What we eat, and how we grow it, is critical to maintaining our health as we seek to recover from a global pandemic.
The world is slowly reopening—but the COVID-19 crisis isn’t over, and everyone still has concerns. While in many areas, the number of cases is decreasing, our health will remain in danger until we make a major change and paradigm shift.
That change is closer than you might think. It’s in your kitchen, your backyard garden, and at the farmers market you visit every weekend.
The solution is our soil and in our food. What we eat is critical to protecting our health, and our broken food system needs an overhaul.
The coronavirus pandemic has focused the spotlight on the importance of health, immunity, and disease prevention. We watched as our medical systems became inundated with patients, while feeling helpless to support our own health in the face of an invisible threat.
As we return to a new normal, it is imperative that we stay vigilant about maintaining our health. Sales of organic food rose 22 percent in March, 18 percent in April, and 16 percent in May as consumers looked for ways to boost their immune systems. We cannot return to our industrial, chemical food system as the crisis recedes—a food system that is harming both people and the planet—and expect positive impacts on our personal health. We need resilient agriculture for the future.
What we eat is directly related to how we feel and how we protect our health. So why have we allowed an agricultural system that sprays our food with chemicals, disproportionately harms vulnerable communities, and poisons our environment be the main source of food for our families? Why is our medical system so out of touch with the role that food plays in our physical health, prescribing pharmaceuticals for lifestyle diseases that create even more side effects and problems?
For too long, farmers and doctors have been siloed while pursuing the same goal: keeping people healthy. Remember the grade school adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” It’s far past time that we bring these individuals, and professions, back together.
The path towards change can be found in Regenerative Healthcare. Regenerative organic food is free of the threat of chemicals like glyphosate, a probable carcinogen. At Rodale Institute, our research has shown not only that organic can feed the world, but that it can feed the world’s families more nutrient dense food, full of natural antioxidants and phytonutrients that can prevent, suspend, and even reverse the most wide-spread of lifestyle diseases.
And yet, the Standard American Diet comprises only 11 percent of its calories from whole plant foods, and more than 50 percent from highly processed products. Today, over 70 percent of global deaths are due to lifestyle-related diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic immune disorders.
When facing a threat as strong as COVID-19, we need to avail ourselves of every support system we have. Our diet is one of the simplest ways to improve our health and take control over our lives. And yet, nutrition is roundly downplayed in the medical community. In fact, many medical students receive less than 25 hours of training in nutrition during their entire education.
We need to deploy a health care system in which farmers and physicians work together to inform a prevention-based approach to human and environmental health. Regenerative Healthcare is the only path forward.
We must combine what we know about the power of food with our knowledge of nutrition and our bodies, working to prevent disease through an organic, whole-foods, plant-forward diet that begins on farms that work in harmony with nature.
For over 70 years, Rodale Institute has been researching the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture. From the beginning, our mission has been to support healthy soil that grows healthy food, feeding healthy people.
Results from Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, a 40-year side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain cropping systems, has shown conclusively that organic systems are not only comparable to conventional systems in terms of yields, but can yield up to 40 percent higher in years of inclement weather like drought. Organic systems also use 45 percent less energy, reducing carbon emissions.
We started this research in 1981, long before a world-wide pandemic upended our society. The wholesale benefits of a regenerative organic food system were true then and are even truer now. Consumers clearly understand that organic food is healthier, as organic grocery sales and CSA memberships have skyrocketed since the pandemic took hold.
Adapting the holistic, regenerative model to our nation’s healthcare systems is a crucial step in improving human health. A shift in our medical system away from pharmaceutical-based disease management towards an integrative system founded on lifestyle medicine—supported by organic, nutrient-dense whole foods—could dramatically alter the trajectory of chronic disease and create a healthier future.
Let us agree—we cannot forget the critical role our food plays in protecting our health. Though the everyday threat of COVID-19 will eventually be a memory, the decisions we make about our food will always affect us. Take the first steps to protect your health now. You won’t regret it.
Interested in more solutions? Rodale Institute, with our partners at The Plantrician Project, have released a new scientifically documented white paper that brings together, for the first time, doctors, scientists, and farmers to analyze the ways our food system has failed us, and, more importantly, solutions for a new path. “The Power of the Plate: The Case for Regenerative Organic Agriculture in Improving Human Health” is available for download at RodaleInstitute.org/poweroftheplate.
Jeff Moyer is the Chief Executive Officer of Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He has worked in regenerative organic farming for over 40 years and is the author of Organic No-Till Farming: Advancing No-Till Agriculture.