Food Matters: The Conference, The Book, The Speech
Simple and resonant, this declarative sentence inspired a two-day conference September 30 and October 1 and inspired the newest cookbook by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. As the Food For Thought Healthy Foods - Healthy Lives keynote presenter, Bittman spoke with edgy urgency about our food system that is built on pollution, not nutrition. His new cookbook, a sequel to a much shorter treatise of the same title, provides recipes and guidelines for eating more plants.
The Food Summit, sponsored by the University of Minnesota Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, was rich with the cold hard science that support’s Bittman’s assumptions. Internationally acclaimed researchers showed how onions may be more effective than the drug Statin in lowering cholesterol. Research also showed that the “portfolio diet” may prevent heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Taking pains not to over-promise, the presenters were cautiously optimistic that the message about food and health may be finally getting through. More schools are offering salad bars, hospitals are sourcing more local foods, and healthcare companies are offering incentives for life style changes.
Still, the data also suggests that we ate fewer vegetables and more meat and processed foods than ever last year. In the next 10 years, more Americans will die of lifestyle diseases than infectious diseases. More than one-third of our children will become obese.
How to inspire lifestyle changes when junk food is so cheap and tastes so good? “Provide incentives,” says Dr. Allen Levine, the U’s Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resource Sciences. “Lower the price of salads in the cafeteria; vote to provide price supports for farmers to grow vegetables, not commodities.”
“Get to know the Farm Bill,” advises Bittman. But more effective, perhaps, he says, “Vote for a soda tax. Soda is a very efficient high fructose delivery system,” he says. “Tax it as you do tobacco and use the money to reverse the damage soda has done to our health. Provide good fresh food in schools; offer price supports for vegetables; hire home EC teachers so kids can learn to cook.”
The conference and Bittman’s speech drew audiences of health care providers, nutritionists, dietitians, researchers, farmers, gardeners, and cooks. Food and diet have become integral in food policy discussions as they relate to a wide range of issues: global warming, environmental degradation, and obesity. It was clear that it’s not just the scientists, activists, and advocates who are influencing this dialogue. These folks are engaged in what Bittman calls “personal food policy” that collectively will stand up to the legislators and special interest groups shaping the way our food is raised, produced, packaged, shipped, and marketed.
Dinner, prior to Bittman’s speech, was cooked and served by Lucia Watson and staff of Lucia’s Restaurant: starter split pea soup with ham stock from Tim Fischer ham (illustrating Bittman’s suggestion to use meat as a seasoning); simple arugula salad, local squash pancakes with sage golden raisin butter, quinoa, cranberry salsa, and sautéed red and green cabbage. And for dessert, a local apple turner, caramel sauce, and vanilla ice cream. This meal of fall colors and vibrant flavors made Bittman’s theories and the scientists’s research deliciously real. Indeed. Food matters.