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How Big, Cheap and Fast Do We Want to Be?

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By guest blogger Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics, the world's first certified organic restaurant, and one of the greenest and most progressive restaurants on the planet.

We live in the most powerful country in the world. However, America's food system is probably one of the weakest on earth. Why is that?

We live in a country where about 80% of the population is overweight, and almost one-third is considered obese.

For the first time, babies born in America now have a shorter average life expectancy than their parents, due to obesity.
In 1930, Americans spent 24.5% of their income on food; in 2004, that number went down to 9.5%.

We've all been trained to save money on food. The fast food companies have persuaded us, for years, to do just that. And while they were fighting among each other for market share by lowering their prices, our collective health has deteriorated. America is the world's top spender in health care, spending about 2.5 times the average of European countries.

The German philosopher Feuerbach used to say: "We are what we eat." I truly believe in that statement. We have created this cheaper, bigger, and faster food system by supporting "the $5.99 value meal" for too long, and by doing so we simply killed good farming practices. Almost without noticing, we traded quality for quantity. Fifty years ago, America had great farming practices. But those great farmers were forced by our changing consumption habits to start growing cheap produce, and to raise cattle in faster and cheaper ways, to keep up with our demand.

So I'd like to say that "We shape the world by what we eat."

About 98% of the food grown in America comes from factory farming. Only 0.5% of the US farmland is certified organic. When I say factory farming, I mean that most food has significant amounts of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) ingredients. Those are all components that are very good at making money for some agrochemical companies, but are not good for people, or for the planet. By the way, about 95% of the products that you can find in the supermarket now have some GMO content. And to make matters worse, there is no label regulation that warns us about this presence. [Editor's note: Food labeled USDA Organic, or certified by the Non-GMO Project, cannot contain GMO ingredients.]

Additionally, the production of these chemicals requires a lot of energy. And of the carbon footprint created by food manufacturing, 85% is generated by the production, and 15% by the shipping.
The level of consolidation in the current food system is also unbelievable: only four companies produce 81% of the beef, 73% of sheep, 56% of pigs, and 50% of poultry in the US.

All of this is happening through subsidies that come from our tax dollars. It is also important to note that only 33% of the US farms receive these subsidies, and about 70% of what they grow with this money is not used to feed people.

To continue eating without really thinking about the food we eat seems to be a VERY bad idea overall. We keep deteriorating our collective health, and we keep providing the wrong players with money to keep growing their businesses, and at the same time block all kinds of needed change.

The link between food and health is obvious and unavoidable. We now know that if we save money on food, down the road we will have to spend way more on doctors and healthcare. We have unfortunately made a diabolic trade-off, with convenience exchanged for our health. We need to help change this food system to a better one as soon as possible.

A big part of the solution is to start eating better foods. By better foods, I mean foods that are organic and locally grown. If we all start supporting good quality food, we will be healthier, but we will be also supporting the right agricultural practices. And change will happen faster than most people think it can. We must take things into our own hands and start leading by example, because capitalism must be changed from within, and through profits. Once the right farmers start making good profits through our consumption habits, most farmers will switch back to the right practices, and the pace of change will accelerate.

We should develop sensitivity to understanding the different players in the food chain, and be able to support the right ones. We must differentiate food companies that care about people, and the environmental impact of their business, from the ones that want to "greenwash" us in order to sell more of the same. We are too smart to be greenwashed.
We should buy top quality food because even when it may seem more expensive in the short term, it is actually cheaper, because the environmental cost of our current food system is simply ridiculous.

This is the time to push hard for the food revolution that will free America from profit-makers who are messing with our health and our children's health.
Many people claim that organic food is more expensive. But I once read that a European eats, on average, about 57% of what an American eats. Organic food is 10% to 30% more expensive. If we reduce our calorie intake by 30%, we should be able to offset the price different, and this is "killing two birds with one stone."
We know as a fact that eating organic is better for our bodies and health. Some people may argue that the nutritional difference does not justify the price difference; however, nobody can argue that the chemical presence in non-organic food is good for people.

On the other hand, it has been scientifically proven that reducing our caloric intake will help us live a healthier, longer and happier life.

Let's all think before we eat, and help others to do the same, and change will immediately happen. Our health will automatically improve, and we will certainly move towards the food system that we need: quality over quantity.

Related Links:
A Visit to My Kitchen: Erin Ely of ElyOrganics.com
- Maria's Farm Country Kitchen
Buy Seeds Now for Next Spring's Garden - Rodale.com

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.

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