Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The US is a country with innovation fore most in the minds of its population in practically every field of human endeavor. When it comes to food their innovative spirit has thrown up new products with a regularity that can be termed as mind boggling. If the food processing sector in the US is considered, it outpaces that in any other country whether in product formulation, ingredient development, packaging, machinery or nutrition and no wonder their insatiable quest for new things has led them to a situation that is threatening their population in terms of ill health and "over nutrition". Interestingly the processing industry riding on modern knowledge driven technologies seems to have let out a "tiger" in the form of junk foods and other types of products with nutritional imbalance which refuses to be tamed! Neither the Government there nor the industry has any clue as to how best the American citizens can be saved from food-driven suicide!

Interestingly the spark for the distortion in food consumption habits was provided by the economic boom that country was experiencing with rich citizens able to buy food far beyond their actual need. After all a human being requires requires hardly 2000-3000 kC and 50-60 gms of proteins along with micro nutrients to maintain decent health but the calories requirement is closely linked to the physical efforts including daily chores and workplace activities. The pronounced shift from a diet rich in whole cereals, fruits, vegetables and other wholesome and nutritious foods to one rich in refined cereals and animal products has precipitated the current crisis. Added to this the government policy of heavily subsidizing wrong foods like Corn, Soybean etc and neglect of fruits and vegetables has made animal foods significantly cheaper driving even low income groups to such foods with low credentials vis-a-vis health protection.

Another dimension to the food and health crisis facing that country is indifferent safety of foods emanating from large industrial conglomerates using unsafe chemicals like antibiotics, pesticides and other inputs considered dangerous. Added to this aggressive popularization of GM foods with controversial safety credentials is considered to be adding to the woes of the American consumer. The highly profit motivated food industry does not seem to be too much concerned about the well being of the consumers and its attitude can be summed up as " profit at any cost" and it is up to the consumer to moderate food consumption and maintain health through exercise!
No wonder organic food industry is making considerable in roads into the main food portfolio as citizens are increasingly being scared about the safety of most of the foods offered in the market. It is a matter for serious introspection why food poisoning episodes due to contamination with deadly pathogens is recurring with sickening regularity in this country and there are many documentary evidence to show that the callous attitude and unpardonable mistakes of the industry are responsible for many of the market recalls of products billions of dollars.

In spite of the above serious lacunae America is also the land where innovative people's movements such as local foods, farmers market, urban garden, gorilla garden, terrace garden, community garden, corporate garden etc had started by people concerned with the quality and safety of foods consumed by them every day. The Food Truck phenomenon which has taken roots in this country is a development worth watching because unlike main stream restaurants these mobile vending units serve nutritionally better food at relatively low cost besides procuring their input materials locally. Latest concept to "arrive" is "Campus Garden" created and nurtured by the student community to feel the real thrill in growing food. Though it remains to be seen how far this phenomenon will last, there is good possibility the movement may spread across the continent considering the potential it holds in accessing safe and nutritious foods for the campus community.

The benefits of community gardens can be considerable. A community garden will promote health and wellness, provide a place for leisure and offer food for those in need. Indirectly it can promote wildlife habitats, storm water control and water quality improvement. One of the limitations of modern society is that students in schools are totally cut off from rural areas where food is produced and have no clue as to how farming activities ensure regular supply food for them. If teaching fraternity can be roped in, it will enrich the knowledge of students about agriculture. Imaginative design of such gardens can contribute to the development of good and constructive relationship with the surrounding community, leading to an environment of peace and tranquility. According to the most recent estimates there are 100 colleges and universities with community gardens on campus in the US, working harmoniously with the neighborhood. .

Why not the above experiment be started in various campuses across the country? Many college campuses have hundreds of hectares of land available that can be put to better use rather than allowing them to remain fallow. While Agricultural colleges in the country, many in number can lead the way, other teaching institutions also can follow them and there will be an impact of far reaching dimension in a few years time. What is needed is a set of standardized kits with necessary guidelines for raising some of the fruits and vegetables of short duration. One of the indirect benefits that may eventually flow out of such innovative development is that institutions with community gardens will turn out much better graduates with high sensitivity to nature and environment. Besides the "destructive" energy that is characteristic of modern youngsters can be channeled for a better cause through campus gardens.

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