The COVID-19 crisis has shined a bright light on the inadequacies of America’s food and healthcare systems. Dr. Scott Stoll, board certified physiatrist and Co-Founder of The Plantrician Project, tells us why the future of our health is on our plates.
Rodale Institute and The Plantrician Project are committed to improving human health through agriculture and nutrition. Read more about our shared vision for “Regenerative Healthcare” in the new white paper, “The Power of the Plate.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding how food production and consumption impact human health. For more than 100 years, industrial agriculture has primarily focused on yields and efficiency—and lost sight of the core principles of health and sustainability. The consequences of this myopic view of food are soil depletion and erosion, followed by deterioration of human and planetary health. Fueled consumer demand for convenient, cheap hyper-palatable processed food, global dietary patterns shifted rapidly toward the adoption of a plate filled with the Standard American Diet (SAD). This new modern plate is the epicenter of a global seismic shift that sent shock waves throughout agriculture, healthcare, individual health, and the environment.
We’re just beginning to reawaken to the idea that the way we produce our food and the types of food we choose to eat have a more direct tie to human health than we ever imagined. Industrialized agriculture and the Standard American Diet are impacting not only our limited environmental resources but our quality of life. The prevalent use of antibiotics in animal production and the pervasive application of pesticides and fungicides on crops are leading to a rise in antibiotic and fungicide resistance in humans. Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pollute ground water, land and air and deplete valuable natural resources. They also contribute to spread of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli bacteria, cryptosporidium, and salmonella, which cause sickness and death every year.
A Decision—Three Times a Day
Our collective plates are a powerful force of change and dramatic regeneration of the food ecosystem. Human health can occur rapidly with a shift to a predominantly organic, whole food plant-based diet.* Extensive research has demonstrated that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle related diseases. However, fruits and vegetables are currently grown on only 3% of cropland, while only 0.9% of adolescents, 2.2% of adult men, and 3.5% of adult women met the daily recommended needs for fruits and vegetables in 2009. It’s clear that what we know to be true about nutrition is incongruent with the Standard American Diet and a majority of U.S. agricultural practices.
Our agricultural system needs an overhaul. Shifting to a regenerative organic food system would ensure that we are producing food in the most sustainable, healthy and holistic way to maximize nutrient density and eliminate exposures to toxins such as herbicides and pesticides. Plants that are produced regeneratively contain more nutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants and have a significant impact on improving human health. In contrast, food grown in conventional soils, which have been depleted by pesticides and other chemicals, are typically deficient in key phytochemicals and antioxidants.
The most pressing question to ask ourselves is: “What am I eating every single day, and how was it produced?”
Plants grown regeneratively fundamentally change the microbiome, which is responsible for 75% of the immune system. Eating foods high in phytochemicals (like organic broccoli, berries, or kale) reduces inflammation and supports a more robust immune system, specifically the parts that are geared toward fighting infection. However, when people eat a Westernized industrial diet high in sugar, grains, and processed foods, their microbiome and immune system are deficient, and they are more likely to develop lifestyle diseases like Type 2 diabetes or heart disease. This combination dramatically increases the risk of experiencing more severe and life-threatening outcomes from infectious diseases like COVID-19. In fact, more than 90% of the people who experienced a severe case of COVID-19 were either older than 73 and/or had a lifestyle related disease and or obesity. This pandemic has made it clear that your health prior to the event can be the difference between life and death.
The most pressing question to ask ourselves is: “What am I eating every single day, and how was it produced?” The cumulative effect of the food that is on our plates every day is our most potent defense against infectious diseases and chronic noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease. Exceptional health and a strong immune system are built one bite at a time.
What Can We Do?
The way that our food is produced, and the types of food we eat, have never been more important. It is imperative that we ask ourselves if our food was produced in the most holistic, organic way that minimizes disease and supports regeneration on every level.
Our white paper, “The Power of the Plate,” could not be timelier because it brings to the forefront the importance of understanding that our food production has a profound impact on human health, both today and in the future. If we can begin changing the way we produce our food and the types of food that finds its way to our plates, we will begin to influence the health of our families, communities and the health of the planet that we are stewarding for future generations.
The public is becoming much more aware and receptive to the idea that the way we produce our food and what we eat are critically important. Our white paper lays out a clear pathway to solutions in the future, with smaller actionable steps that everyone can take today.
The most important thing that you can do today is to recognize that you have the power to change your health and the health of our food ecosystem with your next plate of food. When you choose to purchase regeneratively grown organic food, you are investing not only in your own health but in the health of the farm family that grew your food, soil, water, air and land that we are leaving as an inheritance to future generations.
We all must vote with our dollars and invest in the future by purchasing, as often as we can, regenerative organic whole plant foods. We can’t wait for someone else to make the change. It is up to you and me to be the change and begin shaping a new future, one beautiful, delicious plate at a time.
Read more about the connection between food and health with a free download of “The Power of the Plate: The Case for Regenerative Organic Agriculture in Improving Human Health.”
*While The Plantrician Project promotes the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet for human health, Rodale Institutes recognizes the importance of pastured livestock in regenerative agriculture and soil health.