When I heard Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma) speak last October in Cleveland on National Food Day, he made an interesting statement...that a sea change in the agricultural system may be driven by an unlikely allie, the health care industry. What he was getting at was...medical insurance companies would eventually refuse to flip the bill for all the food related disease (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.) and force a change in how food is produced so it heals, not hurts.

That same month, The Nation had a feature article about our food economy. Michael was quoted as saying, "As soon as the health care industry begins to focus on the fact that the government is subsidizing precisely the sort of meal for which the industry (and the government) will have to pick up the long-term tab, eloquent advocates of food system reform will suddenly appear in the unlikeliest places—like the agriculture committees of Congress."

Now there is another way that the medical profession could shift our food system away from an emphasis on price and convenience to an emphasis on health and sustainability! Dr. Lenard Lesser of Palo Alto Medical Foundation and colleagues, Deborah Cohen, MD; and Robert Brook, MD,  just published an article in the Journal of American Medical Association entitled "Changing Eating Habits for the Medical Profession." The premise for the article was based on a recent recommendation by the Institute of Medicine which stated that health care professionals should act "as role models for their patients and provide leadership for obesity prevention efforts in their communities by advocating for institutional community, and state-level strategies that can improve physical activity and nutrition resources for their patients and their communities."

Dr. Lesser points out one small problem with this theory...physicians are often overweight themselves. He referenced a 2004 report by the Physicians Health Study that found 44% of physicians were overweight or obese. But if we get hospitals serving healthier foods, not only will it advocate for a more holistic approach to health care that is patient-centered vs.just treatment-centered, but physicians will find it easier to practice what they preach because the foods being served will focus on consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and away from processed foods high in bad fats in high-fructose corn syrup.

The article draws a parallel to the impact that the health care industry had in initiating the tobacco ban movement of the 1960's. It started with the surgeon generals report warning against the health dangers of smoking. That was the impetus for banning smoking in hospitals. Fast-forward to 2012 and smoking is banned in pretty much ever public place. Dr. Lesser suggests using a similar policy progression to "ignite a movement to improve the food environment."

This idea has merit and legs...Dr. Lesser and his colleagues suggest starting with meals at medical conferences which replace high caloric lunches with healthier options. From there, hospitals could require that food service only purchase foods which meet a certified healthy criteria. Hospitals represent a critical mass strong enough that vendors would need to respond to this high demand. That high demand by institutions would have a ripple effect and require Big Ag to respond as well.

Just as the tobacco movement gained traction by placing its roots in the health care industry, the food movement could do the same and before we know it, healthy food would be as ubiquitous as no-smoking signs!

One of my freelance contracts is managing the philanthropic program, Gardens to Hospitals. Dr. Lenard Lesser is largely responsible for its creation. In 2010, he published a report which found that only 7% of meals in California children hospitals were healthy. Gardens to Hospitals hopes to increase that percentage by helping hospitals install edible gardens. Not only will hospitals be leading by example but growing food which will help their patients lead healthier lives!

The recent issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe just came out. I have an article in there about how the Growing Dome got its start and how one was lucky enough to land in Tahoe so I could be its farm manager. Here is the intro but for the whole article, click here.

As community members across the country become more focused on their food security (not only as a way to improve access to ecologically grown food, but also to improve their local economy), they must evaluate their foodshed. Discerning local food enthusiasts should look at where their food is sourced but, more importantly, how food can be grown in their region.

Thanks to special growing structures and four-season growing methods, even those living in mountain climates now can grow food. These special growing structures aren't just ordinary greenhouses; they are geodesic dome-shaped greenhouses manufactured by Udgar and Puja Parsons of Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs, Colo.
For the complete article, please visit Edible Reno-Tahoe.

IN OTHER NEWS...me and my business partner, Eve McEneaney, filed the Articles of Incorporation for the Tahoe Food Hub last week. In order to expedite the process, we drove to Sacramento to file in person. We could have mailed it in, but filing in person made for a much more momentous occasion. It was an exciting day putting us one step closer to helping build a regional food system for Lake Tahoe.

Tom Philpott is one of my most favorite food and agriculture writers. I first started reading his stories when he was at Grist.org. The other day, a friend forwarded me his May 2012 article in Mother Jones entitled, "Economies of Kale."

