Redefining Healthy Food: An Ecological Health Approach to Food Production, Distribution, and Procurement
Over the last century, we have radically altered the way we produce and distribute food. This transformation of our food and agricultural system has fundamentally affected the health of our planet and its inhabitants. We are already experiencing significant impacts in the form of increased antibiotic-resistant bacteria, poisoned air and water, food-borne pathogens, and collapsing rural communities. We are at the brink of inability to provide future generations with fresh air, water, and food.
The current obesity crisis is receiving attention, yet lacks the context of food production and ecologic impacts. Poor nutrition is a risk factor for four of the six leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Our current food system favors the production of animal products and highly refined, calorie-dense foods, rather than the fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods important in prevention of these diseases. Hidden behind these nutritional imbalances is a food system reliant on and supported by methods of production and distribution that hurt our environment and us. Perversely, it is the obesity crisis that is providing the opportunity to re-examine our twenty-first century food and agriculture practices through a new health-conscious lens.
Furthermore, it has provided an awakening to the intricate relationship healthcare has with food production and ecological and human health. It is forcing a shift in awareness of the importance of healthcare’s role in prevention and wellness and in developing national leadership with respect to the need to address the food system itself as a means to healthy food. Moreover, the obesity crisis is forcing a realization of our intrinsic connection to global health and ecological processes. Understanding these complex relationships gives us an opportunity to restore control over a situation that has pervasively influenced the health of humans and our environment.