in today's New York Times, titled Abundance Doesn't Mean Health.
Consider the following information, derived from Oxfam's "Good Enough to Eat" index rating of 125 nations:
The results for the United States make a fine case for American exceptionalism, though not in the way chauvinists will find pleasing.Please keep reading.
We rank first in food affordability; food is cheap compared with other things we buy, and prices are relatively stable. We also rank highly (4th) in food “quality,” which is measured by (potential) diversity of diet, though access to good water is shockingly low (tied for 41st, about a third of the way down the list).
Then the hammer falls: When it comes to healthy eating as measured by diabetes and obesity rates, we’re 120th: sixth from the bottom, better off only than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Fiji and our unlucky neighbor Mexico. (Canada fares a little better; it’s 18th worst.) We’re also in a tie (with Belarus and other powerhouses) for 35th in “enough to eat.” Really.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine having a food supply as abundant as ours and doing a worse job with it.
Bittman points out that what we grow does not necessarily turn into nutritious and health food:
- we grow corn for fuel
- we turn otherwise healthy food into junk food products
- we feed grains that should go to humans to meat-producing animals for whom it is not a natural food source (and which leads to many Americans eating far too much meat, with ensuing and expensive health problems associated with such a diet)
He also points out how we fail to get adequate distribution of food here with specific commentary on how SNAP does not reach all that it good.
We also do a horrible job of educating about food, with our financial support of such education being dwarfed by
the barrage of “fun to eat” ads for the food that is worst for us.People do not learn how to cook, or even how to properly shop for food. And to that observation by Bittman I note that we still have too many food deserts in this country where access to healthy food is quite limited.
I am going to push fair use with two more snips, about each of which I will offer some additional commentary of my own.
There are also issues of economic justice and education, and all their complications, which is why talking about food and eating inevitably leads to talking about the structure of society.I agree, but also point out that this is an indicator of ourneed to reexamine ALL of society, not attempting to address the myriad of issues in separate policy silos. Bittman makes reference to education. I talk about access to food. This is also connected to health policy. Think how much of our medical expense is related to unhealthy eating habits.
But given how our economy is structured, for many people on the margins the only employment to which they have access is tied to aspects of that economy that produce these unhealthy situations.
And far too many profit handsomely from the perverse situation in which we find ourselves, and will push back with all their economic (which translates to political) power, regardless of what the costs are to society at large and to so many of us in that society.
This is also an issue of global importance, because we tend to forget that some of our inexpensive food is the result of economically and societally destructive policies imposed in developing nations, whether it is the production of fuel under circumstances that devastates the culture of indigenous people or the destruction of rain forests for the production of beef for the fast food market dominated by American corporations.
Bittman thinks our political priorities on addressing this are skewed, as he notes in his concluding paragraph:
In the long run, what’s needed is not a Farm Bill — that tangled mess that’s been stalled in Congress since its expiration in 2012 — but a national food and health policy, one that sets goals first for healthful eating and only then determines how best to produce the food that will allow us to meet those goals. It doesn’t make sense to tell people to eat vegetables and then produce junk; that leads only to bad health in the face of evident abundance. What’s so great about that?Yet the relevant cabinet department, that of Agriculture, does not have healthy eating as sole or necessarily even its primary mandate, although the current Secretary Tom Vilsack (who I note is a personal friend) has attempted to change the culture of the agency. We need to remember that we are an agricultural exporter, that agriculture is big business, that there are unfortunately major corporations in the food industry who wield humongous influence over key Congressional figures. Also, when we separate the production and cost of food from its health aspects, as to some degree we do by the way power and authority are distributed not only in the Executive Branch (HHS vs Agriculture) but also in Congress (think of committees in both chambers with overlapping authority), we do not necessarily wind up with the most sensible policy.
I am late in life. I have the ability to choose a healthier diet. I have the resources to purchase a varied and healthy diet, whether to cook for myself at home or when I eat out.
Far too many Americans do not have such choices available to them.
Poor health, obesity, diabetes, heart disease - these are but some of the concomitant results of the lack of that choice., something compounded by lack of understanding, and exacerbated by policies that advantage corporate profits for some over the well-being of society as a whole.
That does not even come close to including the costs imposed upon society at large - shortened life-spans, loss of productivity at work, absences from and inattention in school.
We are in some ways a very rich society. That is, we have all kinds of wealth, including food and nutritional wealth.
We are an increasingly unequal society. That wealth is concentrated, malapportioned, and used to perpetuate power and control on behalf of the few at the expense of society as a whole.
Bittman is right: Abundance Doesn't Mean Health.
I wonder when we will fully confront that and begin to make the changes our society so desperately needs?