Home » Food System » An Introduction to the US Food System: Perspectives from Public Health – PART 1

An Introduction to the US Food System: Perspectives from Public Health – PART 1

I don’t even remember where I stumbled upon the information but somehow I found the link to a system of free online classes called Coursera and more specifically, I found the link for a course offered by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.  The 6-week course was taught by faculty and staff from the Center for a Livable Future.

In the next couple of posts I will briefly review some of the valuable information I obtained throughout the course.  I will also link many of the resources they provided.

Week 1: Diet, Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment

In our introductory lecture, we learned that out of the almost 7 billion people in the world, approximately 1 million of those people are undernourished.  For a brief visual of the world’s hunger problem, visit here.  I also need to point out that there are people who are hungry, undernourished, and overweight. It’s possible when you live in a world where maybe you are working two minimum wage jobs just to pay the rent, fast food is cheaper (and faster) than fruits and vegetables, and you have no idea when your next meal is going to even be.

We learned that we are using up our resources faster than they can be replenished.  This is coined as living above biocapacity.  Did you know that in fact agriculture accounts for 70% of water usage worldwide? And that nearly ¾ of the land used for food production is actually used for solely for producing meat? Or that red meat (cattle and hogs) produces more greenhouse emissions than any other food group?  How about this statistic: If everyone ate a primarily plant based diet (I’m not saying completely meat free, just less meat than we do now) we would have enough food to the feed everyone in the world, plus some.

This week’s lectures really opened your eyes to the pitfalls of food production.  Why does anyone think it is a good idea to plant corn on 96 million acres of US soil and other vegetables and fruits on only 10 million? Especially given the fact that the majority of that corn is then being fed to our livestock (another fun fact – they are not designed to eat corn, that’s just one of the things we give them to fatten them up faster so they can get more meat to market).

We also had the opportunity to partake in an Ecological Footprint Exercise which you can take by clicking here. When I completed it, I was only a little surprised at my results. My lifestyle as it was in January required about 4.1 Earths. Since then, I have decided to go vegan (for Lent) to see how it would affect my results. Taking the quiz after changing just that one thing resulted in 3.6 Earths. What are your results?

Stay tuned for more from weeks 2 – 6.


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