From Farm to Toddler

Will Fruits and Veggies Save Us?

Much ink and many electrons flow to describe our terribly broken ways of producing, delivering, and consuming food. Some of the loudest calls for change in the status quo revolve around fruits and veggies. Michelle Obama and many others want us to eat more and eat them fresh from the farm and garden. Will growing and consuming more of them cure what ails us?

Probably not, says Tamar Haspel in the Washington Post.

Let’s start with the nature of the problems we need to solve. The list includes the quality of the food we consume, its effect on our planet, food security, and economic security.

First on the list, the quality of our diets is easy. Agreement is pretty resounding on the need to replace refined grains and sugar in our diets with fruits and vegetables. And a new paper in the American Journal of Nutrition finds progress toward that goal. Xiao Gu and Katherine Tucker tell us:

Overall dietary quality in children and adolescents in the United States improved steadily from 1999 to 2012. Multiple factors, including increased intakes of whole grains, dairy, whole fruit, total fruit, seafood and plant proteins, greens and beans, and total protein foods, an increased ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat, and decreased consumption of refined grains and empty calories, contributed to this improvement.

Although HEI-2010 [healthy eating index] scores in children and adolescents improved steadily, the overall dietary quality remained poor.

And there’s the rub. Our diets are headed in the right direction, but it feels like we’re walking to the moon. The goal is a long way from where we are. CDC tells us that roughly 90% of Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.

It’s tough to get 90% of the population together on anything these days. But we’re apparently all on the same page when it comes to not eating our fruits and veggies.

And that brings us to the rest of the picture, the planet, food security, and money. Haspel points out that agriculture around the globe is firmly committed to producing commodity crops. About 60% of the world’s calories come from just three crops – corn, wheat, and rice. And she goes on to say that this fact is unlikely to change much:

There are two reasons we shouldn’t shift away from a system where most calories come from staples and few from vegetables, even if we could: Vegetables are too expensive, and they require too much land.

One estimate from the University of California at Davis estimates the costs of growing broccoli at about $5,000 per acre, whereas corn is about $700.

Haspel’s bottom line is this. Even without a wild tilt toward veggies, agriculture has plenty of room to improve our diets and its impact on the planet, the economy, and food security. The answer, she says, lies in whole grains and legumes – oats, barley, wheat, corn, beans, peanuts, lentils. Smart people are working on smarter, more sustainable ways to produce them and do a better job of feeding the world a healthier diet.

That’s enough good news for today.

Click here to read more from the Post and here to read the study by Gu and Tucker.

From Farm to Toddler, photograph © Sal / flickr

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December 17, 2016