Small ways you can improve the food system

Probably the largest shift I’ve made over the last decade health-wise is a shift towards prioritizing food quality over almost anything else. When I started going paleo, I’d go HAM on terrible quality stuff that fit my macros (hello low-grade store bought beef!). After all, it was Paleo – I’m being healthy! 

As I’ve understood more of the impact food has on our health, environment and community, I’m now more likely to enjoy a pizza with super high quality ingredients (one that really does not fit my macros) than I am a burger made with factory farmed beef. 

This year, I’ve started to think more and more about what a food system focused on quality would look like. And have come to the conclusion that a decentralized food system – one that doesn’t rely on 8 food companies for 80%+ of America’s caloric intake – would be a big step in the right direction. 

One of the largest issues with our food system today is the lack of accounting for negative externalities. Big Food creates products that make people sick, and externalize that cost onto the US healthcare system (and thus the US taxpayer). Big Food harms the environment, and makes the government + populace pay for it. Big Food lobbies to influence school lunch guidelines, and pizza is now a vegetable. Big Food doesn’t know you or the communities it sells products into, nor does it care. 

This math changes when you have a more decentralized food system. When farmers are growing food in the same community they sell to, there’s a tighter feedback loop between farmer, consumer, environment and health. Some things work well at scale: others don’t. At this point, I’m fairly convinced the modern-day food system is completely broken at scale (as I touched on in my last newsletter). 

As a conscious, health-oriented consumer, what do you do? How do you opt out of a food system that’s literally killing people and the planet? This is an evolving area of interest for me, but there are a few things you can do:

  1. Buy from farmers and ranchers on Eat Wild – the best collection of farmers and ranchers following grass-fed and pasturing practices that I’m aware of today.
  2. If Eat Wild doesn’t have many good options near you, that’s okay. You can still get super high-quality, regeneratively-raised meats from Force of Nature (disclosure, I’m an investor). These guys source meats only from regeneratively raised sources of incredible quality and ship anywhere in the country. I especially love their ancestral blends, which blend beef/bison with heart and liver to increase nutrient density without any offal flavor.
  3. Subscribe to a CSA (Local Harvest has a great directory) and get fresh produce delivered to you from local farmers. Or, frequent farmer’s markets and get to know your local farmers. Ask them about regenerative ag, the challenges they face, and how they think about building soil health. As I’ve gone to more markets over the past year I’ve found it endlessly interesting to get their perspective on regenerative, soil health and the current food system.
  4. Cook! Seriously, cooking more meals is one of the best ways to opt out of the toxic food system. To start with, when you’re cooking at home it’s highly unlikely that you’ll use toxic industrially processed seed oils (canola, etc) in your cooking: you know, the ones that 99%+ of restaurants use. Really – between Austin and San Francisco, I’m only aware of 3 restaurants (Picnik, Kitava and Little Gem) that make a point not to use these awful seed oils. And honestly, cooking is fun. I started quarantine fully unable to cook a meal for myself. Since then, my girlfriend and I have been cooking our way through Made Whole (5 star recommend) and it’s been fun both learning a new skill while also improving our health. When you know every oil and ingredient that goes into your food, it’s a lot easier to stay healthy.
  5. Grow your own food (at least some of it). Even if you live somewhere where it’s not realistic to have a full garden + raise chickens (like me), growing your own stuff is super rewarding. You could start a container farm, get a seed sheet (which we did), or get a Smart Garden just because it’s fun and looks cool. 

For more resources, check out Sacred Cow’s resource page. Overall, I think getting closer to your food system is one of the most important investments you can make in your health and your planet. 

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  • Tam Pham

    I’ve also been getting really into eating whole, nutritious, and nourishing food. You gave great resources that I haven’t explored yet (beyond going to my local farmer’s market).

    it’s quite sad to see “Big Food” and fast-food chains in general dominate most of North America. I didn’t “get it” growing up but now, I finally think I do.

    Being in the food space, I find it hard to believe that you learned to cook your first meal for yourself this year… 😉

    Thanks for writing this.