March is National Nutrition Month | Eating what local environments provide |

March is National Nutrition Month | Eating what local environments provide

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; March has been designated as National Nutrition month by the American Dietetics Association. This yearand#8217;s theme is and#8220;Eat Right with Color.and#8221; Living in an area not known for agriculture production, it is easy to forget all the good things we get from the earth. Think whole grains (wheat, barley, oats, and rice), vegetables, fruits and legumes (beans, nuts, and seeds).

We have an abundant and wide variety of foods from which to choose. Walk into any supermarket and you can find anything you want, from junk food to health food. Some of us are very aware of our bodyand#8217;s health and the link to good nutrition. Others are not so particular and rationalize if the store can sell it, it must be good for you. As a culture we seem to be drifting farther away from home-cooked meals and going more toward diets that can be zapped in a microwave and eaten on the run. And the result, in part at least, is a national obesity epidemic that threatens the life expectancy of the next generation.

Yet, despite our eat-on-the-run habit, when it comes to and#8220;green foodand#8221; we are very picky. We skip over fruits and vegetables with the slightest blemish, settling only for the perfect-looking apple or tomato. And once a product has reached its and#8220;best if used byand#8221; date, even though it may still be nutritionally viable, we toss it in the garbage.

Last year Project MANA rescued more than 65,000 pounds of food bound for the Dumpster and redistributed it at our four weekly food distributions. This food (primarily baked goods and dairy products) had reached its and#8220;best if used byand#8221; date, so the stores could no longer sell it. Yet milk, for example, is good seven days after the stamped date, so it is perfectly fine to drink. The markets are required to dispose of more food than we could ever possibly use or store. When you combine this with what local restaurants and hotels throw away on a daily basis, it quickly becomes staggering to contemplate the amount of food we waste, not just locally, but as a nation.

As Americans we believe food is cheap and plentiful and we tend to take it for granted. But the reality is there are large numbers of people who are struggling to make it day to day just under the surface of any city USA. With rising oil and gas prices we can expect the cost of all food to go up. Trucks are used to transport food to markets, diesel is needed for tractors and harvesters; petroleum also forms the base from which fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are made. Speaking of going green, and watching our carbon footprint, gas and oil combine with modern transportation allows us to buy oranges and strawberries from New Zealand in the winter.

Itand#8217;s what moved us away from what many consider the most natural diet of all, eating only what your local living environment provides.

Most of us will be able to absorb the higher cost, while others will have to stretch an already shrinking budget even further to get adequate nutrition. For some it will be a choice between food and buying a tank of gas to get to work.

When I was a kid I was always told at the dinner table and#8220;Take what you want, but eat what you take. You can always go back for more.and#8221; Wasting food was not acceptable for my family or for many others of the same generation who remembered the great depression. Somewhere over the years we lost touch with food, where it comes from, its value and what it means to waste it. Health and Nutrition month is a good opportunity to think about what food means to us as Americans.

and#8212; George LeBard is the executive director of Project MANA, the hunger relief organization serving the North and West Shores of Lake Tahoe and Truckee since 1991. Project MANA is located in the Donald W. Reynolds Community Non-Profit Center in Incline Village. For information call 775-298-0008.

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