Having spent a number of years developing content for healthcare conferences, I find these programs to be a great means of gathering information on what is being done and who is generating innovative solutions. And now that I’m focusing more specifically on the subject of food system reform, I’ve used the same research method to learn all I can about the food revolution. The farther I get, the more I want to make an impact, not only because these issues, including diet-related disease, junk food marketing, school lunch reform and sustainable farming, are so important to address, but also because I want to inspire a movement toward simplicity when it comes to food. Yes, buying processed food is simple, but it devalues the best of what food has to offer which is connection to our family, community, land and culture.
When I attend a conference, there is palatable excitement in the air as everyone bonds over a common topic. But as Liz Neumark of Great Performances says in her review of the Tedx Food Conference, the down side can be that the challenges presented start to appear insurmountable. Discouragement begins to override the idealized notion that real progress is possible. But I’ll leave you with a summary of her final uplift on the positive changes we have seen thus far:
- Food deserts are being talked about with proactive results.
- Enrollment in state/local programs that address hunger issues has been streamlined and made more user-friendly.
- Food stamps are accepted in some farmers markets, a practice that should continue to spread, benefiting both shoppers as well as farmers.
- Purchasing guidelines are changing to encourage institutional buying of locally grown products.
- School lunch is on the national agenda, with progress to report and a long and complex road to still travel.
- Solutions to regional distribution and processing challenges are being developed and tested daily.
- Farmers, while struggling on many fronts, are succeeding on others, with increased demand for their product, new sophistication on season extension, engaging in creating added-value products and connecting to regional aggregation methods.
- Obesity, while seemingly hard wired into our broken health and food system, is being talked about in communities everywhere, engaging researchers, government officials, the healthcare community, educators, non-profits and local communities.
- The topic of food waste is “on the table,” a step in galvanizing action.
- Witness the enormous surge in interest in locally grown food and engagement in the question of “where did my food come from?”
- Immigration and agricultural labor practices — so far from any meaningful resolution — is a topic of national debate.
- Economics will dictate a shift in policy — we are beginning to see evidence of how better practices and policies are actually good for the bottom line.
And in closing, all we can do is embrace the thought that, and I quote Ms. Neumark, “the discussion is louder, the engagement is higher, the participants are galvanized and the change will happen. (You can) live with (your) discomfort and anger — it (can be) the appetizer at every meal fueling (your) commitment to this fight and to being a part of a solution.”