To me, being healthy means that I am mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy. Moving to our small, rural town and out of the big city has brought me much time to contemplate my mental and spiritual health. Living in nature and witnessing its cycles so intimately without all the distractions of a highly populated area somehow puts my being into happiness and better awareness of self.
Living on the farm, as you can imagine, also sets me up for being physically healthy. We work the land and eat the bounty that it gives us. We are lucky in this aspect - to have fresh, organic vegetables available to us whenever we step outside our door and care to harvest. I say lucky because if you don't grow your own vegetables in this town, you need to drive 35-45 minutes or roughly 35 miles to have access to quality produce. We do however, have access to multiple liquor stores and the processed, unhealthy foods that are usually sold in them.
The USDA defines a food desert as a place where low-income residents (poverty rate is at least 20% of the population) live more than 1 mile from a grocery store or supermarket in urban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas. I live in a food desert. And this makes me sad, angry, and want to tell the world about the fact that food insecurity and obesity now go hand in hand.
While the government can't force private entrepreneurs to invest in low-income communities to bring them healthy, nutritious food, they can at least back nutrition guidelines by removing subsidies for Big Ag. Big Ag receives subsidies from the government to grow corn and soy. In turn, corn and soy products are turned into processed foods that ultimately cost less to make, thus less to sell. Vegetable prices remain stable or, with organic farming techniques, increase- due to the intensive labor that it requires. So the USDA tells us to eat this amount of veggies, that amount of fruits, but doesn't support this statement with action. So eating healthy in this community is hard to achieve not only because of lack of access, but because of the high prices it demands. And therein lies the problem with being healthy.
To me, the scariest part is when we look at our children. Childhood obesity rates have soared with the number of families who are food insecure due to the empty calories that processed foods provide their bodies. Obesity leads to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, to name a few, which means more tax dollars spent on our already soaring costs of healthcare.
We live in a time where children are at a disconnect as to where their food comes from. Jamie Oliver demonstrates this fact when he visits schools, holding up vegetables to be identified by students and most are unable to name them, because food comes in plastic or foil packaging, right?
It seems to me that instead of nice posters of food pyramids or portion sizes, that children need to get their hands dirty. In my opinion, the government-through public schools- needs to focus less on staring at computer screens and more on children learning to be entwined with their food system.
A metaphor for preventative health has stuck with me since nursing school: Healthcare workers were standing at the bank of a river when a person drowning in the river called for help. The workers jumped in and saved the person. Soon, hundreds of people were coming down the river, all yelling for help. As they continued to help the people, one worker had an idea: why don't we go upstream and see what is happening? Then maybe we can prevent the drownings in the first place. What a novel idea.
It is so hard for us as adults to change our habits. But what if we never had to change them because we were taught healthy habits from the beginning? What if we all had access to vegetables and healthy foods at decent prices? What would our physical, mental, and spiritual health look like?
USDA. Definition of a food desert. http://www.ers.usda.gov/dataFiles/Food_Access_Research_Atlas/Download_the_Data/Archived_Version/archived_documentation.pdf
McMillian, Tracie (2014, August). The new face of hunger. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/