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Healthy food: Eating to live, living to eat; By Okezue Bell

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Like many things in America, the food and agriculture system is based primarily on wealth and power. Those with money can afford to eat green and stay healthy; they get to feast on freshly grown organic foods. Americans in cities have to purchase cheaper unhealthy or badly grown foods that lack nutritional balance. American agriculture not only has adverse effects on health, but also on the climate. These effects now fall on the shoulders of city dwellers, who make up most of the US population. With the imminent national threat of global warming and on the healthspan of American citizens, sustainable food production methods ought to be used for produce in urban areas.

A majority of the US urban population is forced to consume low-quality agricultural products as a direct result of cost. The average American resident of a city does not have the money to purchase organic, nutrient-rich produce, or even have access to reliable food sources. Professional basketball player turned farmer Will Allen explains in A Good Food Manifesto for America that the urban populations in the US are starving. He says that those in the city “distribute any kind of food they can afford, good for you or not [, and] this is coming to haunt us in health care and social costs.” 

Allen points out that the impacts of the lack of an adequate food system in cities are materialising as national healthcare and monetary impacts. The poor are starved of healthier food products, quickly leading to casualties (Allen 490). Allen’s words highlight the need for an agricultural revolution in urban areas of the US; his manifesto highlights the urgency of the issue and what the results of it will be if nothing changes. 

The lack of adequate food in urban areas dovetails into effects on the climate. The environmental footprint of agriculture widens as food production proliferates, especially in urban areas. The most popular commercial food products have the worst environmental effects, such as meat and dairy, which nearly 90% of Americans consume (Niman 486). Meat production results in the release of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide due to its resource-intensive packaging, processing, and distribution process. All of these are greenhouse gasses (GHGs), which, when released into the atmosphere and heat it, decrease the habitability of Earth’s ecosystems for animals and other life forms, including humans. Other cultivation methods require more land, water, and livestock feed than the product yield, resulting in an overall negative production cycle. Thanks to increasing urbanisation, the demand for meat is expected to double to 455 million tons by 2050, further magnifying the negative environmental impacts of commodities like meat. Climate advocates have begun encouraging vegetarianism or veganism amongst urban populations (Niman 485). However, urban access to fresh fruits and vegetable alternatives is more expensive, so a diet change is not financially feasible for city dwellers.

The root of the economic and ecological issues with the American food industry in cities is in food production. Due to cities being densely populated and having minimal green spaces, imported produce from farms is too expensive for urban residents, and local growing is practically impossible. Allen recalls how the quality of produce in cities is so low due to the lack of space to grow food naturally. He explains that “corn and soybeans, grown on the finest farmland in the world [have] become industrial commodities rather than foodstuffs” (Allen 490). Megacorporations meet consumer demands in cities by resorting to low quality and potentially hazardous growing methods, such as growing most of the city’s greens on “a few hundred square miles of irrigated semi-desert in California” (490). 

The implications of this are twofold: growing crops in the wrong environments decreases their nutrition and palatability, but it also means that the growing system for cities is vulnerable. With this growing method, part of the city’s vegetable supply can be cut off for weeks from a drought in the California desert.

To create a healthy food system for the largest US demographic (cities), America needs to make a fundamental change to its food manufacturing methods. One popular potential solution is entomophagy or the consumption of insects. Insects are high in essential nutrients, such as iron and zinc. They are abundant across the Earth and have over 1,900 different (edible) species (Anthes 496). Insects are also well suited for farming, requiring fewer amounts of land, water, and GHG to convert to protein-rich meals. They do not need much sustenance to stay alive, either. Even with the obvious benefits of entomophagy, it is paramount that we “[recognise] that it is not the insects themselves that are going to make [entomophagy] sustainable. It is the humans” (Anthes 497). Ben Reade’s (a culinary researcher) words emphasise the importance of implementation—a viable solution does not directly translate into effective practice. As insects and other protein sources become the next cheap, nutritious food source for cities, we must ensure that this next agricultural revolution considers all people it feeds, the rich and the poor.

Before you go…

My name’s Okezue, a developer and researcher obsessed with learning and building things, especially when it involves any form of STEM. I primarily operate in the spaces of diversity/equity, human-computer interfaces, and bio-digital AI research. Check out my socials below, or contact me: [email protected]

I write something new every week on Sundiata, so I hope to see you again soon! I sure enjoyed writing this piece, and hope you like it.

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Works Cited

Allen, Will. “A Good Food Manifesto for America.” The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric, eds. Shea, Aufses, Scanlon, Pankiewicz, BFW Publishers, 2018, pp. 490.

Anthes, Emily. “Could Insects be the Wonder Food of the Future?” The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric, eds. Shea, Aufses, Scanlon, Pankiewicz, BFW Publishers, 2018, pp. 496-497.

Niman, Nicolette Hahn. “The Carnivore’s Dilemma.” The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric, eds. Shea, Aufses, Scanlon, Pankiewicz, BFW Publishers, 2018, pp. 485.

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