Gerrish: The most serious problem America has is a health crisis
Powell – Food production is the goal of most farming and ranching endeavors in America, and American Grazingland Services owner Jim Gerrish emphatically expressed his concern over the nature of America’s food.
“The ultimate product of most of our ranching and farming enterprises is the production of food,” said Gerrish. “A lot of that food get hijacked and turned into something other than real food.”
Gerrish served as the featured speaker at Northwest College’s Spring Roundup on Jan. 19-20 and closed the conference with a presentation describing how food has changed and how it impacts Americans.
The age of crisis
“We have a debt crisis, a housing crisis, a leadership crisis and a healthcare crisis. We have crisis after crisis after crisis,” commented Gerrish. “I think the very most serious crisis that we have is a health crisis.”
While healthcare and insurance weren’t on his radar, Gerrish noted that the U.S. is not a healthy country, spending more money on healthcare per capita than any other country in the world, and he attributed that spending to the consumption of unhealthy foods.
Aside from spending the most on healthcare, he added, “We also have the largest personal fitness industry in the world. Maybe we are running down the wrong road and not looking at what causes poor health.”
Defining the health crisis
Gerrish said two-thirds of the population is classified as overweight. Meanwhile, the definition of obesity hasn’t changed, yet the number of obese Americans has – nearly one-third of the population falls into that category, leading to the conclusion that we are overall a more unhealthy country.
“Obesity is a failure of fat metabolism – not fat accumulation,” explains Gerrish, “and plenty of people will to say that it is too much fat in your diet or lack of activity, but those factors aren’t the problem.”
He continued, explaining that, from data provided by the USDA Economic Research Service, the consumption of meat and dairy from 1970 to 2009 has changed very little, with consumption of beef declining and chicken intake increasing. Gerrish reached the conclusion that, rather than blaming our unhealthy population on meat, dairy and fat consumption, perhaps we should look at the areas of the diet that have changed significantly.
The history of
Humans have been consuming grains for only about 5,000 years, refined sugars for 150 to 200 years, and vegetable oils for only 50 to 60 years on a broad spectrum, explained Gerrish.
“Homo sapiens have been eating meat and fat for two million years,” said Gerrish. “That is what our bodies need to stay healthy and run very effectively.”
In looking at anthropological histories, he explained that height provides a good indicator of the health of populations, noting that taller populations are overall healthier. Hunter-gatherer societies, who ate a diet that consisted of 85 percent meat, were the tallest people in the world, and therefore the healthiest, in 1870 when the data was collected.
“There was only one ethnic group in the world who, on average, was six feet tall in 1870 – the Plains Indians,” said Gerrish. “Anthropologist Franz Boas said the healthiest people in the world, in the absence of Western diseases, were the Crow and Cheyenne Indians.”
With the knowledge that the Plains Indians consumed the fattiest portions of the animal and remained healthy, Gerrish asked, “How can meat and fat not be good for you?”
It’s in the sugars and grains
“America’s sweet tooth increased by 39 percent as the use of corn sweeteners increased eight-fold from 1970 to 2000,” said Gerrish. “In 1950, Americans consumed about 10 pounds of caloric sweeteners a year.”
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been consumed in large quantities with 63 pounds of the sweetener being consumer per person in 2000, he said adding that HFCS is metabolized differently than glucose.
“Glucose goes into the blood stream and is used for energy,” explained Gerrish. “Fructose will be metabolized differently and turned into fat.”
HFCS, he continued, alters the insulin system and the ability to effectively metabolize starches and sugars, affecting long-term human health.
Average grain consumption has also increased dramatically, and Gerrish noted that starch in grains converts to sugar, primarily glucose.
“From 1950 to 2000, we have increased our grain consumption by 35 percent,” said Gerrish.
“If we want to make a hog fat, what do we feed it?” asked Gerrish. “Grain. If we want to make a steer fat, what do we feed it? Corn. Why would people be any different?”
“If you want to identify three things that put us in our current health crisis, they are sugar, specifically HFCS, the increase in grain consumption and vegetable oils,” says Gerrish. “Fat has nothing to do with it.”
Solving the problem
“The simple solution to the health crisis is to eat food, not processed commodities,” stated Gerrish. “We need real food to make real people again.”
For consumers, Gerrish suggested that people should only shop the outside edge of the supermarket and purchase items like fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, or to shop locally at food cooperatives or farmers markets.
“The inside aisles of the supermarket are where the processed commodities are, where the HFCS and the highly processed grains are,” explained Gerrish.
Americans must consume real food to be healthy, and real food is made up of soil minerals, solar energy, water and carbon dioxide, according to Gerrish.
“We must make people more aware of where their food comes from,” said Gerrish. “Real food is the road to real health.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.