The New York Times website’s Room for Debate section today proposes the question: “Do we need more advice about eating well?”
Most “expert” opinions (from people in the food information business) conclude that obviously we need better information. Otherwise, how would the nutritionists make a living. They believe access is key:
If no healthy food choices are available where you live, if you are too poor to afford those choices, if unhealthy ingredients are largely unavoidable in processed food, or if you lack sufficient time to prepare healthy options, then no amount of knowledge will help us eat better food.
A slightly scarier version is given by another expert:
I believe that many people know what food is good for them, but do not have access to or cannot afford the healthier options, and for this reason, eat poorly. If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community. We cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system. And ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual and the greater community to transform the food system landscape together.
Yet another helpful person says:
If healthy food is not available, you won’t eat it. That’s a common-sense conclusion. And it is one supported by a growing body of research. Studies have shown that people who lack access to healthy foods have a higher rate of obesity and other diet-related diseases than those who have convenient access to healthy foods. Studies also present strong evidence that people with greater access to healthy food consume more fresh produce and other healthful items.
These people imagine a world where “communities” (i.e., government bureaucracy) provide all citizens with a cornucopia of low-cost cauliflower and cucumbers at every meal, causing the obesity epidemic and heart disease to fade into the distant past.
What expert discussions on healthy diets (and I’ve heard and read a lot of them) almost always fail to mention is a simple fact:
Veggies are GROSS!
Seriously, no matter how much you dress up broccoli and radishes, they are never going to hold a candle to a basket of good old American french fries. This doesn’t take a NIH grant to figure out. Just stick a plate of enticing greens and herbs in front of a six-year-old and watch her puke her brains out.
Now as we get older we learn to eat our vegetables because they are good for us. I’d like to live long enough to go skiing with my grandchildren, and I know french fries won’t get me there. But that doesn’t mean I need a lot more advice about eating healthier. I know I would be better off having a lean white fish with spinach and sea kale than a cheeseburger fresh of the grill. I don’t need some snooty expert telling me about saturated fats and processed cheese. And just because you offer me a multi-grain muffin topped with toasted oatmeal doesn’t mean I don’t want to shove that muffin up your nose and make a mad dash to Dunkin Donuts.
I’m also particularly not interested in hearing self-righteous claims like:
The basic principles of healthy eating could not be easier to understand: eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, balance calorie intake with expenditure, and don’t eat too much junk food.
I wish I had a dollar for every idiot spouting off on how the formula for maintaining a healthy weight is easy: calories in < calories out. Believe me. There is nothing simple or easy about basic human craving. We know quite a bit about nutrition these days, but hardly anything about the biology and psychology of food desire.
So, give me your sage advice, you experts, but just don’t try to tell me how eggplant really is tasty!
Now, where did my wife hide that leftover Easter candy?