Food is delicious. We love food. It’s fun to smell, fun to eat, even fun to look at. It has inspired ridiculous (and borderline inappropriate) hashtags such as #foodporn, #foodgasm, and #cameraeatsfirst. That is just how good food is. Food is ubiquitous: it is a part of our day, several times a day. Cultures from all over the world come together over food and celebrate with food.
As commonplace as food is, it still manages to become an extraordinary and transforming part of our days from time to time. Food matters. And not just for our taste buds; the growth and consumption of food translates into so many major issues that are affecting the world today. World hunger, obesity, agriculture, terrorism, campaign financing, immigration policy, urban planning, education, government subsidies and healthcare reform all share one thing in common: food is at the center.
Ellen Gustafson is a U.N. Spokesperson, a co-founder of Food Tank, a co-creator of FEED Bags, a philanthropist and a fellow foodie. She has spent her career researching our food system’s global and local impact on health, the economy and the environment. What she has found is both disturbing and encouraging.
Our country (and the world, soon) is facing an obesity epidemic coupled with the issue of feeding the world’s population. Hunger and obesity create a two-fold problem, and both are directly correlated with poverty. The solution for the past 30 years has been manufactured food, which has resulted in the consolidation of food production and a limitation of food diversity. There are only a handful of companies in the food and farming business in the United States, and only a handful of products being offered in the grocery store (corn, wheat and soy: genetically modified and cleverly disguised). Plus, this food system promotes and perpetuates the unsanitary and unethical treatment of animals. This model is failing us, as the food that is manufactured contains more and more harmful chemicals and less and less of the nutrients our bodies need. This model is also failing the world, since we are exporting our broken food system to other countries, which leads to starving farmers and overweight but malnourished people. It’s time for a change.
Gustafson makes a compelling case that organic, ethical produce can and should feed the world. Luckily, Millennials (that’s us—ages 18-35) have taken a vested interest in the food they consume. They are flocking away from restaurants like McDonalds and heading towards fresher options like Chipotle.
Among the Chef Survey’s Top 10 Trends observed by the National Restaurant Association are: locally grown produce, locally sourced meat and environmental sustainability. According to Gustafson, the top Millennial trends that indicate we are changing the way we like to eat are: an increase in Farmer’s Markets and local co-ops, increase in organic and local food sales, increased interest in vertical gardens and urban food growth and increased support of “Fair Trade” items, such as fair trade coffee.
This is really important because how our generation chooses to invest our money and how we choose to feed ourselves will have lasting and major impact on the world. We could be responsible for ending world hunger and curing the obesity epidemic! The food system is at a tipping point of radical change, and this is the time when malfunctioning trends can be reversed. If we choose poorly and only think short-term about what’s best for our wallets, we may have a major mess to clean up down the road, and could leave a depleted world for our children to have to survive.
The things that we find cool are the things that take over. We are the ones that empowered the food companies like Coca-Cola (brown sugar-water) with our dollars. We now have the chance to take our consumer dollars and invest them into sustainable companies that nourish rather than feed people, and that enrich rather than deplete the environment. But that’s just the bad news. There’s a solution, and it starts at our own dinner tables.
5 Ways to Join the Food Revolution
1. Change what’s for dinner.
This is the No. 1 thing (and only thing, really) that you have to do to contribute to the solution. Remember when mom told you to eat what’s on your plate because there are starving children in Africa? Well, mom was kind of right! What’s on our plates does affect the world and the community. Simply be conscious of what you choose to eat and make better choices, even if it’s only one meal a day. Buy organic, buy local and buy what’s in season. For those of you in Hampton Roads, there is a wonderful Farmer’s Market on Dam Neck Rd. that you can visit year-round. Make it an event! The experience is so much better than just visiting Wal-Mart.
2. Occupy your kitchen!
A cooking apron can be the most subversive tool you have in your arsenal. By cooking your own food, you get to control what you put into you body. Also, spending the time to cook your own food makes it more meaningful and you will savor it more (unless you’re a terrible cook—then you’d better get your roommate to cook for you). But you never know; eating consciously in your own kitchen may be the only diet you ever need.
3. Eat family meals.
Data says that eating a meal with other humans improves your quality of life. In college, you may have to eat with your “framily.” You could create a meal schedule with your roommates or even with your hall-mates. When you eat together, the quality of food improves (because who wants to sit around the table eating protein bars or picking at a bag of Doritos together?). It’s also cheaper to buy and cook in bulk than it is to do individual portions.
4. Eat your values.
On average, we spend about 2 percent of our income on charity, and about 10 percent on food. So while it’s great to give to charities that seek to feed the world such as FEED Bags and Compassion, it’s far more effective to invest our food budget into supporting these same values. Remember, How We Live > How We Give. When you’re craving a snack, do you just want the cheapest, most convenient produce, or do you also care about where that produce came from and the farmer you’re supporting behind it? With every purchase you make, you are voting with your dollars about what kind of food system you think is important.
5. Vote with your votes.
Stay interested and informed about the talk in Washington that centers around food. There are several Farm Bills and Healthcare Bills coming up in the near future that have to do with food production and consumption. Be aware of the major food companies that support certain politicians and the reciprocal relationship they may have. Also pay attention to the plethora of complementary issues that affect our food system, such as campaign finance reform and urban planning. Our votes do count and we can make a difference!