Local food important, but won’t solve nation’s nutrition disconnect


A portion of a White House blog subtitle says it all: “… Bytes of Food Politics.”

The main name of the White House blog on the subject bears the oh-so-clever name, Obama Foodorama. It illustrates, however, that food is chic enough — is political enough — for the Obama administration to embrace.

Food equals politics.

Food security. Food security. Food production. Food pricing. Commodity stabilization pricing for farmers. Food labeling. You name it, if it’s got to do with food, it’s political.

Ohio has its Food Policy Advisory Council, and the city of Baltimore even recently named a food policy director, the first city in the nation to do so.

And riding the current political wave is the local food movement. In fact, the 2008 farm bill stipulates that 10 percent of program funds be used for projects that focus on local and regional food supply networks.

“Local food” is healthier, fresher, better tasting, more environmentally friendly and supports local economies, proclaim supporters.

But what’s “local”? And does buying local food mean we’ll eat smarter, healthier? Does access to local food automatically lower obesity rates?

I’d have to say no to those last two questions. Someone could put some locally grown kale or turnips or rutabagas into my hands and I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with them.

Eating requires complex decisions that involve money, time, planning, know-how, food likes/dislikes and desire. Sometimes it’s just easier to make boxed or microwaved macaroni and cheese. Especially if you’re a third grader making supper for your younger siblings while mom and dad are at work.

All the local food availability in the world isn’t likely to change someone’s eating and cooking habits unless there is an effort to also teach how to do it differently. If someone gives me idiot-proof, step-by-step directions for a killer rutabaga recipe, yes, I might try it. But sometimes, just getting a recipe brochure still doesn’t work and you need someone to explain the good, bad and ugly of your eating habits, and how relatively easy it is to prepare food differently or prepare different foods.

“Half of the story is about people making smarter decisions,” said Genoveva Islas-Hooker, with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, in a recent article in the Fresno Bee.

The other half, she said, is making sure healthy options are there.

The Fresno Bee article also quoted Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, who specializes in the connection between poverty and obesity.

“Solutions really lie in education, instruction, access to healthy foods and being able to afford healthy foods,” he told the newspaper.

We can’t push and prod and tout local foods without pushing nutrition education.

Maybe those who would push local food policies need to fund an army of local Extension nutrition educators instead.


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  1. The White House has just announced the Chefs Move to Schools program, and it will be launched formally next week. Chefs are being encouraged to adopt local schools to provide nutrition education and cooking guidance for parents, teachers, administrators and kids. It may well address some of the very important issues you raise here if it is a successful project. More info:


    –T’Kiyah Lewis, Managing Editor, ObamaFoodorama.com


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