Hard to believe we’ve made to the end of the first month of INTENT 365 daily wellbeing tips! This month has been all about boosting our physical (and mental) wellbeing, a.k.a., getting “In-shape” via energizing food. Tips from week 1, week 2, and week 3 have spun out from the core lesson I learned during my year at the intentional Buddhist community in Thailand: “eat food that is whole, plant-based, and chemical-free.” These last 9 tips, true to the Buddhist expanded sense of self as interdependent, encourage reflection on the potential larger impact of our choices and actions. In particular, we can think about how our actions can end hunger locally and globally.
Tip #22: Resist big agribusiness
To promote a plant-based, chemical-free diet and support small famers at the same time, resist big agribusinesses that put profit over people & planet. Like Monsanto, which is well-known for developing Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the US. Monsanto also created genetically modified seeds specifically to withstand Roundup so as to produce higher crop yields. Roundup Ready crops include soy, maize (corn), sorghum, canola, alfalfa, and cotton, which are processed into countless products that we use and consume every day.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization declared Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen. Since that announcement, several countries, cities, and retail chains worldwide have banned or severely limited the use of glyphosate products to protect producers and consumers, as well as livestock and wildlife, which are harmed by overspray and runoff.
The second issue has to do with Monsanto’s promotion of GMOs, which are extensively banned and otherwise strictly regulated in Europe out of concern for safety, transparency in labeling, traceability, and effects on biodiversity. Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds also contain a “terminator” gene, which prevents seeds being saved from crops (they won’t germinate). This hurts small farmers who save seeds to save money and have to take on debt to buy new ones.As citizens and consumers, we can use boycotts to force companies to change their practices.
Boycotting Monsanto means refusing to buy products made with ingredients grown with Roundup and Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds. To avoid being overwhelmed by what brands not to buy, choose instead to by organic brands, which by definition are safe from chemicals and GMOs.
Tip #23: Shop at farmers’ markets
One of the best places to buy organic produce and products is the local farmers’ market. The produce is so much fresher than what’s found in supermarkets, often harvested that week or even that very morning. It’s also picked ripe and ready to eat, which is not the case for produce that travels greater distances. Produce picked at the peak of ripeness is not only more flavorful; it also has the highest nutritional content.
Plus there’s a greater variety of seasonal produce at the farmers’ market, so you’re not relegated to cooking the same squash or potatoes week after week (unless you choose to). The variety extends to organic choices, though many farmers who use chemical-free pesticides are not certified organic because of the cost to do so. And speaking of cost, you can get all these organic beauties for less than you would spend at the grocery store.
Perhaps the best benefit of shopping at the farmers’ market is getting to buy directly from the person who grows or produces your food. I much prefer supporting people’s livelihoods than the profits of big corporations! But the really delightful thing is that after a while, you actually get to know these folks. The sellers at our farmers market have seen our daughter grow from a baby into a tall tween; they call her “princess” in Spanish, give her a discount on strawberries, and save special apples to gift her. So for us, this is more than a market transaction; it’s a long-term relationship that means so much.
Tip #24: Subscribe to a farm share box
In lieu of (or in addition to) the farmers’ market, you might join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program offered by a nearby farm, sometimes called a farm share. CSAs usually involve an up-front annual or seasonal subscription for a weekly box of produce delivered to a central pick-up point. Usually you get a sampling of everything the farm produced that week, but you might be able to swap out less favored items (for us, its beets). Those who are short on time or overwhelmed by choice appreciate the convenience of CSAs.
Of course, buying directly from local farmers serves a greater good. Without all the middlemen (or women) involved in distributing produce to grocery stores, more profit ends up in the producers’ pockets. CSAs provide even more support (hence the name). The advance subscription payments allow farmers to purchase inputs without debt and spread the risk of an unexpectedly poor harvest. And buying local reduces transportation-related fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. With the disappearance of small farms in the US, we need to do all we can to protect them.
Tip # 25: Read up on SDG #2 “End Hunger”
Up until this point, we’ve been thinking mostly about how to provide a whole, plant-based, chemical free diet for ourselves and those close to us. But it’s important to recognize the fact that healthy food (or sometimes any food) is simply not accessible to far too many people, even in the US. Sometimes this has to do with not having enough money, but often the obstacles are more complex. At a basic level, fresh food may simply not be available within a manageable distance. This reality has made hunger and malnutrition a pervasive problem throughout the world. Besides the obvious health concern, hunger and malnutrition limit children’s ability to learn and play and adults’ ability to work and otherwise participate in community life. We simply have to end hunger.
The United Nations made this a global priority in the Sustainable Development Goals, which both developed and developing nations committed to meet by 2030. The #2 Goal, “End hunger,” aims to achieve food security and improved nutrition, plus promote sustainable agriculture. Today, take some time to find out more about this issue and the solutions that are underway.
Tip #26: Donate to food banks
An easy way to end hunger locally is to redistribute surplus food to those who need it. Canned food drives, common around the holidays, are a win-win since they clear the Costco-overstock from our pantries. Unfortunately, food banks and shelters don’t see much in the way of fresh produce. But we can change that. Our communities often have food surpuses, so a little intention is all it takes.
