Every day is Medicine Day. Every time a family doctor like me sees a patient who struggles with weight gain, diabetes, or high blood pressure, I give them medicine. But today is different. Today is Food Day.
To be honest, I have long tried to emphasize the importance of food choices in preventing and treating disease. I high-five my patients when they lose weight or cut out sugar-loaded beverages from their diet. When people pick a food to eat, they are making one of the most important health decisions of their day. The vast majority of problems I see in primary care are related to what people eat. Our food system and our health system are closely linked. It's no surprise that the faults or our food system contribute to the problems of our health system.
Our general taxes fund massive giveaways to large agribusinesses, so that they can grow corn (for sugar) and soy. This makes the major ingredients for most processed foods and beverages cheap, allowing the big food companies to spend billions of dollars a year getting Americans to eat a lot of junk. And it works. Obesity and diabetes rates are skyrocketing, leading to increased patient suffering and corresponding health care costs. Guess who pays for those costs? The same taxes that fund agricultural subsidies help our seniors buy the medications to treat the conditions the subsidies helped cause.
There is a very simple way to break this cycle. And we don't have to rely on politicians to do it. All we have to do is know where our food comes from. Then we just vote with our fork and start eating food that is not part of the industrial food system.
This is the idea behind the first annual Food Day, today, October 24th (www.foodday.org). Food Day was founded on six national priorities: reduce diet-related disease by promoting healthy foods, support sustainable farms & cut subsidies to big agribusiness, expand access to food and alleviate hunger, protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms, promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids, and obtain fair wages for all workers in the food system.
One of the best ways to do this is to visit a farmer’s market. At farmer’s markets we can directly ask the food producer: Where does this strawberry come from? Did you spray it with pesticide? Is there any chance it is infected with bacteria from a nearby animal slaughterhouse? How much do you pay your farm workers? So visit your farmer's market this week, ask these questions, buy some fruits and vegetables, and provide your family with a few healthy meals.
For those of you who want to celebrate food day in other ways, you can celebrate Meatless Monday by not eating any meat or poultry today (and every Monday). You can turn your child's television (and internet) off so they do not see all the junk food ads. Stand outside McDonald's or Taco Bell and warn people about the dangerous food they are planning to eat. Celebrate water by joining the "Life is Sweeter" campaign and get sugar-loaded beverages out of the buildings where you work. Or grow a tomato plant on your porch. You can involve your family in any of these activities, while teaching your children where food comes from.
While I'm hoping that the 2012 Farm Bill will fix some of the problems with our food system, I'm not optimistic. However, I am optimistic that many of our food issues can be solved without relying on politicians. By choosing to eat non-industrial food, we can start our own food movement.
So when I see patients tonight, instead of picking up my pen and writing a prescription for a new medicine, I'm going to write a food prescription for my patients. I'll give my patients three choices of what I can write: "Eat seven vegetables a day," "Don't Drink Sugar-loaded beverages," or "Give up meat on Mondays." I hope other doctors follow my lead, and that my patients do too.