I grew up listening to mother say to me "Remember, you are what you eat." It was her way of getting me to eat my vegetables, which at that time consisted of iceberg lettuce and canned wax beans. As a young child, I often wondered if that meant I was going to grow up and become a piece of liverwurst or bologna. During the 70's we were largely raised on Wonderbread sandwiches, Ragu and casseroles made from canned soup. I couldn't help but reflect on how far we have come as a society in valuing what is actually in our food.
In preparation for Thanksgiving this year, I went out of my way to find a turkey that had a good life by turkey standards. The label says my turkey was raised on a free-range farm, was fed only grass and was treated with love and care. I get great joy knowing Tom (my turkey) had a good life. To be honest, this special trip to find the perfectly cared for turkey, cost me some money. Tom was twice as much as his less fortunate brethren who were held prisoner in crowded facilities, eating corn, soy and god knows what else to make them grow fat, fast.
Speaking of fat and fast - according the Centers for Disease Control, America is 'obesogenic' meaning people eat too much, they are largely empty calories and they spend too much time sitting around. This trifecta is having a direct impact on our wallets. According to USA Today, "If Americans continue to pack on pounds; obesity will cost the USA about $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018, eating up about 21% of health-care spending."
The burden of too much food, is unmatched by the burden of too little, or too little of the right kinds of foods. I've come to understand this 'double-burden' issue in my work with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). According to GAIN, malnutrition refers not only to those who eat too little or lack key micronutrients, but also refers to consuming too much. In this regard malnutrition exacts an enormous toll globally - impacting 1 out of every 3 people. It is the single largest killer of children under five, contributing to more than 3.5 million child deaths each year.
The good news for most US consumers is that solutions aren't all that complicated - eat more nutritious foods in the right quantities. It's easy for people like me who know how to read a nutrition label and understand what it means, and has a plethora of choices that I can afford. However, for more than 4 billion people globally who live on less than $10/day, the situation is quite complicated.
Global leaders are now focused on promoting and expanding access to affordable, nutritious foods for poorer populations - with a priority on the first 1,000 days of life (beginning with a woman's pregnancy and continuing until a child is 2 years old) where nutrition as a key determinant of a child's future potential. To increase access to affordable nutritious foods requires the coordinated efforts of the farmers who grow the food, the private sector who produce the food and governments who regulate the industry. Organizations like GAIN play a vital role in pulling the sectors together - strengthening the entire system from farm to fork.
This Thanksgiving, I'm going to honor my transition from a Wonderbread child to an adult who now has a deep appreciation for good quality food. And while my mother may have smoked and drank while she was pregnant, fed us formula and raised us on cheap processed food, I'm grateful for the nutritionists and scientists, organizations like GAIN, who have helped us understand the critical role nutrition plays in our destiny. Ironically, my mother converted to all natural and whole foods a decade ago and now works at an all natural food store. She has been a leader in our family, educating us on the health benefits.
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