Connecting Obesity, Hunger, Poverty, and the Environment


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On Tuesday, July 17, the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition will present a webinar on “Obesity: Impacts on Public Health and Society.” Join online at www.barillacfn.com.

By E.Q. Lam
July 15, 2012 

NEW YORK — How can we have one billion starving people in the world at the same time that an equal number of people are battling obesity?

A new book—Eating Planet 2012, Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet—connects these two urgent issues, along with health, culture, and sustainability, to the global food system.

“Ultimately, you can’t consider one without considering the others,” says Samuel Fromartz, chief editor of the Food and Environmental Reporting Network, who served as moderator at a recent symposium held for the U.S. release of Eating Planet.

The symposium featured a panel of policy and program experts, and Sierra Club Green Home was there to capture the thoughts of these leaders in the field.

Agriculture can be the solution for most urgent problems today, providing proper nutrition as well as creating resilience against climate change, says Danielle Nierenberg, director of Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Worldwatch Institute.

“Eating Planet holds important lessons for consumers, farmers, and politicians,” Nierenberg says.

Topics discussed at the forum included better connections between rural farmers and urban residents, job creation through growing a better food industry, infrastructure needs, demanding better media coverage of not only celebrity chefs but agriculture, and private sector actors such as banks funding agriculture.

Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, says the United States produces twice as much food as it needs, in terms of calories. He outlines the problem in this country in terms of abundance, beauty, and cost. The U.S. culture does not value food because it is available cheaply everywhere from gas stations to drugstores, he says, adding that items with blemishes are tossed aside. There are environmental costs to that, including lost water present in the food and waste contributing to landfills, which produce harmful methane gas.

“That energy embedded in food is then squandered when we throw it away,” Bloom says. “… We are aiding climate change from our kitchen bins.”

Stephanie Hanson, director of policy and outreach at One Acre Fund, an organization in Kenya helping small farmers, depicts the opposite problem with a story of a woman picking up kernels of maize off the floor at an event in order to take home and cook.

Local programs in different parts of the world, from the U.S. classroom to SEWA, a network of self-employed women in India, were highlighted as current solutions that work to ease these urgent issues. The strategy should be to take a global idea and adapt it to provide a solution appropriate to the locale, Bloom says.

“You can’t solve big problems in one swoop,” says Dan Morrison, founder of the philanthropic Citizen Effect. “You can’t solve the global water crisis, but you can install a well somewhere so women don’t have to spend all day going to fetch water and have time to start a small business.”

The panelists agreed that American consumers can play a big role in bringing about solutions to food issues, by choosing not to buy from large companies with wasteful food packaging or unhealthy food, stopping the separation between philanthropy (in charity donations) and the rest of life, as well as getting politically active.

“Money to charity is good, but your voice to politicians is worth thirty high-paid lobbyists in Washington,” says Kelly Hauser, a policy manager for the ONE Campaign to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. “We really need to make our voices heard.”

Eating Planet provides a collection of data, interviews, and—perhaps most importantly—potential solutions from a wide array of experts and sources. The book is the result of research by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition in Italy in collaboration with the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute.

“Coming from a global food brand, Barilla, I hope we can think of these organizations as an ally,” says Brian Halweil, author and editor of publications such as Edible Manhattan.

Eating Planet is available in hardcover as well as online at Amazon and iTunes for $3.99.

For related article, see:
Can Environmentally Friendly Agriculture Grow As We Grow?

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

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