February 28, 2008
by Deborah J. Kane
As the forklift scooped up the downed cow, I winced and looked away. The beef recall we’ve been hearing about lately, the largest in history at 149 million pounds, stemmed from a video circulated on the Internet. With the images right there in my face all I could think was, "Surely I didn’t eat any of that meat." Yet schools across Oregon quickly took beef off their menus, so there must have been a chance, however slight.
I had the same "wince and look away" reaction to The Oregonian’s coverage of teen gastric banding. To combat America’s escalating childhood weight crisis, a national clinical trial is under way to surgically restrict the stomach capacity of obese teenagers. Graphic images of the medical procedure were somehow just too much for me the other day. As I shut my eyes, I remembered that these same teens attend the schools where beef was recalled.
And in the midst of information overload about tainted beef and childhood obesity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Oregon lost 1,000 farms last year. That one made me gasp and wince at the same time. Cringe-worthy though they may be, I’m afraid we’re going to have to keep looking at these issues. As is often the case with problems that seem overwhelming, they’re interconnected. You see, that cow is a part of agriculture; agriculture produces food; food is connected to health; and health is connected to overall well-being. Every day that we lose a farm or restrict a stomach, it gets easier and easier to forget the connections.
The Oregon Legislature recently demonstrated that it understands the connection between agriculture and health and took seriously its responsibility for ensuring the overall well-being of children in Oregon. By passing HB 3601A in the 2008 special session, Oregon became the first state in the nation with a full-time farm-to-school coordinator within its Department of Agriculture and its Department of Education.
At the Department of Agriculture the state is developing relationships with Oregon food processors, manufacturers and farmers who want to get Oregon’s great agricultural products into our school cafeterias. Now our children have an ally at the Department of Education who’ll make sure that our lunchrooms are ready to receive the Oregon bounty.
Go ahead and wince, but don’t look away. When we remember that the line between agricultural issues and health issues is paper thin, we have a real chance at crafting solutions that result in healthier children and a healthier farm economy. We’re creating a national model as we keep our eyes focused on the connections.
Deborah J. Kane is vice president of Food & Farms at Ecotrust and a WK Kellogg Foundation Food & Society Policy Fellow.