Walking The Talk
Food for Thought About What We Eat
Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation.
If you have recently strolled through a grocery store where the aisles are teeming with colorful fruits, vegetables and other culinary delights, you might find it hard to believe we are facing a "food crisis" in this country. But the fact remains that far too many Coloradans and Americans simply don't have access to healthy foods – a critical component to good health. And without innovative thinking, this crisis – and our overall health – will only worsen with time.
Clearly, social and economic factors contribute to this growing problem. To a large extent, Colorado's "food deserts" (areas that lack access to foods that make up the range of a healthy diet) exist because of the simple, market-based truth that rural areas and low-income neighborhoods don't generate the kind of sales grocers need, leaving residents of these areas to rely on sparsely stocked stores with little or no produce.
Another obstacle impeding the flow of healthy food from the farm to the table is the food system itself. Though we have seen amazing advances in science, technology and communications, our food system hasn't kept up with the needs of a changing (albeit, less-agrarian) society and a growing global population. Issues include a shrinking water supply, large tracts of farmland being converted to housing and an enormous carbon footprint from importing produce such as Chilean apples and Dutch sweet peppers. Even Colorado, which ranks No. 16 among states in total agricultural production, couldn't feed its own under the current food system without considerable help from neighboring states and countries.
As a nation, we currently lack the agricultural infrastructure to make healthy food abundantly available for all. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, another 13 million acres of land for cultivating fruits and vegetables would be needed if all Americans actually followed nutritional recommendations. On top of that, the Farm Bill, which governs much of our country's farm and food policy, contains few incentives for growing healthy fruits and vegetables. (See related story, The Farm Bill.)
Though the challenges are daunting, this edition of Health Elevations explores the opportunities and encouraging trends in developing sustainable food sources in Colorado and elsewhere. We profile innovative programs, such as the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council's efforts to expand fruit and vegetable production by linking farmers to schools and other organizations. (See story, Setting Colorado's Table for a More Robust, Healthier Food System.) We look at NewFarms, a nonprofit that will provide cold-storage facilities and supplies to help small- to mid-size farmers in southeastern Colorado bring their goods to the market more efficiently. We also visit the Las Animas Community Garden, one of many proliferating community gardens in Colorado, which is bringing free produce to those who need it.
In light of those innovative efforts and many others, I'm encouraged by a growing public awareness about the dangers of obesity and the importance of good nutrition throughout Colorado and elsewhere.
As we establish a strong demand for healthy eating, it's imperative that farmers, grocers, communities, individuals, businesses and nonprofits work together to discover new and exciting ways to make healthy (and essential) food affordable and available for all.
Anne Warhover, President and CEO
The Colorado Health Foundation