Food is the problem, and food is the solution

At a time when I get so frustrated with the food system and overall health of our planet, including climate change, this 10 min TED talk with Ron Finley, the “Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA” is such a ray of hope, and I encourage you to watch it as well and hope that it makes your day.

I have been looking into the food and health system for quite a while now and to me it is no surprise that one in every three new Type 2 Diabetes patients is now a child or teenager (where it used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes), that obesity rates are skyrocketing, as well as rates of cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. Our life expectancy went up, but we are miserable, sick, and managing the problems instead of attacking them at their roots. We have normalized our now toxic and unethical food system. It is a sick system.

Finley offers a solution that I could not agree with more: “Food is the problem, and food is the solution.” He plants gardens in his gritty inner city area where fresh produce is not always available and he starts with something so simple that has a huge impact not only on his own community but is going viral. Finley has received over two million views on the TED web site and says:

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

“If kids grow kale, they will eat kale. If kids grow tomatoes, they will eat tomatoes.”

Winter crops in early October

Winter crops in early November, ready to harvest the first lettuce and spinach

I know that I am very fortunate to have the luxury of several raised vegetable beds around my house that provide about 150 square feet of growing space. But you don’t have to have a garden to make a shift in your dietary habits. Just by increasing your vegetable intake and lowering the animal products or processed food choices, you can have a dramatic impact on your health.

It is by now a very well known fact that eating a whole foods, predominantly plant based diet is so much better for our own health, has obvious impact on the welfare of the animals and affects the progress of climate change and the overall health of our planet.

Your actions are important in this: As Ocean Robbins, Co-founder of the Food Revolution Network, says, “Every time we sit down to eat, we are casting our vote for the kind of health we want and for the kind of world we want to live in. If we feel powerless, we need to know that our food choices can have a huge impact. Everyone can be a part of the Food Revolution!”

Besides the documented effects of reduction of meat consumption on your health, animal welfare, and climate change, there is another thing to consider: Consumers are faced with the choices of buying organic or conventionally grown produce, and this choice not only affects our own health but also the health of the agricultural farm workers. I was shocked to learn that the average life expectancy for a farm worker in California is 49 years. That hits me so hard as I am now  49 years old and could not imagine leaving my kids behind at this point.

The reason for this low life expectancy is that farm workers are constantly impacted by the chemicals that are used in the food industry. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guideline for the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 is a good source here.

These two lists are good sources to use when deciding whether to buy organic or conventionally grown produce. For example, they list conventional strawberries for the second year in a row as the most contaminated fruit on the list. These strawberries are grown on fields that are sprayed with 600 lbs of pesticides on one acre. We don’t want the food we eat to be fueling the suffering or illness of somebody else. Did you know that farmer’s markets have quadrupled the last 15 years and sales of organic food has been skyrocketing? Still less than one percent of our farmland is dedicated to growing organic crops.People like Ron Finley and everyone who grows something around their house or apartment, make a huge difference and are trailblazing the way to upending our toxic food industry.

Here are a few facts to consider:

  • In the drought stricken state of California more water is used for the meat and dairy industry than for municipal, private and corporate uses combined. That includes transportation and growing of food. On top of that it takes 6-8 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.
  • We export 200 mill gallons worth of water every year to China in the form of alfalfa to feed their livestock.  The entire dairy and livestock production has more impact on climate change than the entire transportation sector combined.
  • The organic industry is subjected to unfair regulatory practices designed to be punitive and protect the “old guard.”  In order to be certified organic farmers, producers have to pay a significant price for that certification to prove that they are not using neurotoxic pesticides or herbicides.In my opinion, instead of making organic farmers pay a premium to become certified organic growers, it would be great to shift the costs to growers who do not abide by organic and sustainable growth principles and thereby damage our environment. Penalize the polluters – not the clean food pioneers. The price dynamic would shift and everyone would have access to good healthy food. Everyone should be able to do the right thing for their family and to be able to afford to do so.

If you are worried about the cost of buying organic fruit and produce, please know that we honestly have been saving quite some money by not buying meat or fish anymore. Instead,  we invest more in organic grains, produce, fruits and all the other wonderful options a plant based whole foods diet has to offer. I hope Ron Finley’s talk has inspired you to grow a little something that is edible. There are many practical options to plant something in even small areas, like balconies or the side of the houses. Nurseries offer a large selection of containers and pots. Here is a good article that lists some options how to grow something even in small spaces.

And to go with Ron Finley at the end of his talk: Let’s plant some shit!

Health for our body, Health for our Planet.