I studied international relations, security, and warfare for four years, but it wasn’t until I left college that I made the connection between hunger and terrorism.
Let’s backtrack a bit for some context: In the early fall of 2001, I was in my senior year at Columbia University as a political science major with a focus on global security policy. Specifically, I had become interested in the way the U.S. and the world work to avoid war, and ensure security in the modern world. My area of study meant that I was familiar with Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden before 9/11, but I was just as confused and shocked when the events of that horrid and tragic day took place. I decided to focus my career on understanding “why” this had happened. For the next few years, I worked in international security-related jobs, as a research associate for a group of military officers, and at ABC News in the investigative unit.
Yes, it’s a superfood, but a little-known fact is that the American Kale Association also hired a supercool PR firm to help the leafy green’s reputation grow.
Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello, the Irish mixed it with potatoes (“colcannon”) and hid charms inside it to predict marriage, but really, its claim to fame is the “kale” emblazoned sweatshirt that Beyonce wore in her “7/11″ music video. Yes, kale, the green leafy cruciferous vegetable might as well be just called cool (which is appropriately close to its Dutch translation “boerenkool”), since it has gone from a weird, fibrous and bitter garnish to the green of choice in just a few years. According to US Department of Agriculture data, farm production of kale in the US rose 60% between 2007 and 2012. Even more recently, from 2013 to 14, a survey of restaurant menu’s showed a 47% increase in the word kale.
We all know that one major driver behind the kale-ification of America (and the world, by the way) is that it’s a nutrient powerhouse. The curly green is high in vitamins A, C, and K, has lots of iron, fiber and calcium and can easily be baked into chips, massaged with oil for a salad, or thrown into a smoothie. But there are lots of healthy veggies available for the picking (including spinach, which is equallyhealthy as kale); virtually none of them have achieved pop culture icon status, nor do most of them have a doctor-promoted “National Day” (yup, National Kale Day is October 1st, conveniently one day before National Fried Scallops Day).
It’s back on our plates and palates … and new science suggests it’s not as bad for you as everyone thought.
For years, butter—along with other types of full-fat dairy and meat—has been taboo for health-conscious eaters. With diligence, we’ve spooned our fat-free yogurt, sipped our skinny flavored lattes and booted steak from our plates, believing that saturated fat would make us fat and put us on track for heart disease.
But the spread has been making a comeback: in civilized little crocks of “house-made butter,” flecked with gray sea salt, at farm-to-table restaurants; supercharging the morning coffee of CrossFit devotees; and melting on heirloom wheat rolls at dinner parties where conscious eaters debate the meaning of “local.”
Our flawed food system has led to dual epidemics: hunger and obesity. In the past 30 years, we’ve seen the repercussions of global changes, and they aren’t pretty. We’re closing in on 1 billion people going hungry—and an even greater number are already overweight. As a nation, we’ve traditionally focused on making food fast, convenient, and widely available rather than good for us. Cooking has turned into reheating. Shelf stability trumps freshness. “Big,” “cheap,” and “sweet” outweigh “nutritious” and “well produced” by an (un)healthy margin.
The thing is, bad food can kill you just as no food can—it just takes longer. It creeps up on us in the form of obesity, cancer, and heart disease, and also as degraded soil, a compromised environment, and weakened local agriculture.
There is a solution to this very complex and far-reaching problem: you. By making small changes to your own diet, you can not only improve your health but also become part of the collective force needed to re-create a healthy food system that feeds the world well. Start here.
1 OCCUPY YOUR KITCHEN!
By deciding how much and exactly which types of salt, sugar, and fat we will use to make our fruits, veggies, meat, dairy, and grains taste delicious, we reclaim control over our health and our weight. Cook as often as you can. more
Our global food system is a pretty powerful thing. The system produces enough calories to feed every person on the planet more than each of us needs, and many of us have more diverse food options than our grandparents could have ever imagined. Still, despite the fact that many of us enjoy cheap coffee and bananas from faraway places and that Coca-Cola is available in more countries than are recognized by the UN, there are close to a billion people struggling with hunger, and more than 1.4 billion people globally are overweight or obese.
