We already know that axing junk food and making healthy food more affordable would save millions of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs, right? Right.
I came across and article tonight that will appear in tomorrow's paper edition of the NYTimes. Mark Bittman attacks this topic in a manner that is both insightful and thought provoking: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24bittman.html?pagewanted=1
In general, I know that I get frustrated when I read articles by people who claim that experts are being unrealistic when they advocate healthier eating since good food is so expensive. We made junk food cheap but we also made good food expensive. It's great that we're finally willing to start taxing unhealthy food, when it actually happens, but what do we do about the good stuff?
MB has great ideas and points. One of them, the cooking lessons, is actually happening here in NY for inner city children. Chef's donate their time, the kids come in, have 4-hours with Chef, make a meal using organic ingredients - many of which are local, then eat. Recipes to take home. To see a kid make their first meal that doesn't come out of a box and compare it to the box food stating "woah this is so much better this is all I want from now on" - to see that light go on above their face is amazing.
Was anything in this article new for you? Are things happening in your area that are "thinking outside of the box" food-wise?
I really thought about this topic a lot today and have seen/heard discussion regarding the article. It's all over Facebook, a couple on the train were talking about it. I hit the greenmarket this morning and was next to a woman who was complaining about the cost of squash blossoms. She was holding a coffee that I knew cost more than the blossoms. Instead of ignoring her, I very mildly pointed that fact out with a smile, also mentioning that the blossoms were organic and pesticide free. Instead of punching me she just kind of looked odd for a minute and said "I never thought of it that way." I told her to get the blossoms and make coffee tomorrow. She bought them.
Continuing to educate - especially kids, getting people to think "round" instead of so narrow is a key part in bringing change.. but of course people are going to have to want to change. The food industry is most definitely not going to want that and will fight tooth and nail. The bottom line will always be money.
I have thoroughly enjoyed what everyone has posted. One of the reason's I've really come to love about PH is all the sharing and opinions that, hopefully, broaden everyones horizons and perhaps brings a different thought process to a topic. So many of the posts I read or post to it always seems to be that way :) Thank you so much for all this collective insight!
So close, but so far. Cooking lessons, yes! Local food, yes! Community gardens, yes! Nutritional counseling for kids, it depends. Taxing corn syrup filled beverages, maybe. Taxing saturated fat, no! A lot of the "food science" they want to base these programs on is just blatantly wrong, and legislating CW ideas about nutrition is going to make the veins blow out of my forehead. Until they manage to get their heads out of their rear ends about what constitutes a nourishing meal, I do not support food sin taxes. Maybe a food packaging tax would be better?
If we really want to change America's eating habits we need to make it socially and economically desirable to do so. Shifting subsidies from large monoculture farms to community gardens and organic farms is a good place to start. Stopping the "welfare queen" witch hunts that made it a criminal offense to be a stay at home single mom or dad, would be even better. 6 weeks maternity leave is just a cruel joke, 3-5 years of subsidized community building, garden tending, home cooking time with children could completely re-knit our society's most vulnerable and undernourished communities. I do not find it a coincidence that childhood obesity rates soared as mothers were forced into the workforce and into poorly paying jobs. (Don't even get me started on crime. Well organized mothers are the best police force a community could have.) It takes time to cook good food, and if you are working two minimum wage jobs to pay your rent, you are not going to have time or money to nurture your children and cook healthy food with premium ingredients from scratch.
We also need to stop the problem of "supply" driving our "demand" for things like corn, soy, and wheat. We subsidize those things so heavily, that food manufacturers are forced to try and find new and marketable options for them. I'm sure I'm totally preaching to the choir here, but I am always amazed at how hard it is to find a pre-packaged food item on a grocery store shelf that doesn't contain one of those 3 ingredients.
You can totally delete me without any hard feelings if I've stepped over a line here, but I had to get that out after reading the article.
