January 17, 2013 by amittnac
I found our trip to DC thought provoking. It was fascinating to listen to insiders speak about their experiences working to address nutrition issues on the hill- the epicenter of BIG national CHANGE in this country.
As many of you have already mentioned in your blog posts, the fact that there are so many different voices coming to the policy table (politicians, industry organizations, health advocates, etc.) makes it difficult for policy makers to agree upon a common goal/mission. I have to say, I left DC wondering what is it exactly that we are trying to address here? Obviously, obesity is the first issue that comes to mind. Yet, I wonder whether removing junk food from schools or (possibly) restricting what people are able to purchase with SNAP is really getting to the root of the issues that led to the obesity epidemic in the first place. If we impose restrictions on young children and SNAP users, is it likely that they will make “healthier” food decisions when left to their own devices? Are these restrictions really addressing the way in which we view/consume/ make choices regarding the food that nourishes us? I feel these elements of food consumption need to be considered if we are to address our country’s eating issues in a way that is sustainable.
Many of our speakers stressed the importance of providing individuals with guidelines and nutrition policies that reflect the most up-to-date nutrition science. I can imagine that this is close to impossible considering the fact that science is ever-changing and that policy decisions/modifications in DC move along slowly (for good reason). I am a strong believer in nutrition policy/counseling that is rooted in science- but I am wondering if we should be approaching our country’s food issues from a different angle as well. During her discussion of MyPlate, one of our speakers suggested that individuals be advised to make half of their plates fruits and vegetables and the other half anything they want- this recommendation seems a little more manageable and a little less reliant upon the latest and greatest nutrition science findings. Maybe we should focus a little less on the dietary recommendations and a little more on the way in which food is consumed in this country. Foods that are both cheap and tasty have become so convenient that many individuals are able to easily consume their meals on the run or in front of their television/computer/iphone- It seems as though the ceremony of preparing food and sharing food are no longer central components of meals in these modern times which may be a part of the problem. In her essay “can an organic twinkie be certified?,” organic and sustainable food maven Joan Gussow explains that “For over 99.9% of the time our species has been on earth, nourishment had nothing to do with nutrients and everything to do with community. The foods people ate came largely out of the communities they lived in—products of different ways of collecting, growing, preparing, and sharing that were unique to different groups of people around the world….Today, however, the food technologist’s power over the products of nature has multiplied to the point where he can create foods never before eaten by humans, foods whose safety and nutritiousness are at best unprovable and at worst doubtful (1).”
Perhaps we should aim to rejuvenate the traditions surrounding food consumption that were fading (despite exceptional advances in nutritional science) at the same time the obesity rate was rising… My hope is that public health nutrition policy advocates will push to incorporate nutrition education classes into the elementary school curriculums, so as to provide children with the knowledge necessary to become advocates for their own health. Which leads me to a hot topic that was discussed repeatedly during our time DC- the relationship between the food industry organizations and policy makers.I think that large businesses and corporations ( food-related and otherwise) are capable of funding / partnering with health promotion programs and should be encouraged do more of this kind of giving. I have seen the effects of this kind of partnership as I have helped to coordinate several Cooking Matters classes (one for teens, one for adults, and one for families) in the Triangle area. It was incredible to see, first hand, the extraordinary impact that a six week cooking-based nutrition program had on the program participants- many of whom spoke about how the program has motivated them to start cooking at home more . WalMart, the Food Network, and ConAgra Foods have all partnered with Share Our Strength to fund Cooking Matters classes in an effort to assist in ending childhood hunger in the US. I also applaud businesses, like McDonalds, that provide healthier default sides with kids meals.
I understand that instigating behavior changes that will end obesity is far more complex than I will ever know, and that lack of healthy food access/affordable food is an ever-growing problem in this country; however, I do not think that only offering healthy food options in isolated arenas ( i.e. in the school lunchroom) will solve the obesity crisis. Either food manufacturers need to stop producing “ unhealthy,” processed food altogether ( will. not .happen.), or we need to advocate for programs that will motivate individuals to make healthy choices when left to their own devices…and encourage food industry to become involved in these initiatives ( … and to consider manufacturing healthier options).
Thank goodness we have such hard working, intelligent, passionate individuals advocating for healthy change in DC. I have a newfound appreciation for the work that they do.
1. Joan Dye Gussow. “ Can an Organic Twinkie be Certified?” (http://joansgarden.org/Twinkie.pdf)