Hearts & MindsSM - Information for ChangeSM

Socially Responsible Food

Organizations that work on food issues 
are included in this article.

See also: Secrets of Easy, Healthy Cooking  |  Fun with Lentils

Thoughts on FoodThe foods we choose are raw materials for healthy enjoyment.
We all have reasons for the
foods we choose: personal ones such as health, taste, and budget; more universal ones such as reducing world hunger or the humane treatment of animals; or we may not have given it much thought!

       As we recognize that our choices have far-reaching results, our decisions become more meaningful. Eating local foods, reducing meat consumption and educating others supports sustainable food systems. Thus we can improve our health and ensure more and better food for our own bodies, those of our neighbors, and for the rest of our planet. Rather than consuming exotic and expensive foods simply because we can afford them, we can eat in ways that all of us together can afford, both economically and spiritually.

Food Relationships
Piggy jr.       One wise choice is fresh, local foods. By working with nearby farmers rather than leaving our food decisions to big businesses, we gain greater control over what we eat.

       Increasingly, much of our food comes from a limited number of large corporations. For example, six corporations now control 90% of the grain traded in the world.

       Large-scale production does produce growing quantities of foods at lower costs. In supermarkets we pay far more than what farmers receive for what they grow. Emphasizing profits, corporations have a strong incentive to determine what we eat and how we get it. They often make heavy use of powerful petrochemical insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. These can harm farm workers, our ecosystem and water supplies.

Think Globally, Eat Locally
       An additional concern is imported commodity crops from less developed nations. To produce more coffee, cacao, bananas and sugar, small farmers are often forced off their land into overcrowded cities. While profits are channeled elsewhere, local people often live in abject poverty.

       When we support local farmers, we create relationships that help ensure good food for ourselves and we know where our dollars are going. Using local food saves money on transportation, advertising, and packaging. Because local food does not travel far, it is often fresher and more nutritious. It is also less likely to be treated with preservatives.

Each meal is a chance to explore new combinations.

Just Food
There's lots you can eat without meat.       Just Food, the New York City Sustainable Food System Alliance, addresses local food issues. Founded in 1994, its mission is "to build food security in New York City through community-based solutions to food, farming and hunger problems." Its founder and director, Kathy Lawrence, has a vision of working toward a reliable and socially just food system.

       Just Food uses public education, policy analysis, and advocacy to address food security, hunger, agriculture, urban gardening, and community development. Rather than duplicating the work of other organizations, it works with Food for Survival, Community Food Bank, the Northeast Organic Farming Association and other groups.

Mutually Beneficial
       In 1996, Just Food helped form several Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs), where people buy shares of food from a farmer. Local farms have been dying out; CSAs support them. As Kathy Lawrence explains, "They establish a bond between farmers and eaters - an independent and sustainable relationship."

       To facilitate, Just Food sets up forums where a farmer meets shareholders to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Volunteers recruit shareholders, find food-distribution centers, and do accounting for the farmers.

Photo of pile of carrots, a healthy food       A single share feeds 1-2 people and costs about $300 a season - as little as $10 a week for a wide range of fresh, tasty, often organic vegetables. Members get weekly food deliveries during the growing season (about 30 weeks) that starts in June. Some farms extend the season by using greenhouses and growing durable root crops. Shares are usually purchased by April.

       There are now 6 farmers and about 325 households involved in New York metro-area CSAs. To find one in your area, contact:

Community Supported Agriculture of North America
57 Jug End Road
Great Barrington, MA  01230
(212) 413-528-4374
E-mail: [email protected]

       For the New York metro-area contact Kathy at Just Food:
(212) 212-666-2168

Center for Science in the Public Interest
Website: www.cspinet.org
       "For 30 years, a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science. An award-winning newsletter, Nutrition Action  Healthletter, is the largest-circulation newsletter in the country, providing reliable information on nutrition and health."

Shopping for fresh veggies in the open air.
Illustration Copyright 1997 by Kate Wasilewski

Shopping for the earth's bounty.Additional Sources for Local Food
       Farmers' markets carry fresh, tasty local foods. Though we may not buy food from the same farmer every time, we are still supporting local agriculture and getting relatively inexpensive products.

      Greenmarket helps manage farmer's markets in New York City. It visits all 200 participating farms, ensuring that each one grows what they sell. For locations of farmers' markets in NYC, call Greenmarket at  (212) 477-3220.

