Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sustainable movement provides food for thought


(From the February 10, 2011 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)

Many people don’t give a lot of thought to how the food they eat is made or from where it comes. But increasing discussion of obesity epidemics and rising food prices has given momentum to something called the sustainable food movement. Leaders in the effort describe it as a shift from industrial based agriculture to a food system in which healthy, nutritious food is available to all.

This Saturday, February 12, you can learn more about this concept right here in Spring Lake at C3 Exchange, at 225 E. Exchange Street. The local event is actually part of a national “Change the Way You Eat” event based in Manhattan with live webcasts being shown around the country.

I was asked to be the emcee at the Spring Lake event, but will be in Chicago with a group of students. I thought the least I could do was mention it in my column to help alert people who may be interested in attending. (See the end of the column for details about attending the local event.)

“Change the Way You Eat” is a TEDxManahattan event, so named for the popular TED events around the country. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design and is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.” The scope has broadened from the original three categories, and the “x” events are actually independent from the TED organization. Only 250 people will be live in the event in New York City, so the viewing parties around the country, such as in Spring Lake, were arranged to expand the reach. Renae Hesselink, the vice president of sustainability at Nichols & SustainAble Solutions who is hosting the Spring Lake event, says the local event is limited to 100. But they are working to secure permission to allow more attendees.

In Manhattan, and viewed around the country, speakers with various backgrounds in farming will share their insights and expertise about growing and distributing food. Video clips from the national TED conference will also be shown.

The event in Spring Lake is sponsored by the North Ottawa Sustainability Coalition and the Muskegon Area Sustainability Center. Numerous local vendors will be present to showcase sustainable food initiatives in West Michigan. There will be three local speakers. Attendees can enjoy a “local sustainable lunch” for $5.

So why might you want to attend this event? Well, if you’re like my wife and me, you may wonder why you drive by local orchards only to find cherries and apples and other produce from the State of Washington. With all the asparagus just north of us we were getting it shipped in from South America. No offense to these other places, but we have to wonder what that does to our local economies. We also have to wonder what the processes required to preserve food for a long time to ship them long distance does to our bodies.

Everyone from scientists and medical experts to Oprah have embraced the sustainable food idea. As noted in Oprah magazine, paying more attention to what you eat, where it’s from (i.e. local) and how it’s grown can help you reduce the risk of obesity, avoid chemicals, and wake up your taste buds. As noted in a 2008 article in her magazine, “the food that passes your lips often has as much resemblance to its natural state as a chicken nugget does to a barnyard hen.”

As the New York Times noted in an article on the subject last spring, Americans have become adept at producing food efficiently and cheaply. That may be a good thing, but there are consequences and costs that come with cheap efficiency as well. We may be reaching a point where it makes sense for economic and health reasons to reconsider the food chain we’ve been living with for decades now.

No doubt there will be differences of opinion. Many might just feel uninformed about the contents and origin of their food. That’s why the event this Saturday provides an enticing food for thought.

If you want to attend the event in Spring Lake, you may pre-register by emailing Renae Hesselink at RHessel281@aol.com.  Otherwise, registration on Saturday at the event will be open at 9:30, with the event starting at 10:30. You can also watch from your computer at www.livestream.com/tedx.