(Health Secrets) Early Americana is remembered in part for its legacy of homesteading and family farming where families grew their own fruits and vegetables, raised their own animals for food, and traded their goods locally with neighbors. Today’s American landscape has changed dramatically; a mere 1-2 percent of all consumed food is locally grown today, and over 90 percent of it has been processed. Experts believe this modern food system is directly responsible for the obesity epidemic, and they say that a shift back to locally-grown food would help remedy this cause of obesity and improve public health.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) collected data from a myriad of data sources to analyze the cause of obesity. Upon review, they concluded that the large-scale food system of today has resulted in a glut of readily-available, highly-processed, and typically genetically-modified (GM) foods that are rich in refined flours, sugars, and bad fats, and devoid of many necessary nutrients,vitamins and minerals.
This cause of obesity starts with much of the conventional produce and meat found in grocery stores often traveling long distances from farm to market, and much of it even coming from other continents. When processing is involved, food travels even further as commodities are shipped in from around the globe, processed in a factory, shipped out to distribution centers, and finally distributed to local retailers. The total distance a single processed item’s ingredients have traveled is truly mind-boggling.
Yet due to highly subsidized base crops like wheat, corn, and soy, a great majority of processed food ingredients can be obtained inexpensively, despite all their travel, and sold for less than whole, healthier foods. Processed foods also have a much longer shelf life and usually don’t require refrigeration, making them cheaper to store and market to consumers.
One remedy for which the MIT is advocating is integrated, regional foodsheds that they believe will make healthier food more readily available to the public. These foodsheds will grow as much food locally as possible, and trade and sell it with other foodsheds in the regions for local sale.
Another idea they have is to encourage the conversion of urban and suburban yards and lawns into small-scale farms. Lawn maintenance, they say, actually costs more than maintaining a small garden plot. So by turning this valuable land into usable growing land, individuals can actually supplement their own food supply with fresh, home-grown produce.
Another excellent idea includes creating “food terminals” in which grocery stores combine efforts with local greenhouses and farmers markets to cooperatively sell local goods. This would allow healthier products to be more easily obtained by local residents, and would also improve local economies.
Researchers admit that not everything can be grown and sold locally all the time, including those items that only grow in certain regions and climates, and at certain times of the year, but they support working towards growing as much as possible locally. They also hope that city planners and other regional architects will work to create infrastructures that facilitate local and regional farms that are easily accessible by residents.
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