Catchy name aside, this article contains the meat and potatoes of how a regional food system can single-handedly stimulate local economies. For example...bookstores and clothing stores most often have to buy their goods from far away but food can, and should, be sourced locally. When sourced locally, $.45 of every dollar stays in the greater region versus a measly $.15 when spent at chain stores. Studies have shown that when money circulates locally, economies become stronger because there is more sales tax revenue which stimulates the economy.

In the article, Tom quotes, economist, Ken Meter. I had a brief encounter with Ken a few months ago but I had no idea he was so well-known in the field. It was during an ice breaker exercise at a Slow Food  conference this past April! I had all of 60-seconds to introduce myself but knew enough from his introduction to get his business card. He has since been a tremendous help in gathering data for our North Tahoe foodshed assessment.

If the term fashionista wasn't bad enough, i heard this McDonalds' radio ad the other day where a women was a self-proclaimed "tastinista!" Why? Because she saved money on food by eating at McDonalds so she could buy more hand bags and clothes. And we wonder why people have an identity crisis with their food!

If I wasn't grossed out already by McDonalds' food, this commercial made me gag just that much more. I tried to find the podcast of it but was unable so you'll just have to be unlucky enough to randomly hear it on the radio ;)

How is it that we put a higher dollar value and priority on consumer goods than the food we eat to keep us healthy and alive not to mention the health of the environment? People, people, people...

I love NPR! I work from home so all the reporters and anchors are like my co-workers...Renee Montagne, Neal Conan, Kai Ryssdal, Melissa Block, Chris Simmons, etc. But yesterday on Morning edition, hosts, David Green and Steve Inskeep, really disappointed me with their one-dimensional interview about organic food...

Equally respected NPR correspondents, Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles, were there to talk about the nutritional value of organic food, or the lack there of. Even if it is true, which I don't believe it is, why even fill the airwaves with fodder for the opposition to say, "See, we told you so." Especially, when there are studies that show organic food really does have a higher nutritional value than conventional like the one released by Organic Farming Research Foundation this past August entitled "Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity." And if these counterpoint studies do exist, proper editorial would compare both not just present one side of the story.

But that's not what irks me! It's the other half of the story, the most important part of the story, that they marginalize...eating sustainably grown food is really more about the ecological benefits than the nutritional benefits. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides kill the soil food web disabling its biological functions to provide food to plants, store carbon and retain water. 70% of the chemicals used on crops aren't even absorbed by the plant. They run-off contaminating ground water  and contributing to the oceans' dead zones which increases the effects of global warming. Bottom Line...choosing organics goes way deeper than nutrition. it is an ethical and lifestyle choice.

Even if you are not worried about pesticides on your family's health, there is no denying the detrimental effects these poisons have on the soil, air, water and farm workers! Yes, farm workers! If farm workers can get sick and even die from over exposure to these nasties, then it can't be that much better by the time it gets to my dinner plate.

Allison and Dan do mention the environmental upside to organics but by that point in the interview, all that people are thinking is..."Did I just spend too much at the grocery store today on organics?"

When the news dumbs-down the story and doesn't provide the full picture, we stop thinking critically. If the news doesn't present both sides equally then we only hear what they want us to hear..."organic food is not any more nutritious than conventional."

Alison and Dan did not linger on the environmental attributes which would have helped bring people around. And David and Steve did not bother to challenge them. The inclusion of organics' redeeming qualities was on the downside of the story and was mentioned as an after thought. Are they shortsighted, or just too busy reporting the facts than to really take beef with this bologna study?

Under-reporting is a problem in many parts of the news...people will talk about offshore oil reserves, the abundance of domestic coal and natural gas as a cleaner fuel. If the situation was that cut-and-dry then yes, let's get after that energy independence. But the ugly truth is in the extraction process of those fossil fuels and their degrading impacts on the land, the ocean wilderness and the neighboring communities. Like food, it is not just about the end product, it is about the means to get there and the toll it takes on the environment and people. We need to think holistically when considering these options. And the news needs to present it in such a way so people can make an educated opinion based on this holistic picture.

Farming ecologically is about taking care of the land so it can feed the next generation and the many generations after that. It is about treating livestock humanely and allowing them their innate right to interact with the land and work together to build a healthy agro-ecosystem. Sustainable farming practices are focused on the long-term whereas conventional is focused on the short-term. To feed the world, we need to start thinking long-term!

I started writing this post yesterday and already, the news wire is filled with angst against this study. I opened my home page just a little while ago and Grist.org had their review of the study front and center! Even if NPR, can't see past the end of their nose on this one, their media allies will get their back and help bring them along. Don't worry NPR, I still love you!