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Will Allen

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Eating Badly: 7 Consequences Of Fast Food

Posted: 05/14/2012 11:42 am

"We shall have to count the many hidden costs of what we are doing," the environmentalist Rachel Carson told a congressional committee in 1963. Carson was speaking about the dangers of pesticides. I feel the same thing could be said about our disconnection in the United States from economies of the soil.

Only 2% of Americans fish or farm for a living today--down from nearly half of Americans a century ago--and hundreds of thousands of small farmers have been pushed off of their land. Most of us do not know how to provide for ourselves on the most basic level. The average item of food we eat travels 1,500 miles from the field to the consumer.

There are advantages of convenience in this new food system. But there are also too many hidden costs to what we are doing. Here are what I feel are seven consequences of our disconnection from our sources of food, as discussed in my book, The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities [Gotham, $26.00].

Our health suffers
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The health of African-Americans has suffered after they left the South for northern cites during the "Great Migration." Many members of my own family, including my mother and father, fled their work as sharecroppers in the South. They left for good reason: the profession offered no future and was little more than wage slavery. More than 900,000 farms were operated by African-Americans in 1920. Today, less than 18,000 African-Americans name farming as their full-time profession.

In a sense, this is progress. But our departure from the land brought its own set of problems. Our inner-city communities are often toxic food environments, offering only processed food and meats. One in two African-Americans born in 2000 is expected to develop Type II diabetes. Four out of every ten black men and women over the age of 20 have high blood pressure. I feel that these are the direct result of our disconnection from the land.
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