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Following food from farm to plate

When most people think of holidays, they usually envision crowd favorites like Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Halloween. But yesterday, Wednesday, Oct. 24, marked one of the nation’s most appealingly-named celebrations: Food Day.

Though perhaps not as widely recognized as, say, Christmas, Food Day represents a time to show our appreciation for one of life’s bare necessities: food. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? After all, everyone loves food!

But that’s not all Food Day is about. According to the Food Day website, the purpose of the day is to “address issues as varied as health and nutrition, hunger, agricultural policy, animal welfare and farm worker justice.”

Here in the U.S., food is something we often take for granted. How many people at Saint Louis University have ever experienced the true hunger that comes from malnourishment? Few have, and we hope that few ever will. But it is important to recognize the complex infrastructure that supplies our victuals every day and to educate ourselves on the issues surrounding food production.

The old adage “you are what you eat” holds true; the unhealthy foods many Americans consume contribute to the nation’s health epidemic, particularly heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and cancer. These afflictions cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year that could have been avoided by a healthier diet.

The foods we consume affect more than just our health, however. Most foods only arrive on our plates after a long production and farming process that may be extremely harmful to workers, many of whom live on the other side of the planet. Furthermore, while most of us eat meat, certain animal farming processes involve excessive suffering for the animals involved. And on top of all that, it is important to recognize which foods are produced using sustainable techniques and which may be causing irreversible harm to the planet.

So what can we do? It’s not like we can just stop eating. One option is to turn toward locavorism, the movement toward consuming more locally-produced foods.

There can be many benefits from eating locally. Food from nearby areas doesn’t have to travel as far to the marketplace, insuring that it will be fresher. This also lowers fuel costs, helps the environment and invests in the local economy. Much locally produced food is also organic, which means fewer hormones and preservatives in the food.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that we make ourselves aware of where our food comes from and how it is produced. Purchasing produce from the nearby farmers’ markets in Soulard and Tower Grove is a fun way to improve our diets and support the St. Louis area. There are also a variety of small grocery stores that sell local and organic goods.

So if you missed Food Day, that’s alright—just mark your calendar for next year. And in the meantime, live in the spirit of the season by trying to eat healthy and sustainable foods.

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