“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
When I saw this quote, I was reading an article about Honeybee Whisperers, the beekeepers in Slovenia. Bees pollinate crops. Our food supply is dependent on honeybees. Bee populations are declining. Protecting the environment so honeybees can thrive seems like a given.
Birds are like the canary in the coal mine. When birds change their migration patterns due to rising temperature, drought, fires, floods, and other natural disasters, it is a warning. When birds die because they cannot adapt to climate change, how long will it be before humans follow?
The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 forced humanity to pause. Air quality improved as businesses shut down, cars were not driven, factories didn’t roar, and people stayed home. However, daily pictures of long lines of cars waiting at food distribution centers on the evening news implies a society out of control. Stories abound about how schools have pivoted to send home meals so children will not go hungry. Grocery shelves stripped bare, a food system on the brink of collapse.
Food instability, food insecurity, and food deserts are detrimental to the health of children. Processed foods loaded with sugar, salt, and fat are consumed by too many, too often. Most Americans eat far too little dietary fiber – found only in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains – and it is no wonder that obesity and diabetes rates are so high.
As 2021 approaches, we need local and regional solutions to how we grow and distribute foods. I am a long-time supporter and advocate of local farmers markets, always seeking the farmers who grow organically. I love being able to purchase food grown 5 miles from where I live and harvested 18 hours before I bought and cooked it. Did you know that about 30% of the nutritional value of produce disappears in the first three days after harvest? Transporting food across the country and around the world is not a smart way to get food on our table anymore. It is also prohibitively expensive in terms of energy consumption as well. We must think "local" in terms of food.
Our nation’s food supply is in a crisis. COVID-19 has been a tough lesson highlighting that our health is also a crisis, as those with obesity and diabetes are at high risk for infection and severe illness and death. The childhood obesity epidemic is a largely a symptom of a dysfunctional food system. One big lesson from COVID-19 is that we need good food to maintain our immune system. The Standard American Diet is killing us.
We say good-bye to 2020, with a global pandemic and racial injustices still very much part of our lives. Can the next year bring new perspectives in our relationship to good food, farmers, and our humanity to each other and to nature? Can 2021 be the year of kindness that we so crave and need?
Can we learn from our relationships with birds and bees? I believe we can. Our relationship with our own health, our environment, and our planet hangs in the balance. Together, we can - and must - protect the health and lives of America's children.
Nancy Heinrich, MPH
Founder and Wellness Architect
Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.