Our interconnected food system can do amazing things, but we have not figured out how to ensure that we the eaters are fed WELL in almost every corner of the globe.
Three years ago, I was working as a U.S. Spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and met Lauren Bush, a Princeton student, who designed a bag that would feed kids around the world in school. In February 2007, Lauren and I co-founded FEED Projects, a small (ahem, two-person) company with the mission of selling these “FEED” bags to support WFP’s international school feeding efforts.
With all the dialogue and commentary on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed health code amendment to limit portion sizes, it seems an important argument in the Mayor’s favor has been missing — that this ban might actually help to put us back on track for a truly free market in our food supply. Yes, that’s right — “anti-consumer freedom socialists” and “the food police” might want to put down their victory flags. The NYC Mayor’s career to date confirms that he is indeed a capitalist, so I am fairly certain that he does not really take well to the “Nanny State” charge. And if we look one layer deeper at the sweetened beverage issue, it might well be that Bloomberg is helping to fight the “Nanny State” through this progressive effort.
And let’s not forget cronuts or test tube meat.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said that they don’t buy fruits and vegetables or “healthy food” because it’s too expensive, I could feed a small town all organic food for years! But, of course, it’s true — when you look at the prices of so-called “conventional” junk food compared with local, organic fruits and veggies, on a calorie per dollar basis, the junk often wins. Many people assume that it’s the produce or organic foods that “cost more” than highly processed, shelf-stable ubiquitous and cheap junk food, but what if the price tags that we see don’t tell the whole story?
[Hacking the Food System is an online conversation exploring how technology, information and data can change the food system status quo. Join the conversation below, on Twitter(hashtag #foodtech), or Facebook.]
When I was a kid in the 80s, my Mom would tell me to eat everything on my plate – because kids were starving in Ethiopia. There came a time when that argument started to seem ridiculous because my understanding of global geography was wide enough to know that my left-over food was never going to feed Ethiopia’s hungry children.
Now that I’ve worked as a food activist and learned of the realities of our global food system…I realize that some little pieces of my Mom’s admonition were right.
The food system is inextricably interconnected. The same companies that we buy our typical American dinner food from are involved in production and marketing of foods all around the world. Using technology and hacking the hard data of the global food trade, production, and consumption is absolutely essential for us to be able to understand how our own eating habits ARE effecting the world around us.
Externalties in the environment, consequences of consolidation, and the human cost of trade need to be assessed in deeper, more meaningful ways so that we can really be confident that our food choices are good for both our health and the world around us.
One quick example – we’ve been divesting in agriculture for the past 30 years, shifting our assistance to the hungry to food aid (mostly the excess commodities from large agri-business) and away from sustainable investments in small farmers, good soil and irrigation. By many accounts, including that of Dr Raj Shah, USAID Administrator, the famine that is devastating the Horn of Africa is connected the degradation of agriculture and the lack of infrastructure to manage drought.
It would be great to hack into the global trade of food, food aid and agriculture, so that we can learn which companies have lobbied to send US corn and soy to the Horn of Africa in lieu of developing sustainable agriculture. It would be great to hack into the real story of our food system and shed light on why we don’t have the great agriculture extension programs and seed banks of yesteryear, and why we are just “discovering” that investing in soil and conservation techniques is actually the optimal way to keep farms healthy and people fed.
The advice of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to prevent future famine in the Horn of Africa includes supporting rural livelihoods (small farmers), coordinating communication systems and implementing risk management programs. None of those things includes sending food from the other side of the world.
Understanding the global food system and making smart, sustainable changes in the way we eat and the way we help to feed the hungry can prevent some of the famines of the future. As we’ve accepted a diet based on the overproduction of corn and soy, we’ve allowed for an international food system predicated on it. Maybe, if we choose to eat our veggies, instead of highly processed, corn-based fast food, we COULD help a hungry child in the Horn of Africa. Inthekariga . For the sake of those children, lets try to hack into and fix our global food system soon.