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Thoughts on Sustainable Food Choices

Posted: 1:52PM May 9th, 2017 | Comments

A few years ago I read Raj Patel’s book “Stuffed and Starved,” and discovered some unsettling facts about our food system. In his book, Patel examines why nearly half of the world’s population is obese while so many others are undernourished. Patel points to the profit motive in the food industry as the reason behind this dilemma. Buying low and selling high often leaves agricultural workers without enough money to feed themselves. But, there is only so much food that humans can eat, so how can it be infinitely profitable? To extract more value from food the producers process it into food products. Highly processed food commands a higher price point, but it also is less healthy. In fact, several studies of food and diet at Harvard University show that processed meats and grains are leading causes of obesity in the US. There is also the serious issue of food waste. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that at least one-third of food produced each year is wasted because of its imperfect appearance. Farmers who want to command the highest price they can for their product end up tossing those “ugly” apples. Just one-quarter of this wasted food could feed the world’s undernourished population.

All of this information can be disheartening, but I’ve tried to use it as a motivator to personally eat more sustainably and healthily, and support organizations trying to change this system. Luckily, today there is a definite movement toward more sustainable, unprocessed, whole foods. As consumers, there are more healthy food choices than ever before at our fingertips. To eat less processed foods I try to cook as many meals as I can from scratch. I don’t always have time to cook elaborate meals, so choosing convenience foods from sustainable sources with short ingredients lists, or prepping my meals ahead of time helps as well.

I also try to choose food from nearby farms. We have access to so much beautiful food here in Dane County. On a local level, we have many organizations working to help us make smart food choices. The Dane County Farmers Market is top notch, all the food is locally sourced and it’s nearly all healthy (okay, maybe not the spicy cheese bread - but it’s delicious). The Willy Street Co-op is a wonderful grocery store that makes it easy to know where your food is coming from. They even have an ugly produce section. You can also join any of several CSA programs and get local produce while supporting a farm.

There are also national companies working behind the scenes to make the broader food system more sustainable. For example, Full Harvest, a startup whose goal is to reduce food waste by connecting farms to companies that will sell their imperfect produce just raised $2 million to aid in their cause. Organizations like these show me that there is hope for a more sustainable, healthy food system! 

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