116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As a Gazette reader you don’t need reminders of the challenges Iowans and other Homo sapiens have helped create for us, other species, and our home planet.
Some challenges require resources individuals don’t have — billions of dollars, heavy equipment, or inventions not yet imagined.
Other challenges we cannot only address but turn into win-win-win accomplishments.
Erin Jordan’s article about the St. Andrew Lutheran Church’s “grow not mow” project (Sept. 28) (partnered with Feed Iowa First), followed that day by the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health got me thinking.
Remember the story of a young couple preparing a meal for their extended family? Questioned why they cut the turkey in half, they explained that’s what the wife’s mother did. When the mother arrived, she explained that’s what Grandma did. A phone call to Grandma solved the mystery. Her oven was too small for the roasting pan.
Our species has been surrounding homes with acres of grass for over 600 years. Why? Because our English ancestors did. Why did they? The number of human laborers required to trim grass without a mower made it what Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” — evidence of their elite status.
Immigrants to America brought the idea of lawns and the seeds to grow them. Industrialization introduced the lawn mower. Suburbs provided the acreages. And now 40 million acres of America are lawn — our largest irrigated crop.
Meanwhile, over 20 million Americans are drinking unsafe water, while nine billion gallons of clean water flows over the grass daily, chemicals flow into the rivers, lawn mowers pollute the air, and hours of homeowners’ labor are consumed.
A Chinese friend of ours, on her first trip here, asked why homes grew grass instead of food. Cedar Rapids Lutherans apparently asked the same question. The result? Healthy food, including 5,000 pounds of tomatoes for distribution centers.
What the White House Conference reminded us is that “food” is more than calories. Insufficient calories can lead to food insecurity, hunger, and starvation when there’s “too much month at the end of the money.”
But “food” is also (or fails to be) “nutrition.” Healthy food from the produce department is as much “medicine” as pills from the pharmacy department. Yet nearly half of the world’s people cannot afford or get access to it.
Half of Americans have Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes; 42 percent are obese. Better nutrition can increase longevity, strengthen immune systems, lower risks of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, while lowering health care costs.
Turning some of those 40 million acres of grass into gardens around our homes won’t solve America’s health and hunger challenges. But it sure would help. Help feed Iowans healthy food, save drinking water, reduce pollution from lawn mowers and drives to grocery stores, cut health care costs, give us more years of quality life, hours of leisure time, gardening exercise, and some very tasty, cheaper meals.
Nicholas Johnson served as co-director of the Iowa Institute of Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. email@example.com