Friday, July 30, 2010

Healthy Food Action

Yesterday my husband and I had the pleasure of having a second team of registered dietitians and dietetic students and interns from St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI (where I used to work) come out to our farm this week to help harvest garlic (thank you!). One of the interns asked a really good question that made me come up with some thoughtful answers; she was asking why I thought dietetic students/interns really needed their hands in the dirt as part of their professional training.

I ran through some of my usual thoughts on this issue (understanding how much work really goes into producing healthy foods that are the foundation of individual and community health that ultimately preserve or rejuvenate our natural resources needed to produce good food - for starters). She listened, nodded, but then quickly added that having spent a week weeding at the new farm on the grounds of St. Joe's Hospital, she wondered what else she was learning. 

I sifted through a lot of thoughts I wanted to say, but focused on one aspect that led to me say I believe the mantra of all health care professionals should be action that promotes the prevention of disease and the creation of healthy communities, no matter one's individual specialty, which means that one must be politically aware and politically active. Hmmm, not the first thing one learns about in dietetics or any medical-based training and also not the first thing that most of us are eager to be involved with. Nod, nod, nod, agreement all around.

So what to do? Maybe one week of hard work, not even seeing the full cycle of the food production system is enough. I'm not sure about that yet. However, to complement knowing how food is grown, where is an appropriate starting point learning how to be action-oriented regarding the politics of food, agriculture, and the various systems involved from farm to fork, even if one is not politically-inclined by nature?

There is a brand new resource just launched by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called Healthy Food Action, which will evaluate the various issues at hand to develop recommendations for individual and collective action in order to "make health the future of food and farming". I have signed up to receive updates and "calls to action" and recommend that you do the same.

Even if you are not a health care professional, sign up under Other as a Concerned Food Eater, Lover, Consumer, Citizen, or however you choose to call yourself.  I also added Organic Farmer under the Other category, since I believe farmers who are providing the healthy foods grown with agricultural practices that conserve our country's natural resources are our nation's true front-line health care professionals.

We loved having help on the farm this week, we love who helped us, we love being part of our community's food system on the prevention end of the health care spectrum, and have great hopes for the health, wellness, and vibrancy of our community. However, none of that comes easily, cheaply, or without action.

My favorite line from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is where she says (paraphrasing here) that "If you accomplished something great today, you did so only because someone else had their hands in the soil growing your food".  Thus, my hopes for student dietitians are these;

(1) By having experiences growing food with your own two hands in the soil (however long or short those experiences may be), I hope you will learn to love and appreciate good food even more than you already do. 

(2) In addition, I hope you will understand and value the hard but committed and caring work that goes into the priority of creating healthy soil and foods that are necessary to develop healthy individuals and communities and then incorporate those priorities into all of your food recommendations and actions no matter where in the food sector your professional interests take you. 

(3) Lastly, because you love good food and understand how its production can lead to healthy communities, you will then learn about and advocate for the policies that will make good food not just the right choice but also the easy choice for the individuals under your professional care and the communities where you live so great things can be accomplished.

I often end my posts with a grace or a lovely quotation of some kind. I depart from that today to end with a quote I found on another blog (that I will surely comment on at some point in the future), which is deeply thought-provoking and very fitting to my thoughts about the importance for being aware of politics and involved in action:

Silence gives consent. 
~~ Thirteenth-century Roman Catholic canon law

I urge all my readers to sign up at the Healthy Food Action website. It is a good place to start with that next action step for "policy and politics". Help shape our individual and collective future in order to "make health the future of food and farming". I have. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD
The Dyer Family Organic Farm
"Shaping our future from the ground up"

1 comment:

Elaine said...

I'm excited and inspired by every word in this post. Thank you for your leadership. I love your statement about farmers being front-line health care professionals and your hopes for student dietitians.

I must also agree based on personal experience: working the soil with my own hands has helped me be a more knowledgeable, concerned, committed and grateful dietitian.