       Another way is to request that your supermarket carry local foods. Just ask the manager. It may be easier than you think to bring delicious local produce to your market.

Less Meat...More to Eat
       Reducing meat consumption helps ensure more food to go around. Meat is expensive in more than just price - it requires enormous amounts of water, fossil fuel, and electricity at a time when we are concerned about availability of natural resources and the depletion of nutrients in our soil. A vegetarian diet requires one-twentieth the land space of a meat-based diet, and less than one-tenth the water usage.
fast fast food

       Livestock eats much of the world's grain. If the USA reduced meat consumption by 10%, we would free more than 12 million tons of grain a year - enough to feed 60 million starving people. Why use our resources wastefully when resources can be used more efficiently to feed people?

Good Sources of NutrientsA painting of food with creative possiblities.
       A primarily vegetarian diet
can also be much healthier. We digest grains and vegetables easily, so there is less chance of colon blockage. A vegetarian diet also reduces the risk of getting cancer.

       How can vegetarians be sure we get enough protein, minerals and vitamins? There is usually sufficient protein when we eat enough to maintain our normal body weight.  These include foods that are high in protein such as tofu, split peas, lentils, beans and nuts.

       Nutrients in some foods compliment those in others.

       Foods like leafy green vegetables, broccoli and raisins are high in iron. Vitamin C - from citrus and other sources - helps us absorb the iron.

       Green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in calcium. So are soybeans. While some people think milk is the best source of calcium, the phosphorus in milk inhibits absorption of calcium.

       Vitamins we need include B12 + D.  B12  is needed by the nervous system and for cell growth. Good sources include nutritional yeast and vitamin supplements. Vitamin D helps the body metabolize calcium. Fish is a good source, but you can also replenish Vitamin D by being out in the sunlight. (Of course be careful not to burn.) Or, you can take tablets.

Additional Techniques for Health
       What else can we do to keep our bodies healthy? In Reclaiming our Health, Robbins emphasized that we need more understanding of, and compassion for, our bodies.

       We can focus on preventing disease. This is better than going to the doctor after things go wrong, like taking a car to a mechanic only after it breaks down! At a time when health care is very expensive and malpractice suits abound, we need to take more responsibility. Robbins posed the question, "What do vegetarians die of?" He answered with a beautiful analogy: "Maybe we'll just ripen like fruits, and fall off the tree when we're at our sweetest, without disease."

In Conclusion
       None of us can single-handedly solve world hunger. Yet, with responsible food choices we can be part of the solution. There are many ways we can help make a difference:

  • One person might choose to eat a little less meat every week.
  • Others may do more home cooking instead of eating fast food, junk food, or expensive restaurant meals.
  • It can be very enjoyable to invite friends for dinner, break bread together, and really enjoy one another's company. Cooking a meal shows how much you care.
  • You may also consider joining a CSA, supporting nearby farmers while you enjoy fresh, local produce.
  • Or you might shop at a nearby farmer's market as much as possible, rather than buying food that has traveled greater distances to get here.

       There are connections between what we put in our mouths, our health, and the health of our planet. Whether we are vegetarians or meat-eaters, we are making food choices all the time. Let them be good ones!

Learning about and Enjoying Food

       There are many resources to help you enjoy foods that are healthier, tastier and better for our planet. Here is one example:

       Gulliver's Living and Learning Center offers natural health education in New York City. This includes classes on cooking and physical and spiritual health. The center teaches that we can heal body and spirit together, based on our food choices.

       For example, "Healing with Whole Foods, a Professional Training Program in Modern Macrobiotics" focuses on nutrition, cooking, Eastern philosophy, visual diagnosis, shiatsu, and feng shui. This range of subjects follows the idea that health is a holistic way of life.

       A unique feature of the classes is that students can become part of a spiritual community, learning to feed and nourish each other and taking that knowledge and spirit into their hearts to share with others.

       It can be reached at:

Integrative Nutrition
120 West 41 Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10036 (212) 730-5433

Website: www.integrativenutrition.com

NOTE: Hearts and Minds will add more listings, how-to articles and recipes for socially responsible cooking.

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http://www.heartsandminds.org/articles/foodiss.htm - latest text changes April 20, 2006.

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