COLUMBIA — Leigh Lockhart equated the quality of American food to chocolate chip pancakes rolled around sausages on a stick sitting in supermarket freezers: horrifying.
“Non-nutritious, chemical-laden food is cheap, convenient, and it’s killing us,” she said.
Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze in The District, and John Ikerd, MU professor emeritus of agricultural economy, joined a panel of five others Sunday that was organized by The Political Animal, an animal welfare group. The speakers discussed issues relating to food, health, agriculture and politics.
Ikerd explained that if Americans continue to fill their bodies with empty calories, the obesity epidemic will spread. He said at this rate, one out of every five American dollars spent on health care will go toward obesity-related issues by 2020.
“Obesity is not just a matter of embarrassment or inconvenience,” he said. “It’s associated with a whole list of health problems including diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, various kinds of cancer, and it’s growing at an epidemic rate in this country.”
Ikerd said two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are classified as obese or overweight.
“Our kids eat what we feed them, and often that means what is quickest and most convenient and cheapest,” he said. “And that’s what we feed them, and that’s what we get, and we’re ending up with a generation of overfed and undernourished.”
Lockhart said her college diet revolved around meatless, cheap fast food. In the past 13 years, she has since served more than a half-million meatless meals at Main Squeeze.
“I know that’s not like McDonald’s ‘how many served’ thing, but to me those meatless meals are a lot,” Lockhart said.
Her support of healthy foods stretches beyond her restaurant's walls and to lower income parts of the community. Matching customer donations dollar for dollar, she said she’s contributed roughly $2,000 of fresh and organic produce to the Central Missouri Food Bank. However, instead of merely donating the money to the food pantry, she said she ensures that her contributions are both healthy and organic.
“I was put in the position of having to decide if I wanted to provide more crappy food like Twinkies and junk food, because (the food bank) can work deals where they can get more of that,” she said. “It was a tough call because I want to feed more people, but it doesn’t support the system that I want to support.”
Ikerd believes that before the obesity trend can be reversed, the food industry must be altered. Not only do people need to be educated about healthy food choices, but they also need to have a range of foods to choose from, he said.
“Much of the food that’s in the grocery stores and in the fast food places today is simply not good for public health, and a lot of it is simply not fit to eat,” Ikerd said.