Frustration with the Food System: When it comes to food, the numbers upset me

For the past couple weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of taking a Coursera course titled “Introduction to the U.S. Food System.” I say “pleasure” because this topic is obviously interesting to me and it’s a privilege for me to learn from the good brains of the field, teaching out of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

More honestly? The course content is upsetting. The statistics are troublesome and it’s impossible to call it doomsday, because that’s just the way it is. It’s not like the ruin of our topsoil or the increasing rates of childhood obesity are just made up. They’re happening and they’re getting quicker about it. Ugh. It’s enough to turn my mouth upside down.

Here’s something that really upset me:

Let’s say these little dashes are people.

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One of those people? Undernourished.

(actually, 1 billion people are undernourished. Something else awful to think about – a child dies every five seconds from starvation – totals five million a year.)

Another one of those people?  Suffers from a disease of over-nutrition, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

(One billion people suffer from diseases of over-nutrition, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.)

Such over-nutrition occurs mostly in more developed countries.

Does this make sense to me? No. Does this make sense to you?

I live in a developed country and I know that obesity is hitting Americans hard. But, I also feel that most people in my life are from a developed country and are also kind and compassionate people. I bet there’s a lot of people in other developed countries that are kind and compassionate people (along with developing countries, too).

I’m not saying we should pull the whole “There’s kids starving in Somalia” card with kids who are glaring at the meatloaf that’s full of cooked onions. I’m also not saying that I think we should each send a bag of rice to a family in need, whether it’s local or across our country’s border.

Those mentions of troubled children to teach your child the variance of life experience and that compassionate act of donation to another family are positive actions. Definitely.

But what about if all the kind, compassionate people figure out a way to simplify our complex global food system so that our nation isn’t burdened with an excess of available calories that we can’t so “no” to while other people in the world scrape to get a daily bite?

I’m trying to spin some goodness to these recent numbers that hurt my brain and my heart. I believe there’s a way to improve and I know that just a few kind, compassionate folks could make a bit of a difference. That’s enough to turn my mouth right back up to smiling.

Anyone with me?

(…anyone else picturing that awkward moment in Jerry Maguire? We can start our own agency!)

Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at