On the Table

Be an advocate for better choices

CORRESPONDENTSeptember 21, 2011 

Look around, and you're likely to see things you want changed. But we all can't be full-time advocates.

We've seen many changes in our food environment during the last decade. For example, we have more organic food choices and more locally grown products in our restaurants and stores. Trans fats are largely gone.

Those changes are in large part due to day-in, day-out contributions of many people asking - sometimes pushing - for more healthful food options.

There are lots of ways you can get involved in advocating for the conditions you need to stay healthy. It doesn't have to take a lot of time or skill.

In fact, everyday advocacy can be as simple as some of these examples:

Talk it up. Share your views about nutrition information on restaurant menus or the need for a farmers market in your neighborhood.

Tell your friends, write a letter to the editor or make a blog entry online.

There's power in numbers.

Talk to the store manager. Ask for what you need to be stocked at the store.

A few years ago I tasted soy-based eggnog at a trade show. It tasted much like traditional eggnog, but with far less fat. That year when the holidays approached, I asked a manager at my local supermarket if the store would stock it. The store ordered some, and it sold well. Now it's available every holiday season.

Model it. Let others see you walking to work or eating an apple at lunch.

Be seen ordering an entree salad at a restaurant and walking through the supermarket with almond milk in your basket.

Be open about wanting to lose weight or being a vegetarian. If you do, you'll make it easier for others who have similar interests to speak up as well, or even follow your example.

Exercise your purse power. Support small farmers by shopping at farmers markets and roadside stands. Buy locally grown foods at the supermarket.

Support the ones who work for you. Pick a few public interest groups and donate whatever you feel you can afford.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Environmental Working Group are two that advocate effectively for state and federal level food policies that support health.

Tell the policymakers. Pick up the phone, write or send email to your representatives in the General Assembly or Congress, to school administrators or the people on the boards and commissions that make decisions that affect you.

Be aware of this simple fact: Your inaction also affects the policy environment.

Increase the likelihood that things will go the way you want them to. Get involved.

Advocate for what you need and want, even if it's on a personal scale. It's the only way change has ever been made.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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