The Right to Bear Farms
Thank you West Virginia Eastern Education Division Mini Med School for hosting my friend and colleague Gus Schumacher , leader of the non-profit Wholesome Wave, where together we presented “The Right to Bear Farms”. Gus has spent his life on farms and in food policy and served as Undersecretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration. Gus restored his own health by returning to his traditional farm nutrition and now desires to reform food policy, improve public health, restore local farms and local economies, and assist those with the most need to afford healthy local food.
My part of the event was focused around the health benefits of the “Farmacy”. Food as foundational health and medicine is nothing new. Hippocrates in 480 B.C said “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”. Paracelsus, the Father of Pharmacology, in 1500 AD stated: “All that mankind needs for good health and healing is provided by God in nature, the challenge for science is to go find it.”
Food has become too cheap, of poor quality, too convenient, we eat more calories, and as a consequence the art of preparing a healthy meal at home is being lost for future generations. We have also doubled the obesity rate since 1970. See the graphics below for shifts that have occurred (source USDA 2014).
In preparing for my talk I sought the wisdom of sixth-generation Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry. An addition to time spent farming, Berry is an often quoted book writer and activist. I will share some of his words with you and connect this to our present local program of Medical Students learning cooking and share a future vision where we can connect federal dollars, local farms, and the populations most vulnerable to poor nutrition (the low income , the sick, and the elderly).
A few quotes from Wendell Berry about where we are and some thought for what can be:
“People are fed by the Food Industry which pays no attention to health, and treated by the Health Industry which pays no attention to food. “
“While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures. It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth.”
“There are a lot of doctors who are suffering pretty badly, and it is because of that collision of technology with flesh.”
“Change is going to come from “people at the bottom” doing things differently. No great feat is going to happen to change all this; you’re going to have to humble yourself to be willing to do it one little bit at a time. “
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
“One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener’s own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.”
“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”
“The modern ignorance is in people’s assumption that they can outsmart their own nature. It is in the arrogance that will believe nothing that cannot be proved, and respect nothing it cannot understand, and value nothing it cannot sell
“What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?”
“The word agriculture, after all, does not mean “agriscience,” much less “agribusiness.” It means “cultivation of land.””
“We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.”
“The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.”
“A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.”
“I knew a man who, in the age of chain-saws, went right on cutting his wood with a handsaw and an axe. He was a healthier and a saner man than I am. I shall let his memory trouble my thoughts.”
These are the goals for our future and partnerships which must occur:
create a vibrant, just, and sustainable food system
increase affordability and access to fresh, locally grown food
improve health for all, especially those most in need
generate revenue for small and mid-sized farms
bolster local and regional economies
have a community based approach
work collaboratively with farmers, farmers markets, community leaders, healthcare providers, nonprofits and government entities
Agriculture policy has a huge impact on what people eat. Incentives now exist for small farms to grow more fruits and vegetables and to sell these locally at Farmer’s Markets for WIC, SNAP, Seniors, and those with conditions that can be positively affected and reversed by better food. We must stop promoting commodity food like corn and soy. All farmers know that to get a cow fat you feed it lots of corn. For more on specific programs visit www.wholesomewave.org .
Mark Bittman in a recent NYT Times piece said : We are in a public health crisis largely brought about by the consumption of sugar and hyperprocessed carbs. It’s fine to scream “don’t eat as many of them,” but that message can’t possibly match the power of the billions of dollars spent annually by an industry ($400 million a year on marketing soda to teens alone) encouraging us to consume more. Government’s proper role is to protect us, and this would be a fine way to start. Soda, as I’ve said before, is the cigarette of the 21st century; 50 years from now all of this will seem obvious. Warning labels would begin to turn this terrible tide around.
The highlight of the Mini Med School event was our students doing a cooking demonstration to the audience while explaining some of the simple nutritional science. The audience smiled and laughed, which in itself is good for health. They tasted kale salad, homemade hummus, and a frozen banana treat. Perhaps the future of healthcare will incorporate cooking classes in “disease management” and maybe some “walk or run with your doc” programs.
Pictured WVU Eastern Division Medical Students at a cooking class
Peasants rose up in France in the late 1700’s with the battle call “C’EST LA REVOLUTION”. So my call to each of you: EAT REAL FOOD, MOVE MORE, DO IT LOCAL.
And a final message for your safety: THE BEST ADVICE EVER.DO NOT ENTER
For the link to the actual presentations from the Mini Med event and a list of local Farmer Markets and CSAs go to eastern.hsc.wvu.edu/mini-med-school/