Melissa Musiker is a registered dietician and a member of APCO’s Washington, D.C., health policy team.
Today is Blog Action Day. 2250 bloggers from 100 countries have put their hands up to talk about food and take part in a global conversation. The next 24 hours will see a huge global conversation about food from many different perspectives and angles. When I started my career working as a clinical dietitian, someone gave me a great piece of advice that I think is particularly relevant to the theme of Blog Action Day 2011- always remember, everybody is an expert because everybody eats.
Like healthcare and education, food touches the lives of every person. Given all of this, it isn’t really all that surprising that the “farm to fork to physiology” policy debate is gaining so much attention and so many champions, often from unexpected sectors of society. Obesity rates are increasing and so are healthcare costs associated with chronic disease. We can’t afford to let either continue moving in that direction.
It feels like there is an obvious answer to obesity: focus on prevention. Educate people on why they must eat less bad-for-you foods and more good-for-you foods, and why they need to exercise more. With this education they will be armed with the information they need to live healthier, better lives. Wearing my Registered Dietitian hat for a moment, I see the logic in this. But I also know from working with patients that it is never that simple.
It can be really difficult to prioritize time for exercise. Not to mention that our built environment is one that makes it easy to be sedentary and, for different people in different ways, hard to eat right. And so our obvious answer turns into the far more challenging and ambiguous task of thinking about step-wise approaches to behavior change. The problem is that even if the way we are eating is killing us wholesale dietary and lifestyle changes will be hugely challenging for most people to make.
The way we eat is psychologically and sociologically driven. As great food philosopher, writer and chef Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin so famously said, “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” What you eat and the way that you eat it is deeply personal and inextricably linked to how we identify ourselves to the world around us. Food is something that connects people across geography and generations. The act of “breaking bread” and sharing a meal brings families together, welcomes strangers, and is an act of peace. Food is how we provide comfort to ourselves and to others. It is a way to celebrate life’s big accomplishments and small victories. Food nourishes our bodies and nurtures our souls.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that we will be healthier if we take the time to enjoy our food and the experience of eating. The rationale is that when we eat mindlessly we eat in a way that we know isn’t the best for us. But by remembering to slow down, sit down and savor each bite we will eat more of what we should, less of what we shouldn’t and be healthier.
Today, as you go about you daily life, take a minute to stop and reflect on what food means to you and all the ways you will experience it today. Savor each bite and maybe be a little bit healthier in the process.