Here in the land of plenty, quantity has long been king when it comes to food (The Big Gulp! The Big Mac! Super-size It!). And that, unfortunately, has made millions of Americans overweight, not to mention, sick and old before their time.

How can we start reverse this health mess? By reinforcing the message that it’s the quality of our food that matters above all else. In this day and age, quantity is a killer.

When we talk quality, we’re talking simple, toxin-free, minimally-processed foods which are nutritious in the way nature intended, that send your body the signals it needs to stay in balance. Quality foods shouldn’t be that challenging to source. Shouldn’t be, except that for decades Big Food flooded the supermarket aisles with cheap, poor quality food, which until recently, left little room for healthy ‘alternatives.’

Fortunately, millions of Americans are demanding better – namely, a shift from industrial food to integrity food, that is, nutrition that is fresh, affordable, accessible, and packed full of healthful properties. Thanks to consumer demand, there are more farmers’ markets popping up all over, manufacturers are changing harmful practices, and we are slowly cleaning up the mess. But the momentum will only continue to build if we all engage!

And so I encourage everyone to play their part in this transformative culinary shift which can help all of us live better and healthier for longer. Here are a few ways to engage:

Remember that quality doesn’t mean complicated.

When swapping quantity for quality, take intimidation out of the equation. No matter how proficient a cook you are, remember that good food doesn’t have to be fancy. Save time by making everyday meals unfussy and stick to whole foods, simply prepared. Save the ‘Top Chef’-style meals for the weekend or special occasions.

Higher quality food improves Mother Earth’s health.

When you buy organic and farmers’ market foods, you help degraded soil get healthier. The soil has a microbiome just like you do, a thriving environment of microorganisms that ensures its robust good health. But that’s been decimated by years of chemical-based and genetically-engineered agriculture, which means the soil can’t feed plants the high levels of nutrients that it once did and still should. Buying organic helps repair this imbalance, improving the health of the soil and ultimately the nutritional value of the food we eat.

Keep (cooking) local.

Commit to cooking more and eating out less. Keep the action in your kitchen, not at the corner diner. That gives you complete control over the ingredients and their quality. The money you save by home cooking – no car expenses, no gratuities, no $30-a-plate ‘specials’ – will help free up some extra cash to spend on higher-quality locally and/or organically-raised foods, which can cost a bit more than industrially-raised or factory-farmed produce, meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. Fill in any empty spots on your plate with more healthy veggies!

Know the source of your food.

The good food providers want you to be engaged. They are transparent about their processes and willing to talk about their methods and practices. Chat up the providers at your local farmers’ market. Ask questions. Support their hard work. Consider joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) project to secure a season of fresh food, literally picked just for you (see localharvest.com). Not sure you can commit to a full season? Then split the cost with a neighbor or friend.

Engage with your food.

For brands you buy, read their websites, share your concerns, leave your comments on their sites. Brands with integrity do actually listen to their customers, so speak up. Also, do your research. If your go-to brands aren’t treating your food, the earth and/or their workers ethically or in a health-supportive manner, take your dollars elsewhere.

Don’t be fooled by food marketers.

The food industry is often shameless when it comes to skirting the truth, using slick marketing lingo to give their products an aura of wellness. Be wary of hyped-up ‘health-halo’ phrases that don’t tell you anything. For example:

  • Use of the word “natural.” It’s an unregulated term except for meat and poultry where ‘natural’ means only that no additives were used or extra processing occurred. It doesn’t mean, however, that the animals were raised in a healthy or humane way.
  •  “Natural” can even be slapped on products made with genetically engineered ingredients, heavily sprayed with chemicals and pesticides!
  •  “Contains whole grains” tells you nothing useful for your health, and “farm fresh” is equally meaningless — factory farms are farms, too, after all.

Ultimately, it’s buyer beware. Read the fine print, understand what the phrases mean (or don’t), and do your research on the products you use most frequently. If the package says ‘healthy,’ ‘natural’ and/or ‘farm fresh,’ dig a little deeper – or better yet, leave it on the shelf.

Vote with your wallet.

Less than a decade ago, organic foods were harder to find, considerably more expensive and thought of as ‘alternative’ or fringe. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. Prices have come down, demand has gone up and organic food is much easier to source than it used to be. When upgrading the quality of the food you eat, choose foods that are as free of chemicals as possible. Support local growers and your local farmer’s market. Though their products may not carry the USDA organic seal, most use close-to-organic methods that are cleaner and kinder to the earth — so your body benefits with cleaner, healthier, more nutrient-rich food.

Step away from supermarket offerings that destroy health.

What are most supermarkets packed with? Processed and packaged foods that make you fat now – and sick later. If upgrading your diet is the goal, you must rethink where you shop. Again, make small, local producers who supply healthy, whole and organic foods your default – and reserve the supermarket for non-edible necessities. The more you support those devoted to quality products or take DIY steps like growing your own produce, the more you help build an alternative, health-sustaining food system. Short on time? Then buy from alternative retailers like thrivemarket.com, which is 100 percent GMO-free. Will these type of adjustments end Big Food as we know it? Perhaps not completely, but they will keep bad stuff out of your system until the food industry changes its unhealthy ways (just don’t hold your breath!).

Stay vigilant – and be active.

The playing field is constantly shifting. Big corporations are buying up many organic providers and smaller, real-food companies. Dilution of quality and subtle shifts – like adding cheaper but toxic ingredients or downgrading original sources – can occur. Also, regulations on dangerous chemicals are not enforced—the food industry generally gets to declare what’s safe and what’s not. And, frighteningly, long-standing bans on some dangerous pesticides, like the carcinogen chlorpyrifos, are being overturned. The regulatory system is broken, and it’s no secret that special-interest money speaks louder than consumer safety. Don’t get complacent — fixing our broken food system requires participation and vigilance! Fortunately, there are dedicated groups doing much of the hard work for us already – and they need our support. Use their resources, support their initiatives (such as pushing for the labeling of genetically engineered foods), and become part of the solution.

For more information, visit the websites of my favorite integrity leaders in the area of food quality and safety – and help fight the good fight for our health and planet:

 

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