Food Crisis – Turning the Tide

There is a food crisis in many of our schools and society at large. I believe two fundamental questions must be answered in any effort to address this issue and affect long-lasting, sustainable solutions; what socio/political-economic forces have brought us to this point and what sustains these forces on a macro as well as micro level? The issue of skewed priorities placing an inadequate or nonexistent focus on nutritional basics has been fuelled by a range of far-reaching changes, especially over the last few decades. 

Looking back over the decades one can seen an unhealthy shift in general western eating culture. Many underlying social, economic and political forces have come together to affect a confluence of changes which have significantly driven up obesity, behavioural disorders and a range of other issues such as age-related diseases triggered by cumulative nutritional deficiencies and increased oxidative stresses – with nutritional understanding sinking to unacceptable levels. Thankfully there is growing awareness that it is the underlying attitudes, educational methodologies and political/economic biases that must be addressed if we are to see long lasting and self-perpetuating general health awareness and allow more people to look after themselves and go through life with at least basic nutritional understanding and positive health-awareness. 

As cities became more urbanised after the war and car-ownership exploded, more and more took up residence in what you could call ‘urban islands;’ people began to rely on their cars for transport to ever greater degrees, and the distances at which dwellings were being built from essentials such as shops and town/community centres generally became larger. At the same time new technologies allowed the rise of the food industry in its creation of mass-produced, highly processed, low-quality fat and sugar based food of extremely low nutritional quality. This has previously not been possible. Looking into the past, the acquisition of food was fairly generally connected to some degree of physical exertion, and even then, the sugar and fat contents for one thing, of the foods consumed, were present in a more natural manner; fruits and vegetables serve as substantive sources of sugar in the form of fructose, and whole grain, high quality, hand-made bread for example, provide a balance of carbohydrates, effecting the slow-and-steady absorption of energy. Foods that combine fats (such as trans-fats) and high concentrations of sugars in the worst possible way were practically unthinkable, literally. 

At the same time, many primary and secondary schools do not practice anything resembling good nutritional education – this general lack of learning is often not compensated for at home and subsequently reinforced through the peer group. An understanding of what a balanced diet is and why we need one is certainly not innate wisdom; if signals at school are not balanced and/or reinforced by parents who set a good nutritional example, children will develop those eating habits with which they are surrounded and may be surprised when their health deteriorates. This state of affairs has been compounded by the rise of electronic distractions which are not challenged by unappealing urban environments and due to which many children are now far more sedentary than would have been possible in times gone by. This is also a developmental hazard, as physical activity is vital for healthy bone-development in children. 

Junk food advertisements on television are a further major problem which induce some children to crave certain products, especially, as many have found, when insidiously connected with recognisable childhood figures. Parents cannot always control what their children eat and this kind of advertisement undermines parental authority. It should not be tolerated in such blatantly immoral forms. Even in the family environment, parents have varying grades off ability to be firm with their children and some will give in to nagging; this has been dubbed the ‘nag effect.’ Such pressure on parents should be minimised. 

This convergence of factors; lack of nutritional awareness in schools compounded by a lack of this knowledge in more teachers than can be seen as acceptable, lessoned physical exertion, the rise of cheap, ‘fast’ food, and certainly a general culture that does not give meal-time informed attention and respect – are some of the main drivers behind the high obesity rates and behavioural disorders which we see across much of the western world. The food-like substances churned out by the industrial ‘food’ criminals and subsidised by their insiders working through government (e.g. the F.D.A in the U.S) have been shown over and over again to form the root of a plethora of problems; through their encouragement of an extremely low-nutrition diet, packed with grotesque amounts of sugar and saturated/trans-fats, packaged up with all manner of artificial preservatives, colours and taste enhancers, passing as food, generates addiction through skewing of qualitative taste signals, subsequent obesity, disruption of healthy biological processes (insulin overflow and hyperactivity through high-intensity dumping of glucose into the system by virtue of chemical-soup soft-drinks for example) and hormonal imbalances leading to diabetes. This comes together with chronic nutritional deficiencies, fuelling problems such as autism, ADHD,…(insert acronym).

