Coalition Report

By Heather B. Navarro
Executive Director,
Coalition For The Environment

The Confluence of Food, Health & Farming

Nutritionists fighting obesity know it. Local farmers preparing the soil know it. And environmentalists studying water quality know it. The “what,” “where,” and “how” of our food has big impacts. Eating locally grown fruits and vegetables and locally raised beef, pork, and chicken improves health outcomes, puts more money in farmers’ pockets, and reduces environmental damage.

The Saint Louis Regional Food Study, produced by MCE and published online last fall at www.moenviron.org, describes how our current, industrial food system has contributed to obesity and diabetes, drained local economies, and devastated our natural resources. And it considers how a local food economy can have the opposite effect when health advocates, farmers, and environmentalists work together.

While we can now eat avocados any day of the year, we are also experiencing unprecedented rates of obesity and diabetes. In the 59 counties highlighted in the Food Study, obesity is at 30% and diabetes in the City of St. Louis is over 11%. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in those same 59 counties, we spent $17.8 billion on food in 2012, most of which left the region. And the United Nations reports that the livestock industry is responsible for 15 percent of total global carbon emissions.

Our current agricultural system relies on large amounts of chemical fertilizers to replenish soils depleted from growing exclusively corn and soybeans year after year. These crops are not providing our children with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive and the fertilizer these crops require runs off into our water, growing the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico and threatening our drinking water. In fact, the City of Toledo had to shut off water for over 400,000 people for 3 days last year.

Growing diverse crops locally makes for a more nutritious menu with fewer impacts on our environment. However, making local food affordable and accessible is complicated by a system of incentives established to promote corn and soybeans and a culture that has come to rely on cheap, fast food. Government programs prioritize commodities that increase corporate profits over growing nutritious food. And, as a working mother, I know first-hand how unrealistic it has become to feed a growing family a square meal from scratch every night.

Fixing our food system and switching to more local, sustainable farming practices will help health advocates, farmers, and environmentalists achieve their goals. Efforts are underway at MCE to start these conversations.

Visit www.moenviron.org to learn more.