I also think we need a street food revolution. I've been so impressed by the availability of healthy food, ready to eat, right on the street pretty much everywhere I've been except in the ol' US of A. In the shopping areas in Asia I couldn't go two stalls without passing something that smelled good. Fast food does not need to be synonymous with junk food. Not having a lot of time to cook and not having a lot of money shouldn't prevent people from being able to eat well. I don't know if it is zoning laws or the sense that in 'merica we simply prefer food courts and drive thrus. I do know that if someone started pedaling through my neighborhood with a sushi cart or shish kabob cart they would be mobbed. We have one beloved taco truck and there is usually a line. Maybe I should just drag my grill down to the street corner "lemonade stand style", skewer some meat on a stick, and see what happens?
They never will, we are a nation of excess. Everywhere we go it's all you can eat, excessive meal sizes at every restaurant. Our cars have to be the size of house. You don't have to leave your car to get any food, people make their lives so busy that they are constantly in a hurry. They eat in their cars every where, to work or just to get to the mall so they can get more unnecessary stuff, to over fill their massive homes. You see it everywhere. My wife and I have a more European attitude when it comes to our life style. two small cars, modest well kept uncluttered home. We bike ride, we walk when ever we can, enjoy being with family. We also are careful of what we eat except she isn't Paleo yet. So until we as a nation start to chose a more simple less cluttered lifestyle and start to realize that life doesn't need to be complicated, that bigger isn't best, forget us getting healthier as a nation. To Americans it's give me a pill for my problems let me get a scooter and get out of my way I have shopping to do. Hey this is the longest answer I ever gave here, it's a question that goes deeper than eating habits and one that gets me mad every time it think of it. Just so you know I am not Liberal or Conservative I try to be a free and well informed thinker. Most of us here are, or we wouldn't be here.
I didn't read the article because I am too lazy, however:
Junk food, HFCS, white bread, grainfed cows, etc. is so cheap now (compared to healthy food) partially because of farm subsidies. The USDA is more concerned about the USA exporting wheat, corn, and soy than they are about health.
Does it make any sense that you are taxed now so that a farmer can get that money to offset his costs of producing corn. Then that corn is made into HFCS and other products and is artificially cheap because you already paid for part of the production of the corn (your original taxes). Now the HFCS is not good for you so we better tax that so you don't consume it. But now the farmer can't sell corn and that drives the price down at the markets. Then the government steps in to increase your taxes so that it can give the farmer more money to produce corn.....
All the while the government is telling you how healthy those subsidized grains are and that in order to be healthy you better eat 10 or so servings of them a day. And if you can't eat them, don't worry, drink soy milk - it costs more but it's also subsidized.
I just used HFCS, think about the subsidized cost of corn compared to an unsubsidized acre of pasture for cattle or any number of food products that you eat.
Anybody that expects the government to solve a problem that it largely created is a fool.
I don't think there's any single thing that will make "Americans" change their food habits. More information (more "correct" information) will help change the habits of people who really want to be eating the right thing. This will be a gradual change and happen over time.
Taubes in GCBC shows the impact of all the (mis)information released about high-fiber, high-carb, and low-fat diets... people started moving towards whole grains and beans instead of meat. They went out and bought SnackWells by the truckload. When lack of exercise was diagnosed as a cause of obesity, people went out and bought running shoes, treadmills, exercycles, and gym memberships. Now, the right information just has to make its way out there and people WILL find a way to afford the foods that have been identified as being healthy.
But that applies only to people who feel it's important enough. After all, we've known for decades now what smoking does to you. And yet there are people who still chain-smoke (and find a way to afford cigarettes, no matter how low their income/how highly taxed their cigarettes are).
Just look at all the threads on here about how to get spouses/partners/children/parents to start eating Paleo, or even to just start eating less-processed, less sugary foods. I don't see the expense as a major barrier in those threads. It's just not what those people want to, or think they should, eat.
Basically, the cigarette tax didn't do the trick. I don't think a donut tax will be enough either. Subsidized beef may help poorer families who would like to be able to eat it, but heavily taxed Cheetos won't stop those who want it from buying it.
EDIT: Upon re-reading the above, I realize I sound like Marie Antoinette - "Let them eat eggs from caged hens!" That wasn't my intention. Subsidized meat and vegetables will certainly help those families who can afford only beans and tortillas now (and want to eat better). But it won't change the attitudes of the happily food-addicted.
