Category Archives: food

Health Insurance Industry Takes on McDonald’s

Say what?

Imagine a world where health insurance companies insist that school lunches be healthy and fresh, made with local foods and where the American Medical Association puts its full political weight behind a ban on soda advertising.

Imagine that these same players start taking a strong interest in this country’s agribusiness and poise themselves to do some major damage to the subsidized interests in the next fight in Congress over the farm bill.

Believe it or not, according to Michael Pollan in his latest New York Times editorial, these events are not so far off and are the likely outcome of even the lightest version of health care reform to come–what he calls a “game changer.”

“Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.”

The moment the health insurance industry stops putting its energy and money into preventing health care reform, they will start to relearn what actually will affect their bottom line. Unable to drop people or deny claims we can imagine that they actually will be investing their money in reducing childhood obesity or championing against highly processed food with known cancer-causing chemicals.

If this actually comes to pass it will be remarkable. Our entire food system and health delivery system has grown into one of “perverse incentives”, although as Pollan says

“…food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.”

What is remarkable is that both of these challenges–health care reform and that of agribusiness and the food industry–seemed to be so intractable. What a marvelous insight to set them against each other.

Backyard Gardening and Furtive Anti-Globalisation

Just spent an hour in the garden gathering my very last tomatoes, zuccini and green beans of the season. (Yes, it is November but remember this is Los Angeles!) 
Our gardening efforts over the past few years have been a great learning experience–about seasons, soil and our particular micro-climate. Now I see it all as just a warmup to some major changes I hope to make, probably starting with the new year.  
I am being re-educated and inspired by a book loaned to me by my daughter and son-in-law (and I actually think it originally came from his dad.) The book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written by novelist Barbara Kingsolver and members of her family. It is their story of trying to eat only or mostly their own home-grown food and/or food available from others living locally.  The story is inspiring because it forces you to think about eating seasonally–meaning creating meals based on what is growing now–mixed in with whatever you or others have been able to preserve. This was a wake-up call to me; as you know I have been a hippie/sustainability nut for a long time but somehow I remained perverted by the complete access to a variety of food available at my trusty Von’s and Trader Joe’s. 
My first step has been to become aware of the origin of my purchases.  For instance, that sale on those beatiful fat asparagus spears in August is a dead giveaway of a Chilean import-check the label. This is not just an issue of food health.  Whether those spears were organic or not, they entailed the expenditure of an enormous amount of oil.  As food writer Michael Pollan says:
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. (My emphasis)

I urge you to read more about what Pollan has to say if you are interested in this subject.  His New York Times article “Farmer in Chief” is excellent.  He tries to educate the next president in what we need to do with regard to food policy in this country, something rarely discussed. 
If you start exposing yourself to these ideas it won’t be long before you start thinking there could be some radical changes ahead.  And if a long term energy crisis comes our way these changes in purchases and eating habits could become not just the actions of some purists but de rigueur!! The key point here is that food policy is intricately intertwined with global climate change, energy policy and national security!
There is much to learn about this way of approaching our family food production.  I found this video that is in the same vein as Kingsolver’s book, a little less radical, but also requiring a lot of work.  Scott is a landscaper so he spends his days with his hands in the soil. His connection with nature is deep and his acquired wisdom is strong but so simple.
Think about the food you eat and where it comes from.  It’s not just about organic!