Food is our simplest, most immediate need. It is nonnegotiable, and a common thread amongst all humans regardless of location, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Everyone eats.
But for many years, food has taken a backseat in politics to other issues, while the food systems in the United States continued to fail both the people producing it and the people consuming it. Our current system of food production is a lose-lose in every imaginable way: it is unhealthier, worse for the environment, often morally repugnant, and comes at a very high social cost.
There is, however; a silver bullet. A cure that could solve all of our food-related ills, that could in one fell swoop erase our tortured relationship with what we eat. Interestingly enough, this silver bullet was mostly abandoned, as it was seen as an outdated sexist institution that validated repressive gender roles and stereotypes. That silver bullet is education.
A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that on average more than one in three American children will eat fast food every single day. If those children, and their parents, truly understood what that food was doing to them and the environment, not to mention the incredibly high moral and social cost of consuming such food, it is unlikely that such a massive portion of the population would continue to do so.
The cost of such food to the environment are clear: agriculture is responsible for 75% of global deforestation, and agriculture is the leading source of pollution. These, and other environmental changes enacted by our current agricultural practices have created a positive feedback loop with climate change, where as the environment continues to negatively impact food production, more resources are required to feed the world’s population, negatively impacting the environment.
Ethically, the sourcing of the meat for many of these cheap and easy restaurants is wrong, as animals are often held and slaughtered in inhumane conditions. Ag-gag laws enacted despite public opposition make it difficult for consumers to truly appreciate just how miserable the conditions these animals are held in are, and perpetuate an industry that profits off of animal suffering. Furthermore, these inhumane conditions are worse for human health as they require the heavy use of antibiotics and growth hormones that have been proven to pose a danger to human health, and also because these operations have far worse implications for the environment than their ethically minded counterparts.
The food materials these meals contain are not created with taste of health in mind, but rather are grown to resist climate change, pests, to produce larger yields, and even for easier transportation. Finally, the salaries paid to the employees at every point of production are almost always insufficient to maintain a good quality of life, and are not considered living wages by any means.
More specifically, that silver bullet is the lowly home economics class, once an ubiquitous institution across the country, but now a rarity in most schools. The value of taking a class similar to home economics can not be stated enough. Many of the problems of food production in the United States stem simply from public ignorance about where their food comes from. Not only can a mandated home economics that students of all genders must attend teach students about where their food comes from and at what cost, but it will prepare children to take care of themselves, which includes cooking healthy, quick, inexpensive, and finally tasty meals. Opening the class up to students of all backgrounds also breaks gender roles and socioeconomic factors in preparing all children in how to take care of themselves. Boys should know how to feed themselves and their loved ones just as much as girls, and people with low incomes should be able to eat as well as people at the other end of the socioeconomic scale.
Education is the silver bullet to our seemingly complex problems that really are not complicated at all. The best you can do is to teach people how to make long-term healthy decisions, and hope they have the gumption to want more for themselves. Home economics holds the possibility of helping everyone, and should be reinstated in all schools across the country.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
Column Five. “Big Facts on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.” CGIAR Big Facts. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
Kaplan, Karen. “CDC Reveals Just How Much Fast Food American Kids Eat Each Day.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 May 2016.