We all know the importance of real food in the morning: kids who eat high-sugar breakfasts have a harder time in school, and a growing body of research suggests that foods sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can be as addictive as nicotine or cocaine. It’s clear, too, that for most of us the eating patterns we develop as children hang around forever.
Every parent of a child born in the United States since 1950 also knows the difficulty of getting that kid to eat a breakfast of real food. This is not a “natural” inclination — no one is born craving Froot Loops or Count Chocula — but one resulting from a bombardment of marketing.
So for more than half a century well-intentioned parents have been torn between their desperation to get their kids to eat something, anything, and the knowledge that most packaged breakfast cereals are little better than cookies.
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I’m not a jingoist, but I’d prefer that more of my food came from America. It’d be even better, really, if most of it came from within a few hundred miles of where we live. We’d be more secure and better served, and our land would be better used. And I’d feel prouder, as if we had a food culture rather than a food fetish.
The Farm Bill [PDF], which is currently under negotiation for renewal — and is dangerously close to being pushed through without real debate — needs to address this issue head-on. But by subsidizing commodities, the existing bill (and food policy in general), pushes things in precisely the opposite direction. The vast majority of our farmland grows corn (we’re the world’s largest producer), soy and wheat, and these, along with meat and dairy, make us net exporters of foodstuffs.
Incredibly, however, we are net importers of fruits and vegetables, foods that our land is capable of growing in abundance and once did. Most of our imports are from Mexico, Chile and Canada, but fresh fruits and especially vegetables are shipped here from all over the world, with significant quantities coming from as far away as India, China and Thailand. And those imports are growing.
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FoodCorps, which started last week, is symbolic of just what we need: a national service program that aims to improve nutrition education for children, develop school gardening projects and change what’s being served on school lunch trays.
I’ve been looking forward to this for months, because it’s such an up: 50 new foot soldiers in the war against ignorance in food. The service members, most of them in their 20s, just went to work at 41 sites in 10 states, from Maine to Oregon and Michigan to Mississippi. (FoodCorps concentrates on communities with high rates of childhood obesity or limited access to healthy food, though these days every state has communities like that.)
I’d be even more elated if there were 50 FoodCorps members in each state. Or 5,000 in each, which approaches the number we’re going to need to educate our kids so they can look forward to a lifetime of good health and good eating. But FoodCorps is a model we can use to build upon.
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This week the Wall Street Journal and James Knickman, President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation, weighed in on a potential soda tax. WSJ cited research which suggested that while a 40% levy on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages would raise $2.5 billion annually, it would “only” result in an average weight loss of 1.3 pounds per person, per year (most of that weight being lost in middle-income households.) The article goes on to paraphrase one of the primary authors of the study:
If the goal is obesity prevention, taxing only sugary drinks may not be the most effective way to go. . . Targeting the sugary and fat-laden foods with the lowest per-calorie cost would actually suggest going after candy rather than soda, he says. A soda tax might have its biggest effect on obesity not by reducing consumption, but by raising money to put towards prevention or other anti-obesity efforts.
I love this take on obesity as a threat to national security from David Frum, former special assistant to President George W. Bush: “In 2008, some 634 military personnel were discharged for transgressing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That same year, 4,555 were discharged for failing to meet military weight standards.”
In other words, obesity is a much greater threat to the United States military than homosexuality, so maybe we should put the latter issue to bed and get on to the former. If somebody could convince the war hawks in congress that combatting obesity and improving the American food system actually counts as defense spending, imagine how far we might get:
Don’t ask your fellow soldiers if they supersized their McDonald’s. Don’t tell them if you did.
(Photo Credit: The U.S. Army via Flickr)
Beef ranchers are complaining that the domestic market is “withering,” and therefore the quality of meat will decline.
This, of course, assumes that we’re not smart enough to buy better beef. From many perspectives – that of the person who wants only organic beef; that of one who wants only local beef; that of one who wants grass-fed beef, or “natural” beef, or humanely raised beef, or all of the above – the price of “normal” (that is, industrially-raised) beef is already too low. Suppose one wanted higher quality beef, and were willing to pay for it? Suppose one were willing to eat less beef in order to keep one’s food budget more-or-less stable? Wouldn’t a decline in industrially raised beef be OK? And who cares if it becomes even “worse?” It’s already produced with almost no concern for quality.
I’ve been eating like Food Matters – the title of The Food Matters Cookbook‘s predecessor – for more than three years. During that period I’ve met scores of people – and heard about hundreds of others – who’ve either come to similar diets on their own (it’s not that complicated, after all) or read Food Matters and been inspired by it to change their diets.
The result of my own and just about everyone else’s experiences (as well as most of the research studies that have been published in recent years), have confirmed the conclusion I reached in the first place: If you swap the basic proportions in your diet—increasing unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains—you’ll wind up losing weight and improving your overall health while also improving more difficult-to-measure situations like global warming, the environment in general, and animal welfare.
By some calculations, at least 80 percent of the calories most Americans eat come from food that is either animal based or highly processed. That leaves less than 20 percent that come from what we used to call natural or whole foods –meaning fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. We consume 200 pounds of meat per year (that’s about 8 ounces a day, twice the global average), 237 pounds of dairy, and 32 pounds of eggs. That’s more than 469 pounds of animal products per capita, over a pound a day.
By Suzanne Lenzer
I refer to one close friend, affectionately, as a tea bag. She needs time to seep. She moves more slowly than I do, her stories take time to come out (they’re worth the wait), and it’s remarkable that she hasn’t missed more flights over the years, meticulously and methodically packing her bag as the clock ticks ever closer towards departure time.
I am not a tea bag––my inner rhythm is more coffee than chamomile. Being naturally caffeinated can be a blessing (I rarely miss a deadline), but in moving so fast I’m sure I miss important things along the way. Continue reading
I think it’s worth reading this summary in Environmental Health News of the Korean study that showed a decline in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals and antibiotics after just five days on a “vegetarian” diet. (I first saw this in a piece by Tom Laskawy, over at Grist. And here is an earlier study with similar results.)
The quotes around vegetarian are necessary because the study doesn’t specify what that means; rather, it says participants lived in a Buddhist temple and “adopted to the monk’s lifestyle.” Which could well mean a vegan diet. (Or even one free of root vegetables, since some Buddhists eschew those, because they kill the plant. But let’s not discuss this.)
By Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D.
[Kelly is the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, and a leading advocate for sensible nutrition. His influence is tremendous – though I wish it were even more so – and he is a major force behind the national push for the soda tax. (Which I wrote about here.) We’re hoping to coax him for updates on his work and his insights regularly. – mb]
A profound and welcome change has swept the country. Once relegated to the backwaters of public policy, nutrition issues such as childhood obesity have exploded into the limelight and captured the attention of public officials who now realize something must be done. Though “treatment” remains popular, the prevailing public health view is that we must focus on prevention, and that officials must change the factors driving poor nutrition.
The urge to act can be found at all levels of government, and there is support from surprising quarters. For example, a group called Mission: Readiness, run by senior retired military officials, recently announced that obesity and lack of physical fitness threatens national security because only 1 in 4 youth ages 17-24 meet minimum standards for military service. [Check out this frightening and ironically amusing PDF – mb.]