Over the past couple of years, I've been getting myself up to speed on how the United States produces food, how the process has evolved over the past century, and how food production affects not just our diets and our health, but our economy and our environment, too.
As the presidential election draws nearer, I've been both excited and dismayed to see food taking such a prominent position in the mainstream media. Excited because it suggests that average Americans are starting to look deeper into what they are eating—and that they are making new choices that are healthier for both themselves and for the natural world. But I'm also dismayed because this media attention can only mean that things have gotten really bad.
For instance, this week, a New York Times article explains that because of the ever-increasing prevalence of highly processed salt-heavy foods in children's diets, the incidence of kidney stones in children as young as five and six years old has been rising sharply. The numbers are increasing in young adults—especially women in their 20s and 30s—as well. And while a significant part of the early onset of kidney stones is related to not getting enough water in the diet, the trend is magnified by that of children and young adults relying more and more on quick meals that include things like sandwich meats, canned soups, sports drinks, and processed snacks—all of which contain alarming amounts of sodium.
But health concerns are just the top of the iceberg. If you're new to the food culture party, buckle up: there's a lot to learn. If you've got some time on your hands, I'd suggest starting with The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; that'll get you going with some of the big-picture ideas behind the effects of agriculture and food production. If your time is more limited, try these recent articles on for size:
- "Farmer In Chief" by Michael Pollan in The New York Times Magazine.
- "The Future of Food," a special section in Wired.
- "Our Good Earth" by Charles C. Mann in National Geographic.
To echo what Pollan argues in his Times article, the culture and science of food—and the politics behind how it is made and distributed—are going to be central issues of the next president's term simply because the effects of these concerns are so wide-reaching. Here's hoping No. 44 will take the issue by the reins and begin to push back against the big corporations that would, I presume, just as soon see a continuation of our current destructive food policies. ∞