Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Food Plate To Support Healthy Dietary Guidelines. Now What's Next?

My plate has whole grain pancakes made with vegetable oil and delicious fruits
Michelle Obama, the White House Obesity Task force, US Department of Agriculture, Chef Sam Kass and countless agencies, staffers, and citizens have done more in the past year to get Americans to eat better and exercise more. We all know that what you eat --- more of the "good for you" foods and less of the "fun foods" --- and physical activity are key to overall wellness and healthy weight. Tomorrow, the decades old food pyramid is being replaced by a simpler and more understandable icon, which for now everyone is calling "the food plate". The new icon will be announced at the White House at 10:30 EST and be live-streamed using the USDA's FaceBook page.

I keep asking myself "what's next?" For as long as the antiquated, confusing and misleading MyPyramid has been around, food and hunger advocates, locavores, farmers, nutritionists, parents and teachers, have been fighting tirelessly for healthy, affordable and delicious food for all.

Although the common sense 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans and revised school breakfast and lunch standards are being embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, there are still some powerful legislators who continue to fight against the "good food" and "real food" advocates on behalf of corporate interests on important things like keeping Tater Tots and junk food vending machines in schools.  This is true no matter whether the issue being debated is child nutrition, farm subsidies, food stamps, or marketing to children.

The time is ripe. There's a ground swell of support behind Michelle Obama's goal to end childhood obesity in a generation. It's pretty simple to me. There needs to be a drastic reduction of sugar, refined flour, and saturated fat in the American food supply in favor of more nutrient dense fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But how do we accomplish this goal?

A huge problem is costs. Compared to processed junk foods and sugary beverages, the very foods the dietary guidelines recommend reducing in our diets, the good for you foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, are relatively expensive. The time is ripe is to change food economics. But how?  Look no further than the "Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008", aka the "food and farm bill".

With it's huge subsidies for commodity crops, specifically corn and wheat, and paltry support for fruits and vegetables, the farm bill is a long-running contradiction, counter-intuitive and dangerous to our health. What about reducing the corn and wheat subsidies and dramatically increasing subsidies for fruits, vegetables, small farms, farm to table infrastructure, food safety, nutrition education and food labeling?

The numbers tell the story about why Americans are facing an overweight and obesity epidemic. A large portion of the $42 billion crop subsidies in the farm bill are for corn which is used to feed cattle that make high saturated meat or made into high fructose corn syrup that goes into soda and thousands of other products on grocery shelves, and wheat which is processed into refined flour that lacks nutrition, versus a paltry $400 million for organic agriculture.  Junk food is cheap because it's subsidized. Fruits and vegetables are expensive because they are not.

Next fall, Congress will begin debating the 2012 farm bill. Basically, anyone who eats is affected by the farm bill, not just the people who grow, package and distribute food. Won't you fight to reduce subsidies for the "bad for you" foods in favor of the "good for you" fruits, vegetables, and whole grains?

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