I think the only thing we can do is individually affect those around us, educate and teach our children what good healthy foods/ways are and hope they stick with it. As a child I wasn't taught about good food, most our meals came from cans and boxes, I never saw fresh fruit either.
I managed to figure it out when I had my own kids and they have lean bodies and are much healthier than I ever was. They've seen me yo-yo diet and crash and burn several times, all my friends doing plastic surgeries-they both say my generation is obsessed with beauty but not health and quick fixes. I hope that they keep it going with the next generation!!
Those in positions to have great influences should do what they can to impact those around them, especially kids, so I'm so thrilled to see all these cooking programs as well as Master chef type TV shows where they are exhibiting what to do with real foods and nothing processed!
People will have to want to change and I'm not sure you can force that. Using myself as an example: my mom grew up on a farm, drank raw milk, ate pastured eggs, pastured meat (cow brains, mountain oysters and all) but wanted a more "cityfied" life for herself after college. She did cook a lot of our meals growing up, and we were lucky to always get grass fed beef from my grandma, but she definitely relied a lot on packaged goods. We had mashed potatoes from a box (ewww), and ramen noodles every Sunday evening. She tried SO hard to teach me how to cook, but I couldn't have cared less, I pretty much refused to learn. In college I literally lived off of ramen noodles, tuna helper, pizza rolls, crackers and copious amounts of cheap beer. My diet never got much better until I got pregnant, even then I was just going by what CW told me. I shopped for food at the "health store" and got prepackaged meals from the freezer. I just had no idea what to do with food! The real impetus for change was when I got gestational diabetes and was checking my blood sugar every couple hours. One morning after a breakfast of the "healthy" 7-grain cereal, my blood sugar was 200. I was completely devastated and angry. Hadn't I been eating what I was supposed to be eating? After that day, I started eating eggs for breakfast and researching nutrition. I found my way to WAPF and made some baby steps towards eating real food. And here I am 4 years later, still teaching myself how to cook and realizing it doesn't need to be very complicated.
And the point of my whole life story here is to say, people will need a reason to change. Right now there are a lot of people who are trying to eat healthy, but in the way the dumb food pyramid or whatever it is now tells them to. Other people are just trying to survive, they don't have the energy to stop and think about the ingredients in cheetos, or how many PUFA's they've ingested that day. And I agree that fresh produce at the gas station and schools is a great idea, the more real food is normalized and shoved in people's faces the better.
Healthy food isn't expensive unless you think the only healthy diet is low carb with grass fed meat. The problem is that most people are lazy, have no idea how to cook basic foods and most would rather have a dollar cheeseburger over something with substance.
Most people don't even know how much calories or nutrition different foods have and without this info its extremely hard to know what to buy to save cash. Once you have this info though it becomes extremely easy.
Bottom line, Teach people to focus on the most nutrient dense foods/how many calories are in a food per $10 and eating healthy for cheap will be simple.
Things change when enough people keep doing their N-1 and the number reaches a tipping point. Everything responds eventually to mathematics. I believe paleo is a community where the numbers could lead to massive change soon. It's just too small now
Changing the food habits of a collective nation would be no small task, and I'd say it's be working along the lines of social "re-engineering", or somehow modifying the collective culture. How someone does this, well, you'd have to come at it from all the perspectives of how people form opinions on what to eat. Although right now, the American diet is fairly integral to how many Americans function (who's got time to make bone broth?)
Anyway, the main thing I get concerned about, is people talking of taxing junk foods. Who decided what is junk? Is it unhealthy food? Who decided what is unhealthy? The last thing I want to see is saturated fat getting taxed by a bunch of people who don't know anything about nutrition (think along the lines of the food pyramid). This makes me think of the "saturated fat tax" that Denmark is trying to implement.
I've got it! 3 pronged media blitz.
1) We need to get Dr. Oz on board, he's surely running out of studies about whole grains saving the world by now.
2) Clone Jamie Oliver, so he can challenge every school district to feed kids better simultaneously. He's not paleo, but he's 90% in the right direction.
3) More celebrities showing off their paleo beach bods.