"Disnutrition" Emerges as a New Term to Describe our Food Crisis

Barilla DisnutritionA jam packed schedule of thought provoking sessions (and a few fabulous espresso) made for a fantastic first day of the 3rd International Barilla Forum on Food and Nutrition! One of the new terms proposed by a speaker today was "Disnutrition"- to encompass the twin problems of obesity and hunger.Will it grab hold the way others such as "locavore" have to define the current  food conversation? While that remains to be seen, here are my top takeaways from Day One: Key Takeaway #1: 

Obesity and Malnutrition are two sides of the same food production crisis-even in the US. Walking around Anywhere, USA, it’s often easy to see the obesity part of the problem, but the hunger piece can be more difficult to see. Ellen Gustafson, the Founder and executive Director of the 30 Project gave an electric session which explained how  the twin issues of obesity and malnutrition are deeply connected to our current food system-even in the U.S. “Look at the state with the greatest obesity crisis, Mississippi...it’s also the state with the greatest hunger crisis in the US. That’s not a coincidence” Gustafson said policies aimed at “obesity” and “malnutrition” typically occupy two separate camps of people, resulting in a fractured approach as the two sides aren’t really talking with each other despite having many of the same fundamental issues at the core. Gustafson’s goal? To bridge those two spheres to more effectively drive change. I had a great interview with her today, and I’ll share the link as soon as it’s available.

What you can do: Buy whole foods as close to the source as possible, support local food communities, and buy real food from real farmers as much as you can. And cook dinner!

 

Key Takeaway #2: SOIL is the most significant resource we have, and it’s often overlooked as dirt. 

“Forests precede civilizations...deserts follow them,” said Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, in his opening remarks. “We need to change mankind’s historical paradigm of degrade, abandon and migrate; we no longer have that option if we are to feed 9 billion people by 2050.” While we often think of the brown matter that grows our food as “dirt”, soil in contrast is living biomass, teeming with micro-organisms the play critical roles, with a greater capacity to store water and nutrients.  Every year we lose some 75 billion tons of fertile soil every year, yet soils are the most significant non-renewable resource we have for ensuring water, energy and food security, plus build resistance to climatic shocks. In other words, everything that’s coming down the pike for a hyperconnected, hyperpopulated world. What I loved about this point is that vibrant, thriving soil is also key to vibrant, thriving food that is brimming with the maximum amount of antioxidants, phytochemicals and other nutrients critical to optimal health. As any farmer will tell you, food is only as nutritious as the soil in which it’s grown.

 

What you can do: Support soil restoration and reforestation projects in your community.  For birthday gifts, plant a tree in someone’s name. Buy food from farmers, co-ops and support organic; many organic companies have policies that actively work to continuously improve soil quality (like Earthbound Farms LINK).

Key Takeaway #3: Re-allocating just 5% of our food waste could end US Hunger.

Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland and creator of the eye-popping blog www.wastedfood.com shared that stunning stat in one of the morning sessions. But rather than thinking that means we’ve almost put an end to hunger (see Takeaway #1), to me it highlights just how much food we’re actually wasting. In the U.S., a full 40% of food is wasted. What does that even look like? “The food wasted in one day in U.S. would fill the 90,000 seat Rose Bowl Stadium”, said Bloom. Why do we waste so much? Food is cheap in the US, and it’s actually  never been cheaper- the average American allocates less than 7% of household spending, all time household low (Italy is 15%). And we don’t tend to value what we don’t spend a lot on. Food is also abundant: the United States produces about twice as many calories per day as the average American needs. And we see food everywhere, from the mall to the gas station, which creates a sense in our minds that we don’t have to be careful of our food, there’s plenty more. Of course, these are many of the same reasons Americans are overeating so much food (which drive obesity and chronic disease) in the first place, so Jonathan and I seemed to agree a lot. And unlike starving-children guilt trips of old, bringing your plate to better portion alignment is a wise strategy in every sense: As Bloom beautifully stated, “A clean plate is a clean conscience”.

What you can do: Invest in the best you can afford, and enjoy smaller portions. Avoid “Buy 1 get 1 Free” “All You Can Eat” and other food buying incentives if you won’t be able to finish your plate..this often contributes to waste. Instead of buying highly perishable fruits and vegetables (which are some of the leading items to spoil, according to research), buy frozen fruits and veggies instead.

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(Disclosure: This blog and my coverage of the conference is sponsored by Barilla Pasta)