On the Table

Food movement can be viable

January 1, 2013 

Is there a viable and effective food movement in America?

There’s no doubt that Americans are eating more organically grown foods and doing more of their shopping at natural foods stores. Those segments of the food market began seeing double-digit growth in the mid-1990s and today are mainstream choices.

More people also want locally grown and sustainably farmed foods.

The growing market for these foods means people are voting with their wallets. That’s certainly a movement.

But is there a food movement that is influencing policy?

Some recent discussion was sparked by the November defeat of California’s Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified foods – a first in this country.

And, while New York City has launched a ban on super-sized soft drinks, voters in two California communities voted down new soft drink taxes.

Before these votes were taken, food journalist Michael Pollan wrote in The New York Times, “One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a food movement in America worthy of the name – that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system.”

Do the defeats of Prop 37 and taxes on soft drinks mean there’s no viable food movement?

Not by my way of thinking.

Look at the progress that’s been made. Policies enacted in the past two decades require for the first time that school meals comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, cutting sodium, fat and added sugar. That seems like common sense, but it took years of work by health advocates to help bring about this change.

Now there’s trans-fat labeling on food packages and nutrition information on some restaurant menus.

Such changes were decades in the making. They resulted from the organized efforts of many stakeholders over time, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

We went through a period of increased food policy activity in the mid-1990s, and we’re in a similar period right now. Will it continue in 2013?

People are increasingly savvy about their food – where it comes from, what’s in it, how it affects their health.

That creates a movement toward healthier choices that I’m confident will continue in the new year – and beyond.

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 and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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