is challenged on all sides. While a large percentage of our population continues suffering from preventable conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, our planet’s agricultural resources suffer from increasing greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation of rainforests, and the depletion of clean water resources for industrial farming.
In our grocery stores, a large amount of imperfect produce gets discarded as waste if it doesn’t meet the grocery store’s standards,. Heavily processed foods keep flooding the cash registers at every retail and grocery store, tempting consumers of all ages.
Haven’t we crossed the line with a 42% obesity mark among adults, 20% obesity among kids, increasing rainforest destruction, and the arctic ice layer melting at alarming rates?
In my own experience as a nutritionist in the US, we face several critical issues:
- Scarce resources for nutritional education in our school systems
- Parents unaware of how to instill healthier eating habits in kids
- A large amount of organic produce being unaffordable to poor and lower-middle-class families
- Convenience food manufacturers and stores dedicated to the profits of fast food
- School lunches being far from healthy
In my practice, I see the direct impact of such a lack of sustainability in our eating habits as a nation. Many of my patients are young people who, by the age of 25-30, are struggling with obesity and chronic health issues, and some adults have a hard time functioning by the age of 40. These individuals are incredibly bright and ambitious, but the state of their health is preventing them from following their dreams, putting them into a deep depression and vicious cycles of dieting and emotional overeating.
On the other end, we also have over 40 million people experiencing food insecurity in the USA. According to the latest data from FeedingAmerica.org, some parents may go without a meal for themselves to ensure there will be food on the table for their kids. Sadly, though, even food on the table does not mean a balanced meal providing proper nutrition.
As a society, we should develop sustainable and long-lasting solutions that will begin revolutionizing our eating behaviors, how we view food, and what we teach our kids.
We can create potential resolutions to most of these problems if the federal, state-governing and municipal agencies would come to a consensus of:
- Growing food would be allowed in any front yard of any neighborhood in the USA.
- Schools and workplaces will offer wholesome plant-based focused nutritional education and food prep classes
- Retail and grocery stores will fill their cash registers with healthier snacks VS processed packaged foods and high-corn fructose syrup candy
- School districts will introduce gardening, harvesting, and cooking classes in as many schools as possible
- Nutritional education in every school would be a part of the mandatory curriculum
- Non-toxic & sustainable agricultural practices would be practiced by the majority of industrial farmers, and companies like Monsanto and Dupont would start moving in that direction
- Imperfect produce to be available for a fraction of the price in underprivileged communities and to food-insecure families
- Food insecure zones to have gardening programs in schools that would have a garden ranger and a chef, and a nutritionist to teach kids about the benefits of eating wholesome foods and showing them how rewarding it can be to grow and share food with others.
- Billboard ads of fast foods would be controlled and limited
- A demand for dietitians and nutritionists to create community education programs that would educate about healthy, sustainable, and plant-focused eating habits.
Many trustworthy publications, wellness TV shows, and well-known medical experts have mentioned that a plant-centered eating lifestyle can help us solve quite a few of our problems. Industrial farming cattle practices have a detrimental effect on our planet. Simply reducing our meat consumption and replacing it with wholesome plant-based foods can have a relieving impact on our exhausted world.
I am not advocating for everyone to become vegan but simply encouraging my readers’ audience and my patients to eat more plant-based foods. My vision of our foods’ future lies in bringing us back to our kitchens and being compassionate to Mother Earth and her resources. We can create a better future for ourselves by being mindful of what we put in our grocery baskets, our bodies and how we treat the Earth.
Victoria Shemer, RDN, is a Clinical Dietitian at Morrison Healthcare.
- “Hunger in America Is Growing.” Feeding America, www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america.
- “The State of Obesity 2020: Better Policies for a Healthier America.” Tfah, www.tfah.org/report-details/state-of-obesity-2020/
- Marquis, C. (2021, March 3). Plant-Based Foods Are Our Future and Entrepreneurs Are Helping Us Make The Shift. www.forbes.com
- “Childhood Obesity Facts” www.cdc.gov, 4 May 2021, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html