The question is an important one at this juncture in the Good Food Movement: “Does the American public need more information about healthy eating? Or do we pretty much know what we need to about food — and still eat poorly for other reasons?” That’s the subject of a recent New York Times Room For Debate feature, where a handful of experts are asked to provide critical perspectives on emerging issues.
To answer this week’s question about the direction of the American diet, the Times consulted two current IATP Food and Community Fellows, Jane Black and Raj Patel, along with three other food luminaries: Yael Lehmann, Will Allen, and Marion Nestle.
Black argues basically that Americans do, indeed, know enough about nutrition. What we lack, she says, are practicable, empowering strategies to change habitual behaviors. She emphasizes the need for Americans to “make small but essential changes to their diets and lifestyles” over “quick fixes,” and cites the behavioral sciences as having a lot to offer. A few hundred calories a day can make a big difference in obesity.
Patel, for his part, agrees that information is important and says we need much more of it; but even in a scenario of full disclosure about the food we eat, he says that social norms and public policy have a huge role to play. He writes, “If no healthy food choices are available where you live, if you are too poor to afford those choices, if unhealthy ingredients are largely unavoidable in processed food, or if you lack sufficient time to prepare healthy options, then no amount of knowledge will help us eat better food.”
Despite their variety of perspectives, the Times’ panel is unified in the opinion that Americans need to eat better, that quality food and nutrition education is vital, and that despite huge steps forward, there’s much more to be done to get American food and diets on track.