In Sunday’s New York Times, Mark Bittman presented an idea that many readers might have found controversial: organic food is less important than getting Americans to generally eat better. His reasoning was that the impact of “a simple shift in eating habits” would have significant health and environmental benefits.
Mr. Bittman belongs to a distinguished list of “real food” advocates that have been calling for important and overdue changes to the American diet, including:
- Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
- Marion Nestle: “Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables.”
- Alice Waters: “Good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients.”
- Michelle Obama: “You can begin in your own cupboard by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”
I doubt many people would disagree with these food luminaries, with the possible exception of the major food companies selling us “edible food-like substances” (thanks Mr. Pollan). To learn more about why they might resist, I recommend reading “The Perils of Ignoring History” on Bill Marler’s blog, which draws potential parallels between Big Tobacco and Big Food.
If it were as easy as suggesting to people that they eat less processed food (and possibly paid more per calorie), which is intuitively obvious but doesn’t play well in the marketplace, we would be well on our way. We are not.
We need a game plan.
My recommendation is that we start with a vision of where we ideally want to be. This blog is dedicated to the vision of Sustainable Food on Every Kitchen Table™, and our journey toward that vision begins by attacking the point where consumers make their purchase decisions – food retail, especially supermarkets.
Supermarkets, which account for nearly 60 percent of sales of food at home in the U.S. (75% when you include supercenters and warehouse clubs), are where consumers are confronted hundreds of times a year with tens of thousands of food choices covering everything one might imagine…and likley tens of thousands of additional food products that they would never have imagined.
The vast inventories carried in these stores are supported by over $10 billion spent on sophisticated food advertising and approximately 17,000 new “food products” flooding the market every year, making today’s supermarkets highly efficient selling machines. Unfortunately, leading food companies make most of their money selling highly processed foods, made up of inexpensive ingredients from monoculture crops (e.g., corn, soy, wheat); major contributors to today’s health and environmental problems.
My last blog post provided a potential framework for designing a new, consumer-oriented retail experience that connects consumers with real food. Whether that idea, a derivative, or something entirely different is part of the solution, without Real Food-oriented shopping experiences, preferred by consumers, it is difficult to imagine slowing down or effectively evolving America’s mechanized food system.
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