Here’s a good example: My daughter and I started a produce-donation program several years ago in our community garden. Each week, we gathered extra veggies (with permission) from personal plots and deliver them to the Laguna Beach Friendship Shelter. The Friendship Shelter provides three months’ housing and training to 30 homeless individuals committed to staying sober and reentering the workforce. Like many shelters, their pantry contained mostly nonperishable food. When we first started bringing bags of greens to the Friendship Shelter, I worried that they might balk at all the kale (maybe too healthy?). As it turned out, one of the residents was a chef eager to turn others on to juicing. For those residents who were newly sober, this healthy drink made by a peer was truly a gift.
Your local food banks, farms, restaurants, and nonprofits are a good place to start looking for ways you can redistribute food in your own community.
Tip #27: Fight global food insecurity
We’ve been talking about one of the world’s most pressing problems: food insecurity, which is the lack of reliable access to sufficient affordable, nutritious food for an active, healthy life. The phrase “food insecurity” might conjure a picture a starving African child, with pencil-thin limbs and a distended belly. But we can also find it in our own backyard. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure in 2016—that’s 42 million Americans, including 13 million children. Read on to learn how to end hunger.
At least half of food insecure Americans live in “food deserts”: low-income neighborhoods that lack access to affordable, nutritious food. For those of us who could shop at over a dozen grocery stores in a 5-mile radius, this reality is hard to reconcile.
Click to Tweet
Such a pervasive problem calls for systematic solutions. Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, has been responding to the food crisis in the US for over 35 years. Feeding America has a network of 200 food banks across the country, and they run support programs like providing kids with new backpacks full of food. Lots of other organizations are doing similarly good work to end hunger, so it’s worth investigating if this is an issue that speaks to you.
Tip #28: Support urban farms
A brilliant solution to food insecurity and in particular food deserts is to farm where people live, especially in urban areas like Detroit. I grew up 30 minutes from downtown Detroit, and my sister and brother-in-law live there now. While the city is still plagued with burned-out houses and vacant lots that attract crime and just look sad, a revitalization is happening, driven by entrepreneurs, artists, and community garden organizers. According to the nonprofit, Greening of Detroit, between 1500 and 2000 urban gardens were being maintained as of 2013, transforming those vacant lots into verdant community hubs.
In fact, there’s an agricultural greenway in the works for the alley behind my sister’s live/work space. This community-led project has the expected objectives of producing food and creating community, but it will also cut down crime, including illegal dumping on the vacant lots (picture a ripped-up couch, a rusted out water heater, bald tires, and piles of broken concrete). Police officers have told my sister that “nothing good ever happens on [Barham Street] after midnight,” so they support a project that would put this neglected land to good use. While U Snap Bac, the organization spearheading the project conducts feasibility studies and soil samples, urban farmers are lining up, eager to rent a plot and get started.
To support urban farms, individuals can shop at their produce stands, stand up for them at city council meetings, serve on their board of directors (like my sister does), give them seed money (pun intended), and participate in urban farm-related programs and campaigns. This is a way to end hunger that benefits everyone in the community.
Tip #29: Serve healthy school lunches
Let’s stay on the topic of food insecurity, but hone in on the serious threat to children. Without healthy meals, kids simply don’t have the energy to grow and learn. School lunch programs ensure that children who attend can get at least one substantial meal a day. In fact, the National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches to 31 million students at 92 percent of U.S. public and private schools. But a free lunch is not necessarily a nutritious one. A 2008 school lunch study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that American kids who eat in the cafeteria consume very few fruits and vegetables (potatoes make up a third of all vegetables consumed), a disproportionate amount refined grains, and too much saturated fat and sodium.
Clearly, this has got to change. Leading the charge for school lunch reform are famous chefs like Alice Waters. Alice Waters’ organization, Edible Schoolyards, offers resources and training for public schools to create gardens and kitchens that act as interactive classrooms and provide a sustainable, delicious, and free lunches.
For us ordinary humans, we have other pathways to revolutionize school lunches and end hunger for kids. For example, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Healthy School Lunch Campaign outlines step-by-step instructions on how a parent (or concerned citizen) might broach the subject with a school principal. What’s on the menu today?
Tip #30: Stand for sustainable food systems
Some of the common themes this month have been the benefits of a whole, plant-based, chemical-free diet for human and environmental health, the value of buying from small farmers and producers over big agribusiness, the far reaching effects of food insecurity, and many ideas for how to solve food-related problems, end hunger, and make a whole, plant-based, chemical-free diet accessible to all. All of these elements together combine to make a sustainable food system – one that sustains human life and livelihood, our environment, and our communities. This sounds like something we should stand for, or defend.
If you look at the big picture, “sustainable food system” might seem like a mammoth, complicated thing that individuals have no control over. But if you look back over all the tips from this month, you’ll see that we are already accomplishing quite a bit. Hopefully this will empower you to keep it up. Onward and upward!
I’m happy to tell you that next week we’re taking up the second goal or value in our efforts to be In-shape: fitness. Yes, that means we’ll be talking a lot about exercise (and hopefully doing some, too.). See you then!