Eat in or eat out? Fast food or health food? Omnivore or vegan? Grow your own or consume food flown in from far-flung parts of the planet?
We are in the midst of a new American food revolution. It’s now impossible not to notice that rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases are soaring, along with billboards advertising “LAP-BAND” surgery. And it’s not just adults — the most frightening symptom of this epidemic is that nearly half the kids in some Ventura County communities are overweight or obese, as detailed in a front page story in this week’s Ventura County Star.
But rather than belabor the dismal statistics, there’s more value in seeing the positive changes that are exploding in our hometown.
The most visible were on display earlier this month at Summerfest, an annual celebration of healthy eating and active living that drew thousands of kids, parents and grandparents to the Ventura Education Center campus. Timed to set the right tone for summer vacation, dozens of booths, exhibits and activities showcased all the healthy activities and opportunities for families from surf camp to clog dancing. A major emphasis is on healthy eating to compliment active living. Rather than three months of BBQ, sodas and snacks, summer can be a time to grow your own vegetables and fruits and take the time to prepare vibrantly healthy meals.
More and more local restaurants, caterers and even supermarkets are featuring local produce. Our Farmer’s Markets are jammed, not just with colorful offerings, but eclectic shoppers. Community gardens are sprouting in vacant lots. In a County where voters have mandated greater protections for farmland than anywhere else in Southern California, area farmers are rapidly innovating in what crops they bring to market — and how they bring them. Last year, the City of Ventura joined 121 other California communities in endorsing a statewide “healthy eating, active living” campaign, the Ventura County Health Department is using a Federal grant for a countywide effort and the Kaiser Foundation has provided a $1 million grant to focus just on Ventura’s Westside.
All this activity is being showcased by Totally Local VC in the next in their series of landmark meals — this one coming up on July 26 at the Mission San Buenaventura in Downtown Ventura. Chef Tim Kilcoyne of Sidecar Cafe will be preparing the food. Given that the Spanish friars were the first to bring grapes here two centuries ago, wine tasting will be offered in the Mission Gardens by Emilio Estevez’s Casa Dumetz Winery.
Yet while these inspired dinners create a buzz, it is what we all eat every day that will determine our health and the example we set for our kids. The corporate whizzes who run the food industry are marketing to two powerful human drives: convenience and taste. Lots of fat, salt and sugar tastes good and is easy to grab and go. Preparing nutritious and delicious competition to mass food can be a chore in today’s crowded family and individual schedules.
Still, unless we are going to surgically alter the American alimentary canal, a return to balanced, modest, home-prepared and locally-grown choices is essential for our physical health. And here’s the opportunity. In these tough times, Ventura is poised to profit big time from a shift toward healthier eating.
Our local restaurants that source their food locally will thrive not only with local customers, but with adventurous visitors looking to sample our unique fare. Local jobs will be created shifting local agricultural production from global supply chains to local ones. New intermediary businesses will be created and grow figuring out how to meet local needs from local resources. Food bills may go up, but much more expensive health bills will go down.
Ventura may not be be ground zero for healthy eating nirvana. But it can be an epicenter for the seismic shift away from fast food to healthy food. We have the nearby farms and the imagination to take advantage of them to grow jobs as well as healthier meals.
See you at the Farmer’s Market — and here’s to our physical and fiscal health as a community!