Consumer trends, insights and questions of “where do we go from here?” populate numerous media sources when a new year rolls around and this year especially, with the arrival of a new decade, the lists abound! News about sustainability, climate change and plant-based proteins — all wrapped in conversations of trust, transparency, technology and choice — top the charts. The “animal versus plant wars” and “biased-based” scientific evidence adds to the buzz while consumers are left sifting through a myriad of information to try to answer the basic demand “just tell me what to eat” — a simple request with a complexity of solutions!
But perhaps, among all these headlines, we are forgetting the basic purpose of our food supply. It’s not just to feed those with the most disposable incomes, but to feed the world with safe, affordable and accessible food…without fear. As I contemplated the content of this blog, I was reminded of two recent “reality checks.” Leaving a workout venue last week, I passed a 30–something old man putting plastic bags in a “borrowed” cart from the nearby grocery store. But his cart was filled with his possessions, and perhaps a few food items, but certainly not groceries. The next day, attending a health equity workshop through my work on the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky served as another reminder that food availability doesn’t make it accessible for all. Both of these experiences reminded me that fear of “what’s in our food” is not top of mind for some. In fact, for these individuals it’s more the fear of “no food” — a far different perspective. It is through this lens we recognize that “trend conversations” are often framed with the assumption (perhaps unintentional) that all of us have availability of food, the option to choose, and the ability to sift through the chatter to define “what is healthy.”
And yes, while sustainability, climate change and technology does not fit into everyone’s food decisions, ultimately our conversations do affect the availability of food choices across the globe. What will happen in the next 10 years to feed the world? And restore consumers’ trust in their food? How will we define the 2020s? Will we enter 2030 with a 20/20 vision and have more balance to our food conversations? Futurists may have the answers but we, as consumers and producers, frame the conversation. As we embark on this new decade, here are my “top three” aspirations and desired outcomes for our planet:
1. Eat Without Fear – Fear sells and we all buy into it in some way. But let’s step back and think about the facts. In the U.S., we have the safest food supply available from the ground up! Through the advancement of technology, we grow more food with less inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones) than ever before. Regardless of the type of production (conventional or organic) used, our food is equally nutritious and safe. We need to focus on what’s really important for our health — all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more we receive from our food! With the updated Nutrition Fact Panel, we can easily check out what’s important to add or decrease for our personalized needs.
2. Be Plant-Centered – It doesn’t have to be “plant versus animal” to ensure our personal and planet’s health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans already provide a roadmap for us to focus on plants (fruits and vegetables). We just need to follow it! As depicted in the current MyPlate icon, which is based on sound nutrition science, in a day’s time, half of our “plate” should be fruits/vegetables and only one-fourth or 25% should be protein-based foods. The IFIC 2018 Food & Health Survey along with the USDA database show we consume twice the recommended amount of protein and woefully under consume vegetables. (And plant-based burgers won’t make up the difference.)
3. Personalized Responsibility – Our desire for a healthy planet and personal health does not lie solely within the realm of others. We may point to agriculture production, energy or transportation as the causes of climate change but we are all in this together. While U.S. agriculture works to reduce water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and energy, we too have to do our part. Food waste, mode of transportation and demand for green spaces contribute to the dilemma. Over the next decade, if we are serious about improving the health of our society and the planet, we need to focus on decreasing food waste, accepting technology and changing fear-based decision making to informed decision making. We have the responsibly to feed our neighbors and we can if we recognize each of us are part of the problem…and the solution. From Alyson Noel’s book Fated there is a sentence that may summarize our dilemma: “There is an old and very wise Native American saying: Every time you point a finger in scorn — there are three remaining fingers pointing right back at you.” So in 2020 and beyond, let’s “be the change” we wish to see in the world.