Heard on Campus: David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy

"The most affordable foods, the most inflation-resistant foods, the most accessible foods are the least healthy foods. ... When you marry this information to the information on what our policies do at the farm level, it's hard to escape the conclusion that what Americans are overeating is exactly what we're incenting our farmers to produce."

-- David Wallinga, senior adviser in science, food and health at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. Wallinga delivered the 2013 M. E. John Lecture on April 19 in the Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building on Penn State's University Park campus. His talk, titled “Growing Health: A Vision for U.S. Food and Agriculture Policy,” was sponsored by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education, and by the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The founder of HealthyFoodAction.org, Wallinga applies a systems lens to think about health impacts of food and how it is produced, processed, packaged and distributed in today's globalized food system.

Wallinga argues that the food system, and the agricultural ecosystem on which it depends, face issues related to climate change, fossil-fuel reliance and uneven economic development. In addition, he notes that the nation's health care system is beset by an epidemic of food- and diet-related chronic diseases that threatens to bankrupt private and public budgets.

"Right now there's an enormous shortfall when we compare what people ought to be eating with what they are eating," Wallinga explained. For example, current consumption of fruit in the U.S. is only 40 percent of what it ought to be, and consumption of legumes is only 18 percent of what it ought to be. Wallinga encouraged his audience to consider the agricultural opportunities that would result if Americans were consuming 100 percent of the recommended quantities of these healthy foods. "Imagine how many more farms would need to be recruited to create that output," Wallinga said. "Imagine further that we could incent domestic farmers to serve this new market, what an economic boom that might be."

A recording of Wallinga's lecture is available at https://meeting.psu.edu/p1z8ynps77i/

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Last Updated April 26, 2013