>However, even more important to me than the debate about whether organic or
>chemically-produced ag has better nutrients is this: that we can return to
>center stage of all farmers the priority _of_ producing nutritious food -
>not just big, not just pretty, not just a lot of quantity - but healthy
>nourishing alive delicious food. I think this can reinspire farmers who
>are perhaps tired of work that's become like factory work....
Patricia and sanetters in general,
I think that organic agriculture may miss an ideal opportunity to maximize
its potential impact on Americans' health and sustainable wellness unless it
broadens its mission beyond environmental friendliness and the production of
nutritious food (whether or not that food is actually nutritionally
superior). The agriculture-nutrition-wellness connection involves more than
farming, especially these days when nutritious food leaving the farm gate is
less likely than ever to translate into healthy eating. Some reasons:
1. Modern food processing adds fat (usually unhealthy hydrogenated oils),
sugar, and salt to many products and often markedly reduces the fiber
content and vitamin/mineral content of cereal grains (fortification with 3 B
vitamins and iron doesn't come close to redressing these losses).
2. It's harder than ever to know how to select healthy foods, given the
mind-boggling array of supermarket food choices and the proliferation of
low-fat, fake-fat, artifically sweetened, or vitamin-fortified (usually
beyond any rational need) "techno-foods". Sugar-laden, fiber-depleted
breakfats cereals, cookies, snacks, and juice drinks are often labelled
"nutritious" after adding a penny's worth of vitamins and/or minerals.
3. The public is understandably confused about nutrition. Just try looking
at any bookstore's collection of diet books to get a consensus opinion on
how to eat well.
4. We've become a food-obsessed society and now eat over 200 calories a day
more than in 1978. Food is everywhere, and both adults and kids are
comnstantly bombarded by a media blitz urging us to stuff ourselves, usually
with the wrong foods. About 45% of the typical U.S. family's food budget is
now spent at restaurants (usually fast food) vs. 25% in 1950.
5. America's major nutritional legacy (and, indeed our federal dietary
guidelines until the '92 introduction of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid) stems
from traditional Anglo-Germanic eating patterns favoring a high-fat,
low-fiber diet where meat and dairy products play a central role. Numerous
diet/disease studies worldwide (e.g. Cornell/Oxford/China Study, Seven
Countries Study, etc.) have correlated this eating style with a much higher
rate of chronic degenerative diseases (heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis,
diabetes, etc.) than in the case of plant-centered diets.
Organic agriculture might do well to realize that pesticide contamination
(though a much more valid issue in other regards) and inferior nutritional
quality of non-organic foods (if true) have less to do with America's
dietary inadequacy and lamentably high rate of chronic degenerative diseases
than the negative aspects of our modern food supply and eating habits
There exists a real void in nutrition education in America today, and it
seems that many nutritionists have sold out (or given up) to the food
industry's warped version of sound eating through techno-foods or
convenience foods. The USDA did an admirable job of winning approval of the
plant-centered Food Guide Pyramid over stiff opposition from food
industry/commodity groups, but the visual depiction on food packages isn't
enough to get the message across (the vital details lie hidden in 2 USDA
Home and Garden bulletins, and current nutrition extension programs are
inadequate to get the message across.)
The organic agriculture movement could foster a much needed sustainable
agriculture-sustainable health connection by becoming more involved in
nutrition education efforts that explain not only the health advantages of
using minimally-processed, "whole" foods like grains, legumes, fruits,
veggies, but also how to transform them into tasty, low-hassle, quickly
prepared recipes that can better compete with packaged, often highly
processed, convenience foods. It's also an ideal time to launch school-based
nutrition education activities, since school lunch programs will have to
abide by the new plant-centered Dietary Guideines by early'97.
Aside from the USDA Food Pyramid, other plant-centered pyramids based on
healthy (but flavorful), traditional ethnic eating patterns (e.g. Asian,
Mediterranean, Mexican) provide an ideal vehicle for learning about healthy
eating and putting it into practice.
David Leonard, Agro-nutritionist
P.S. No flames please over comments on the Anglo-Germanic eating legacy.
I'm not suggesting it be trashed, just that, for health reasons, it should
be used in moderation.