Choosing Health: Yours, Your Community’s and the World’s

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I’ve been deep cleaning the two hen houses this week.  The 50 hens that live at Fern Creek give us a lot of poop-infused straw bedding that breaks down into really great fertilizer.  We spread that nitrogen-rich bedding on strawberry plants, around fruit trees, along rows of raspberries and marion berries, and know that we are replenishing the earth in ways that do good for the soil, for our CSA families, and ultimately for our home planet, Earth.  I’d like to think we’re giving good lives to our chickens, too, who have all day to roam outside scratching in the dirt, digging for worms, and napping in the occasional patch of sun that breaks through January clouds.

Walking, or jogging, has been part of my life for a long time–a way to choose personal health.  Walking gently on the earth has also been an aspiration for much of my life.  My father made it easy to fall in love with God’s creation from the time my siblings and I were old enough to go hiking, cave exploring, and star gazing.  Big changes were afoot in the 1960 and 1970s while I was growing up–ones that were supposed to make us healthier, more prosperous, happier.  One of those changes had to do with how we grew our nation’s food.  A lot of you know this story already, and if you don’t, I unpack it in Walking Gently on the Earth where I spend a couple of chapters talking about food.

Here’s the mini version.  We got used to having lots of choices–like strawberries in January.  And we got used to spending less of our monthly budget on food.  “And what’s not to like about both of those?,” I would ask whomever criticized an industry that helped us all eat better.   But then I starting reading about it.  From the Other Side, where I became painfully aware of the hidden costs of all that out-of-season cheap food.  My health and my children’s health for one!   That cheap food (both our hamburger and Corn Flakes) were raised in ways that used a lot of petroleum, with negative side effects for us all.  For instance, we’ve seen a rise in cancers linked to the use of pesticides in our food (no surprise there–if it kills bugs you’d think it might kill us too…).  Michael Pollen, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma describes our food as being raised in a sea of petroleum. We use fossil fuel to fertilize, control weeds and pests, to harvest, process, and transport food, undermining our own health, and the health of the larger eco system needed to grow food at all.   Turns out that besides being bad for our health, the soil, birds, bees, other beneficial insects, animals we rely on for eggs, milk, and meat, and farm laborers, all bear the cost of our inexpensive food.

Cheap food seemed less virtuous the more I exposed myself to what was mostly a comfortably invisible food system.

I’m a hopeful person (that comes from my father as well), and find encouragement in communities around the world making choices to make visible what has been invisible.  To live and eat with an eye on what is best, just, right, rather than what is least expensive or most desired in the moment.   A good bit of eating right includes eating more locally, seasonally, and lower on the food chain, as well as finding different ways to grow food.  Diana Donlon, the director of the Cool Foods Campaign at the Center for Food Safety in San Francisco, wrote an article for the Atlantic that summarizes the connection between better food and a better climate.  In it she defends this new food movement that we participate in at Fern Creek–sustainable agriculture. Donlon explains why CSAs, and farmers who grow for local Farmer’s Markets and Food Cooperatives are not quaint, or backward, or irrelevant, but represent a way forward–one that provides better health for individuals, for animals,  for our neighbors near and around the world, and for the planet that sustains us all.

If you grow some of your own food, belong to a CSA, regularly shop for local produce, or eat low on the food chain, you are making a choice that makes a difference.  What motivates you?  Personal health?  A stronger sense of community and supporting local farmers?  Health for the planet? I would love to hear from you.

 

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