Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Eat locally to improve health and save environment

Eat locally to improve health and save environment

In my last column, I took a hard look at how our food system is failing our children and how this is contributing to our problem with childhood obesity in America. Tomorrow night, ABC will premiere chef Jamie Oliver’s new television series “Food Revolution.” Throughout the series, Oliver will work to combat this issue in the town of Huntington, W.Va., which was recently named the unhealthiest city in America. I can’t yet speak to the impact his efforts will have, but I support the show for bringing attention to a problem so often overlooked. Oliver chose an avenue where he can best combat it, which is through cooking and food education.

This semester, I’m interning at Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy non-profit that works for more wholesome and sustainable food and safer water. They effectively take the legwork out of the consumer’s fight for safer, healthier, more sustainable food. I spoke with another “real food” advocate, Chef Rocky Barnette, the chef/restaurant liaison at Food and Water Watch, about what people our age can do as consumers to work for better food in America.

“Around when you’re in college is when you start to form your integrity about the food that you eat,” Rocky said. “It’s when you should start to be more conscious of the food that you’re putting into your body.”

Rocky believes in the power of “voting with your fork,” but doesn’t think that’s always enough. He is working with Food and Water Watch to build more awareness of various issues and motivate consumers to take action by taking steps like subscribing to our action alerts and signing our online petitions.

When I think about the work we do at Food and Water Watch, my heart gets all lit up inside. But the reality is not everyone feels as passionately about fair, slow, safe food. Unless this is a topic you have taken a strong interest in, you’re not going to be writing letters to your congressman about breaking up food monopolies and stopping factory fish farms. There just isn’t enough time in the day and if you go to AU, there is probably some other issue you are already too busy advocating for.

So what are some things we can do if we care about changing our food system, but we don’t really have time to start a blog about it and make it our personal crusade in life?

Well, you know that Haley Joel Osmond movie, “Pay It Forward?” There is one scene where they all stand around with candles at the end, when I usually end up crying. That is sort of how I feel about individuals taking small actions that add up. As AU students, we are in an excellent place to make the right decisions. We don’t live in a food desert like many people in isolated towns out West. Some of us might not even know that many residents of Southeast D.C. lack access to safe, healthy food, or even a grocery store where they can shop — a problem that organizations like D.C. Hunger Solutions are working to combat. But as students, here are some opportunities we can all take advantage of:

• Shop at the Wednesday farmers’ market on campus that EcoSense brought us. If you don’t live on campus or want more of a selection, you can go to to see what else is available. I found out that I literally live closer to a Saturday morning farmers’ market than I do to a grocery store (and apples from the farm are way tastier, and no joke, always less expensive).

• Choose Bon Appétit-run TDR or other sustainably-sourced dining locations when you are off campus to eat instead of fast food chains. The Web site offers excellent ideas for restaurants that feature organic, seasonal and local ingredients, many offering grass-fed beef and sustainable seafood as well.

• Cook at home more often. If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of cooking with leeks and radishes and strange vegetables you have never heard of, ask the farmers for ideas about what to cook. They will be more than happy to offer suggestions (try that exercise out at your local supermarket and check out the strange looks you get). I had never cooked or eaten a beet in my life until this past winter. I had no idea how much I love beets.

• When you are at the supermarket, read nutrition labels to make sure your food doesn’t have a million ingredients and pay attention to country of origin. It says right on the front. Should we really be nibbling on grapes from Chile? Have you read up on what pineapple in Costa Rica is doing to local communities? A few months back, I stopped buying fruits from far away countries (goodbye bananas and melon), because I just don’t feel right about it. Choose something to stand up for and don’t waver.  

In the film “No Impact Man,” the story of a man and his family who set out to not create waste for an entire year, Colin Beaven says, “The most radical political act there is to be an optimist. The most radical political act there is, is to believe that if I change, other people will follow suit.”


I know this sounds lofty and poetic. And many people think the local food movement is a lofty and poetic cause meant for self-righteous environmentalists and food-snobbish yuppies. Many people don’t think small farms can feed us all. But once upon a time, didn’t “health care for all” sound like a lofty and poetic goal for this country?

I won’t get into my political views on the health care debate, but what I will say is that last year, 10 percent of the health care costs in this country were tied to obesity-related illness, including treatment of heart disease and diabetes. I believe that inadequate nutrition from the industrial food people eat has caused more health problems than just this 10 percent, contributing to illnesses we don’t necessarily see as food-related, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder, certain cancers and even lung disease — not to mention the risks posed by contaminants like Salmonella and E. Coli. With proper nutrition, more than $147 billion dollars could have been saved, and channeled toward rebuilding our food system — preventative care over treatment.

You can reach this columnist at

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