The National Institute of Health defines nutrition in a way that most people think about it: "The process of the body using food to sustain life; the study of food and diet." But nutrition also connects to the whole food system. The wide variation in seed and animal varieties, the way those plants and animals are raised, the harvesting, processing, and marketing -- including the people, natural resources, and political and economic forces that impact it -- all these are part of the food system, and so all these impact nutrition. Nutrition, therefore, needs to be thought of as a very broad and inclusive topic. At the same time, it begins with your most basic, everyday action: what you eat.
Do you know what you are eating? Or where your food comes from? Or who grows the food, and how? Do you know where you can find nutritious food? Or what foods are nutritious? Don’t be surprised if you can’t answer these questions, because, as Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation, our food has changed more in the last forty years than in the last forty thousand. We are in the midst of a crisis in our food system that is challenging our understanding of nutrition and food itself. An overabundance of food is available year-round, but fresh, nutritious food is often only available to those who can afford it. Inexpensive, nutritionally-poor food is contributing to the highest rates of obesity the United States has ever seen. The incidences of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure are skyrocketing, particularly in poor populations who can least afford it. At the same time, growing numbers of hungry people are turning up at soup kitchens and food pantries.