All the labelling mainly serves the pharmaceutical companies who, through government control of the medical sphere resulting in competition restricting, anti-market practices, and intrenched by mandatory medical associations (special-interest tyrannies of control-freaks), reinforce such problems through a myriad of ‘targeted’ drugs which superficially claim to treat symptoms, ignoring the treatment of causes which is required in order to solve the problem. Furthermore, government policy, and this seems particularly pronounced in the U.S, more often than not subsidising and allowing loopholes (e.g. ingredient concealment, immoral advertising monopoly, phoney safety ‘investigations’ etc…) for the food-imitation ‘industry,’ facilitating an inordinate degree of influence and control by the junk lobby, allowing anti-ecological corporatism to run-amok, does little to assuage the problems with which we are faced. Indeed, a focus on preventative nutrition and cause-orientated, ‘functional medicine,’ as it is increasingly being called, within the auspices of a greater socio-political movement, is indispensable if we are going to stem and turn the tide of these problems moving into the 21st century.

Things are on the move and it seems schools are increasingly weaving basic nutritional awareness into their curriculum. In Australia there has certainly been promising progress, with many schools implementing snack policies which encourage fruits and vegetables and even some policy banning certain soft drinks and junk vending machines from school premises. It is to be hoped that these changes are set against the proper educational background. Much of this improvement is a reflection of societal shifts; the global food movement, focusing on sustainable agriculture and natural forms of cultivation has many different specific offshoots – the rise of understanding and subsequent demand for the benefits of organic food has been very pronounced, and this has come with a realisation of the need to support local produce and work towards sustainable agricultural practices. At the same time there is a growing focus on alternative medicine and the intrinsic merits of preventative living, allowing more informed and balanced medical choices, as the failures and immoral and unsustainable consequences of the special interest biased mainstream health system become ever more patent. 

All this is leading to an explosion of farmers markets, which are able to offer quality and prices which are not reflective of the imbalances and artificiality of international corporatism (unfair corporate monopoly through domestic and international, government facilitated trade biases, allowing for the absurd situation of limp, pesticide infested, nutritionally leeched fibres passing as fruit and veggies taking precedence over local produce in a community). There are programs underway which have linked this local produce with schools, bringing astounding benefits to the community. I think there is a growing understanding that the more self-contained a regional economy can be, the better it is for all. We do still have a long way to go before government policy adequately reflects these changes, yet I believe the pressure will grow; as the global economy becomes more and more unstable people will increasingly move towards the safety of greater community sustainability, with aggressive and destructive forms of industrial corporatism no longer harbouring the same degree of sway in this changed world.

Schools will continue to cater to community expectations, as they become an increasingly fertile environment for the development of healthy eating habits, within a greater focus on substantive lifestyle practices. Many teaching courses now incorporate mandatory nutritional components, which is another promising sign. Society must find its feat in our modern world and develop sustainable structures which incorporate the benefits of a modern lifestyle into a necessary awareness of what we require to stay healthy. People are learning and the more we can all contribute to spreading knowledge of what sustainable living and good nutritional awareness means, the more healthy society can become. We are part of local and global ecologies which can only survive in their rich fertility if we adapt our modern lifestyle to become synergistic with one’s natural environment. The illusion-induced focus on monoculture and productivity which has developed in the agricultural field disrupts our ecology, leaves us poorer, attacks our health, and robs future generations of the resources they require. A more local, quality driven focus, naturally taking advantage of the ecological and economic fundamentals of our environment is the key to prosperous, more sustainable societies.

Recommended Reading:

“Big Food exerts unhealthy influence on America’s nutritionists.” http://www.grist.org/food/2011-09-26-pay-to-play-with-the-ada 

“Docs on Pharma Payroll Have Blemished Records, Limited Credentials” http://www.propublica.org/article/dollars-to-doctors-physician-disciplinary-r…

New study: How to get your kids to become environmentalists” http://www.grist.org/article/2011-05-09-new-study-how-to-get-your-kids-to-bec…

Mark Hyman at TEDMED (Excellent talk on functional medicine): http://www.tedmed.com/videos-info?name=Mark_Hyman_at_TEDMED_2010&q=viewCo….ToSahs1_iNI.twitter

“Local food pantry to the rescue” http://cupertino.patch.com/articles/local-food-pantry-to-the-rescue

“Chef Ann Cooper: Reinventing the school lunch” http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/2011/08/chef-ann-cooper-reinventing-the-schoo….To_mhZxmI5E

“The food movement, its power and possibilities.” http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_63755.shtml

“5 solutions for healthy school lunches.” http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2011/09/01/healthy-school-lunches/

“Nutrition, behaviour and education” http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/2011/08/nutrition-behavior-and-education/#.To_n-JxmI5E

 

 

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