Americans are the fattest people in the developed world. And, excepting our neighbors living in Mississippi and Louisiana, Arkansans are the fattest people in America. Public health organizations are now asking some very good questions--do government food and agricultural policies promote unhealthy eating, and unhealthy foods in our stores and restaurants? Does U.S. government policy contribute to our extraordinarily high rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diet related disease?
You bet it does. Subsidized corn and soybeans and high priced fruits and vegetables are a direct consequence of U.S. agricultural policy over the past 30 years. Government food pricing data clearly demonstrates the end results. Since 1985, the real price of sweets, fats and oils, and soft drinks has dropped, while real prices for fresh fruits and vegetables have gone up 40%. No wonder people are not eating enough produce and are filling up with calorie-dense foods instead.
As a consequence our public health--and health as a Republic--have suffered. Today, 8 out of 10 foods consumed by Americans contain processed corn. The use of this still cheap commodity, along with added sugars and fats, falls well into the very dietary categories linked to obesity and diabetes. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils are key ingredients in products that use artificially cheap corn as a filler and replacement for better, healthier products. Did you know, for example, that 7 pounds of corn are required to make one McDonald's Happy Meal?
Fortunately, a healthier food system that also fairly rewards farmers is possible if we shift to a smarter food and agricultural policy that promotes local solutions. It begins by leveling the playing field for healthy foods by supporting local agricultural markets that return fair prices to farmers instead of subsidizing industrial food processing conglomerates and farming corporations.
How do we start? First, consumers can become advocates for their own better health, and the health of their children, by asking local units of government such as city and county government what they are doing to support community sustainable agriculture. Instead of allowing local officials to "pass the buck" off to nameless officials in Washington or "members" of Congress, ask local mayors and Quorum Courts how they are or intend to support farmers' markets, community gardens, and improved access to Government Coupon programs like WIC for low-income mothers.
Second, consumers can become involved in local food advocacy groups such as Carroll County Fresh and can support CCF's mission of improving our communities' food security. Consumers can also break out of their unhealthy pattern of processed corn consumption by starting gardens of their own, or by buying healthy local food from their neighbors at our local farmers' markets throughout the Ozarks and in Berryville, Eureka Springs, and Holiday Island in Carroll County.
Finally, join the on-going community-wide conversation about where our food comes from, about how healthy it is, and about how we can help ourselves and our communities have consistent access to quality and affordable supplies of locally produced food. Add your voice to the voices of Carroll County Fresh, the First Christian Church of Berryville, Loaves and Fishes, Little Portion Monastery, and the many other groups and individuals who recognize that all solutions begin locally.