Love (of Food), American Style

Love (of Food), American Style

Last week, we  published a post that covered some current activity regarding the channels of food production. On one end of the spectrum, there were large, industry-wide changes (new, national FDA laws); on the other end were smaller, more personal goings-on (local grassroots initiatives by Maine farmers).

Now, somewhere in the middle of it all, lands a new report from Menus of Change (a joint initiative of the Culinary Institute of America [CIA] and Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition) that analyzes diverse issues at the convergence of public health, the environment and the business of food.

The full report (available as a flip book and as a pdf) is “designed to help foodservice and culinary professionals balance competing priorities and make the hard choices that will allow them to continue to ably serve their customers, grow their businesses and tackle key health and environmental imperatives—well into the future.”

It was released as part of the 2013 Menus of Change Leadership Summit, held June 10-12 in Cambridge, Mass., and promises some wide-ranging applications:

[The report] integrates the latest findings from both nutrition and environmental science into a single set of recommendations for the foodservice industry… [and] provides guidance to help culinary professionals and foodservice companies make informed choices and become successful in the business of healthy, sustainable, delicious food.

It centers around current American dietary habits, behaviors and trends, using a set of 13 criteria to evaluate them and function as a “GPS” to guide food-related fields and industries in making positive and productive changes in the ways they operate.

The evaluation rankings range from one to five—“significant decline or regress” to “significant progress”—and, while none of the areas studied received a top or bottom mark, some of the areas are looking especially  good.

Diet and Health: Recent Trends received a “good progress, with room for more,” thanks to “modest improvements towards healthier diets [such as] a large reduction in the intake of trans fats, a small reduction in sugar-sweetened beverages and increase in whole fruits and whole grains.” Protein Consumption and Reduction also earned a “good progress, with room for more,” due to a drop in the national consumption of red meat and “menu innovation.”

On the other hand, Healthcare Versus Healthy Food Spending got a “getting better, but far from where it needs to be,” since “innovative programs are starting to link healthcare and healthy eating, [but] the connection is far from universal and more education is required.” And Consumer Attitudes and Behavior about Healthy and Sustainable Food was given a “no significant progress”: “Consumers remain confused by basic definitions of ‘healthy’ and ‘sustainable.’ Consumers need to understand that choosing better ingredients is only a partial solution, along with changes to what and how much to eat.”

The report itself makes for a fascinating—if exhaustive—read, and it goes deep. It covers an array of urgently relevant subjects, from the hometown-centric “Local Foods and the Farm-to-Table Movement,” to more nationally oriented ones, like “Animal Welfare” and “Chefs’ Influence on Consumer Attitudes.”

And the report’s authors aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade: On the topic of “Divergence of Science from Conventional Beliefs,” for example, they note that “conventional wisdom is often flawed, and the widely held beliefs about healthful eating are no exception,” and goes on to offer specific examples, such as, “‘low fat’ is not an appropriate diet goal” and “lean cuts of red meat are not the answer.”

The report paints a picture of the American food industry that does not brightly gleam, but it’s not hopelessly dark, either. In it, we can see the gains we’ve made, the challenges we’re facing at the moment and the changes that we need to explore and implement in order to make progress. At its core, the fundamental issue remains awareness—education is the key to any large-scale and lasting transformation in the standard American diet. But that won’t be easy; as the report observes:

Give the people what they want and their health may suffer, for man cannot thrive on a diet of burgers, pizza, fries and soda. But give them what is healthy, local and sustainable and the business may or may not survive.

Naturally, this all makes us think about where and how the graduates of the new College of Professional Studies’ Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program will be contributing to this ongoing discussion and these ever-evolving systems, processes and schools of thought. And what about you—where do you come down on this topic? We’re interested in your perspectives on what we eat, how we choose it, and why. Share your views with us in the comments section, below.

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