Food & Drink · Nutrition

Food Wars: The Struggle for Healthy Eating

Another new book, Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, by sociologists Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliot, explores how the values of the good-food revolution play out amid real-world struggles. They follow a group of low-income women in the book, some of whose stories are drawn from a larger research project involving 120 households in the Raleigh area over five years. They are aware of the guidelines, but obstacles abound. You can’t buy in bulk at the supermarket if you have no car. Food from the local pantry is more likely to be frozen pizza and chocolate peanut-butter crackers than kale. The family dinner table is not viable if you are a single parent, work two jobs, and don’t have enough chairs or even a dining table. Fast food is not an enemy in these families. Its affordability and accessibility make it one of the only assets for a population facing “income inequality, a fragile safety net, inadequate public transportation, and the scarcity of affordable housing,” says Shapiro.

“Trying to solve the environmental and social ills of our food system by demanding that we return to our kitchens en masse is unrealistic,” write the authors of Pressure Cooker, adding, “We need to uncouple the ‘package deal’ that links good mothering with preparing wholesome family dinners from scratch.” Community involvement is critical, and schools, churches, and similar institutions with commercial kitchens need to team up to help provide families with “hearty, affordable” meals for to pick up and take home.

Initiatives like these have worked elsewhere. In Amsterdam, for example, no sweets or sodas are allowed in schools, and fast-food advertising is strictly controlled —“and obesity rates among children have dropped by twelve percent since the rule was imposed in 2012,” Wilson reports in her book.

American politicians, many in league with agribusiness and wary of pushing the “nanny state,” are unlikely to be persuaded. Meanwhile, big business has caught on, developing “healthy” versions of fast food.  “Whether it’s potato chips or air-popped organic corn puffs, “smart” frozen entrées or conventional frozen versions, these products are doing way more good for the companies producing them than they’re doing for us,” as Shapiro points out.

Meanwhile, healthy eating is sometimes associated with spoiled celebrities and wealthy coastal elites who wear exercise leggings all day and drink $5 water, especially the extreme diets, pushed “orthorexics.”  This serves to confuse and mislead us about what to do. While there’s no question that we are facing a crisis, there is no one, simple answer that will gives us a fix.



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