by Dina Eliash Robinson
SAN DIEGO – A standing ovation erupted in the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s ballroom after a panel of six experts gave an unflinching, two-hour presentation about the harmful effects of current farming and food processing practices on human health and the environment. The Public Forum audience included healthcare professionals, teachers concerned about nutrient-poor school lunches, and others who were attending the Fourth Annual Nutrition & Health Conference this past May, 2007.
Forum panelists connected the dots: Misguided government food policies (i.e. subsidies) encourage agricultural industrialization, which leads to environmental degradation and surplus foods. These are processed into sugars, starches and fats, which are marketed in the media, causing a growing medical catastrophe that includes junk-food addiction and an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. The resulting healthcare crisis is threatening to crash the nation’s social safety net.
While pulling no punches in describing these unsettling trends, the panelists also offered many practical methods by which they could—and should—be reversed. They encouraged the audience to take an active part in promoting conservation, better nutrition in schools and hospitals, safer agricultural practices, saner government food policies, and healthier eating habits.
In his presentation about “Optimum Diet,” Andrew Weil, M.D., internationally renowned author, medicinal botanist and medical education reformer, exhorted healthcare professionals in the audience to help their patients live healthier lives through better nutrition. Dr. Weil is the Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, where he is also a Clinical Professor of Medicine.
His message was amplified by David Wallinga, M.D., whose expose of food additives and their devastating effects on health, was balanced with quite achievable solutions. The Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Project, Dr. Wallinga is a national expert in the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, and the impact of pesticides and other environmental chemicals on children. In his presentation on “Healthy Food in Healthcare: Making things happen,” he emphasized the importance of improving in the nutritional content and quality of school lunches.
Michael Pollan, author of many books and currently the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley, inspired the audience with his call to join him in “Connecting the Dots: Health and Agricultural Policy.”
Also participating in the panel discussion was Daniel Imhoff,author of “Food Fight: A Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill.” (Dina will review the book in a following post) As a prolific writer and researchers on food safety issues, Imhoff has access to information that give weight and urgency to his impassioned call to action.
Equally enlightening and motivating were M. Scott “Scotty” Johnson’s comments about the inextricable link between food safety and conservation. A writer, teacher and member of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services’ Arizona State Technical Team, Scotty Johnson made the case for the economic and environmental benefits of developing and using renewable energy, Johnson is one of a select few that has recently trained with Al Gore and his team of scientists to share the science behind global warming.
The event was co-sponsored by the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s Program in Integrative Medicine, and the Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.