A Food Interview With America
Good morning, America! How are you this bright and cheerful day?
“Bright and cheerful? Maybe for some. Frankly, I’m not exactly feeling like a million bucks, which I think has a lot to do with what I eat. And speaking of millions, I see these marvelous supermarkets all over my country brimming with food, yet pre-COVID-19, 49 million of my people didn’t have enough to eat, which experts say has increased by at least 17 million with the pandemic. Even before the virus, five million of my children were too small and thin for their age—right here in one of the world’s richest countries. I thought stunting was something you only see in desperately poor countries.
But how can that be? We have plenty of food, at least twice as much as we need to feed everyone.
“I don’t know where it all goes, but that brings up an even bigger problem: eating too much. Of my 331 million citizens, 132 million are overweight, with another 66 million obese. Even 8 million of my children are now obese, and it starts at age two. All of which has led to some 150 million—nearly half my population—to being diabetic or pre-diabetic. I have an epidemic on top of the pandemic.”
Mercy! I can see why you’re not feeling cheerful.
“Meanwhile, modern farming loses two billion tons of my topsoil each year, at ten times the rate it’s being replaced[i]. How on earth am I supposed to grow food when it’s gone?
My food companies spend $11 billion peddling junk food each year, often targeting the most vulnerable of my people—children and the poor.
Over $1 trillion of the health, social, and environmental costs of food production don’t show up in the prices my people pay at the grocery store.
As if all that’s not enough, wasted food costs my economy $2.6 trillion a year.[ii]
And on and on it goes in the dreadful millions, billions, and trillions of dollars. I’m truly a mess of ‘ill’-ions.
So yeah, I’m hanging in there, but I sure could stand to be a lot less ill. Which is to say, I’m seriously hurting.”
This poignant, imaginary interview with our beloved country highlights my reason for writing this book: to address our food-derived hurting in the millions, billions, and trillions by much more fully engaging a powerful, effective solution that so far has been almost completely overlooked—home gardens. First, I want to inspire potential new gardeners, as well as those currently gardening to expand their efforts. Second, I’d like to motivate policymakers and community leaders to leverage individual efforts enormously. Gardeners are on the front lines, and policymakers are the strategic support teams. They need each other, and each should be aware of everything that’s primarily directed to the other to make the most of their own role.
Why turn to home gardens? To begin with, the industrial food system is failing. It’s unsustainable in the long term and struggling even in the short run, especially with getting food to the low-income. COVID-19 has made the system’s shortcomings even more obvious, and it appears that this pandemic is going to be with us awhile. Although advocates of sustainable/regenerative agriculture have promoted many worthwhile solutions to food production and distribution, they’ve missed the vast potential of home gardens. These gardens, contrary to the common narrative, are not only an extraordinarily potent source of food production, they’re much more efficient, with far greater returns for the energy and effort, than industrial food.
All of which adds up to my primary proposal: a three-tiered food system, anchored by 1) home gardens, backed up by 2) local food production, in turn complemented by 3) pared-down distant food production, that could plausibly replace much to most industrially produced food. This system would save trillions in costs to human health, the economy, and the environment. It would not replace non-food use of crops for purely industrial purposes, such as corn and soybeans for fuel. My secondary assertion is that food gardens can be the most promising and dignified path to permanent food accessibility not just for those who are better off, but also, and especially for those who are less well-off. Don’t believe it? Then read on: I’ll show you why it’s genuinely workable. We’ll begin with the example of victory gardens.
[i] Dobberstein, J. “Do We Still Have Only 60 Harvests Left?” No-Till Farmer, March 25, 2020. https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/blogs/1-covering-no-till/post/9569-do-we-still-only-have-60-harvests-left.
[ii] Hyman, M. Food Fix – How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet – One Bite at a Time. Little, Brown, Spark. 2020.