Our food system in the U.S. is complex. It's burdened with subsidies for production of foods that are perfectly good in their 'whole' state (corn, soybeans, wheat, etc.) but are increasingly difficult to justify in their refined and remixed versions, in the plethora of processed foods available in the average American supermarket. Lots of folks have been trying to redirect this; the last Farm Bill authorization saw a big push to refocus encouragement of industrial agricultural production to at least some support to more locally-focused agriculture.
I went to a meeting of a local chapter of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association this afternoon. It was impressive because of the number of folks who showed up (at least 75 of them): local growers, local eaters, people interested in fresh food, people interested in delicious food, people interested in encouraging kids to eat nutritious food instead of junk, and folks interested in good, fresh food, period.
We met in a local historic setting, Farmer's Hall in Pendleton, SC, which has been a gathering place for people interested in promoting agriculture for almost 150 years. It was the gathering point that provided the genesis for the University where I work today.
How do we encourage Americans back to eating real food (that is, at least whole food, but hopefully fresh and local food)?
I really have no answers, but it definitely would be helpful to eat more delicious vegetables and fruits (whether your own, from the farmer's market, or locally fresh at the neighborhood supermarket). There are always delicious things harvested elsewhere (currently, fresh nectarines from California, for example).
Knowing where your protein comes from is a good thing, too. I'm working on trying to be more sustainable in my milk, cheese, egg, chicken, beef, and pork choices. Currently, good eggs are the easiest and most available, followed by milk and cheese.
But fish and shellfish require another level of sleuthing to be sustainable. I've stopped buying farmed salmon and shrimp, most wild-caught fish populations are in a downward spiral, so it's hard to justify buying many species of wild fish, whether local or from Asia. Wild Alaska salmon are from apparently well-managed fisheries, so presumably they're OK, but they're an exception.
We've been to many distant places well-known for seafood dishes that have not had much to offer in terms of locally-caught fish. Their fishing grounds have collapsed due to overfishing, often because of outside 'industrial' trawling, but just as often from local overfishing, too.
I didn't mean to start on an essay about sustainable food, but that's really what I'm thinking about.