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The new dietary guidelines issued early this year by the federal government highlight the great paradox of food in America. We’re advised to eat less sugar and more fruits and vegetables in order to stay healthy. But at the same time, our government supports a food system that churns out the polar opposite meal plan—one that’s designed to mass produce the foods we’re not supposed to eat, while also generating pollution that harms air quality, water quality and climate. 

Steven Van Verre/Shutterstock

Over the past 45 years, thanks to bedrock laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and persistent environmental advocacy, the air we breathe and the water we drink have become much cleaner. But the food we eat has become much dirtier. I’m not talking just about food safety in a narrow sense, but also about the broad, systemic impacts that farming and food production have had on our health and the environment.

"AZFO Birders at San Pedro River, Gray Hawk Ranch" William Herron/CC BY-SA 2.0

From the air, the San Pedro River looks like a green ribbon winding through the brown desert landscape east of Tucson, Arizona. For millions of birds, the river’s water and cottonwood and willow tree canopy are lifesavers during their migration. Nearly 45 percent of all North American bird species use the San Pedro at some point in their lives.


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