Nutrition is something I think about a lot. I study it. I talk to my kids about it. I attend conferences about it. It's a way to rewire ourselves from the inside out. So when my friend Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan told me he had written The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm (Hay House), I knew I had to get a copy. It's excellent! Tim's no purist, food snob, or extremist -- he loves ice cream and chicken wings -- but he does his best to follow Michael Pollan's advice from In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Tim's book is clear, down-to-earth, packed with scientific data and expert information (no empty calories here!) and flavored with his personal anecdotes and great sense of humor.
Why should a U.S. Congressman care so much about food? Because the majority of Americans are ill-served by our nation's food system. Tim believes we need to get away from industrialized food and back to healthy eating. "Let's come together with the tens of millions of other like-minded Americans who want to promote health and wellness in different areas of society and reshape the American landscape -- and the food that's growing there."
Tim outlines the roots of the problem:
Health: "Our food is making us sick and we need to change that, or our children's quality of life will be severely diminished." There's plenty of science to back this up. The way we're eating in America is leading to epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive illnesses, heart disease, cancer, nutrient deficiency, and even mental health conditions like ADHD.
Environment: "High levels of pesticides sprayed on our crops, runoffs from heavily fertilized fields, and the practices of factory farming are damaging the delicate ecosystem that surrounds our food production." It's not just our health but the planet's health that is impacted by a food production system that is profitable for a few but ultimately destructive for all of us. Tim sees this as an issue that crosses party lines -- who can honestly advocate for a system that's polluting the earth, air, and water we depend on?
Government and Big Business: "The large corporations at the heart of the current food system, supported by our government, dictate what's available to eat and at what price. If it's not working for you, you need to fight back." This is a call to take action. Is healthy, organic, whole food an unaffordable luxury when it comes to feeding your family? Instead of passively accepting the situation, do something about it! We need to work together to realign our legislative priorities and decrease funding for Big Agriculture as we increase funding for things like sustainable systems, conservation, organic food, new farmers, and nutrition education.
Costs and Access: "Our food system is technologically efficient but socially deficient. It is not delivering healthy, affordable food to large numbers of our citizens, in both the cities and the countryside." Real food has to be available for everyone, not just the affluent. Lack of access to healthy food impacts not only a community's physical health but its economic and social health as well -- poverty and poor nutrition are intertwined and our current food system is letting us all down.
Tim has some great ideas for solving these problems:
A New View: "The good news is that there is lots of information available and a new breed of food bloggers and doctors who are showing us a better way to eat -- one that puts a focus on sustainably produced foods." Information is power, so Tim suggests we first educate ourselves. Then we need to read the labels on our food, take a good hard look in our refrigerators and stop buying processed food, eat fresh when possible, and cut back on meat and sugar. Don't just go it alone! Work together with your family and your community to take these small steps that can have a big impact.
Policy Advocacy: "If we want to see a new way of food, we need to campaign for it, focusing on a few key areas where we need change now." We should: require GMO labeling; break up the anti-farmer seed monopoly; rebalance the farm bill toward small- and medium-sized farmers; end the crop insurance scam; and reduce antibiotic and hormone use. Get involved, whether it's with your church food pantry or your state legislature or the Environmental Working Group. And vote! By taking action, we can bring the food revolution from the personal level to a national one.
Farm to Table: "We need to listen to regional farmers. We need to celebrate their work. We need to support them. They supply the kind of food we need to be eating." Sounds simple, right? It is. Choosing to spend your food budget on locally produced (and delicious) food is a great way to advocate for health and support farmers.
Urban Food Revival: "Fortunately, one of the greatest ways to uplift the character of a city is to bring in more fresh food at open markets and in urban farms." City dwellers can get in on the act by shopping at farmers' markets and stores that sell whole food, and by supporting community gardens and urban agriculture. Maybe it's time to plant your own garden!
Education: "Too few of our children are learning where food comes from, how it grows, what's nutritious, what's not, and what the best cooking methods are. What could be more essential to life?" We need to examine how food is marketed to our children, and bring nutrition education not just to schools but also into our families. Take your kids grocery shopping, let them help you cook, make sure to keep healthy food available, and make it fun!
Tim concludes his book with a new vision for America: "Real food is not only about agriculture and nutrition. It's about a way of life that connects us back to the earth, to each other, to our communities, and to what really matters. It's about slowing down and really tasting life. It's about the joy of living." Who can argue with that?
After reading The Real Food Revolution, I'm fired up and ready to rewire how I eat and how I can help others as well. How about you?