October 22, 2015

GUEST ROOM | Don’t Read This Unless You Eat Food

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You are what you eat. You’ve heard it before, but you might not realize how literally we mean it. The cells and substances in your body are genuinely reconstituted from the carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids, vitamins and minerals that you absorb from the food you consume. So if you think you don’t have a stake in how food is produced, you’re simply wrong. None of us can avoid participating in the food system; therefore, if we have a food system that conflicts directly with our values, we have a responsibility as consumers and citizens to seek reform. And whether you realize it or not, our world food system in its current form is undeniably exploitative and unsustainable. Don’t believe us? Keep reading.

Did you know that the amount of water it takes to produce one hamburger is equivalent to two months of showers? While the drought rages on in California, the government encourages its citizens to take shorter showers, but never to eat fewer hamburgers.

Did you know that pregnant farmworkers picking your fruits and vegetables are often exposed to poisonous pesticides that cause horrendous birth defects? Even worse, these farmworkers are often undocumented migrants with little legal recourse.

Did you know that 40 percent of the world’s grain is fed to livestock that feeds the relatively wealthy, while 795 million people in the world do not have access to enough food to live a healthy active life? Did you know that if all the grain fed to livestock in just the U.S. were diverted to human consumption, we could feed 800 million people?

Did you know that Hispanic children see 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks than their white counterparts, and that Black children see 80 to 90 percent more of such ads than white children? Not surprisingly, obesity and nutrition-related chronic diseases are substantially more prevalent among these minority groups than their white counterparts.

Did you know that most of the chicken that ends up on your plate came from a farm where the birds spend their miserable days indoors, so crowded that they can’t turn around, standing in their own excrement, often pecking each other half to death?

We could go on and on, but we hope you would agree that any single one of those injustices would be reason enough to demand reform. While we as U.S. citizens spend the lowest percentage of our income on food of any country in the world, we are paying for our cheap food in lives, natural resources and viable years left on this planet for the human race.

Even if you are in denial or selfish enough not to care about how any of your food choices affect other people, animals or the environment, you as an individual cannot avoid the consequences of a food system only concerned with corporate profit. You pay with your tax dollars to treat the preventable cases of heart disease and diabetes that result from the default diet with which America has presented us. You pay when you contract a foodborne illness after consuming contaminated ground beef as a result of industry neglect. You pay a few decades down the road when you can no longer buy that beef to which you feel so attached because we simply do not have the resources on earth to sustain the growing rate of meat consumption.

Real Food Cornell is a new student group that has formed to combat these intersectional issues of food affecting us all. We exist in part to demonstrate to you that food choices are inherently and inescapably politicized; we cannot make decisions regarding food without broader consequence. Thus, we support a food system that is truly fair and sustainable, here on campus and beyond.

To that end, our first official project has been to bring you Food Day 2015, which is a celebration of and an opportunity to advocate for better food policies within and beyond Cornell. If this message has affected you, we urge you to reach out to various student groups across campus that are working towards a more sustainable food system. In the meantime you can start by attending the Food Day festivities on campus. Grab a bite at Okenshields this coming Tuesday and learn about the best diet for your health and for the planet. Get your hands dirty at Dilmun Hill Student Farm on Wednesday while learning how to waste less in the kitchen. Learn how to eat better on a budget with Anabel’s Grocery on Thursday. Just by showing up, you can affirm the identity of our generation as one that cares where our food comes from. We are calling on you to start the dialogue and start turning the tide towards a healthy, affordable, sustainable and just food system.