Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - Thoughts about food, class and "junk"

In her fascinating articleDivided We Eat, Newsweek's Lisa Miller relates how a neighbor tried to replace conventional apples with organic at a family meal. Her mother-in-law responded "When we come to your place, we don't complain about your food. Why do you complain about ours? It's not like our food is poison."

Food has long been an expression of class - however, I am concerned about the recent tendency to confuse cultural preferences and nutritional need. For example, a local grocer - Aldi - recently opened in my neighborhood. Aldi carries only the top 10% of items found in a regular grocery store, streamlines store displays and offers mostly house brands - and these cost-saving measures translate into lower food prices.  Locally, it also carries the stigma of being a "poor person's store."  Several times, I've heard my more fortunate neighbors describe Aldi's wares as "nothing but junk."  Among the foods used to illustrate their point - "white flour" pasta, conventionally produced vegetables, and canned and frozen vegetables - mentioned in the same breath with chips and snack foods.

As you know, I consider canned vegetables and other minimally preserved foods to be an important source of nutrition for those who may have limited access to fresh foods.  Several studies have shown that canned and frozen vegetables are as nutritious as cooked fresh vegetables - sometimes more so.  I think it's important to remember that our depression-era grandmothers built their pantries around canned vegetables and enriched white-flour pasta - and obesity was not a concern for most of them or even most of their children.

We do need a better food system, and certainly the lobby for empty calories isn't helping. However, I'd like to caution food and nutrition advocates not to throw the baby out with the bathwater: take care not to confuse nutritious preserved foods with fringe foods.  If you categorize ALL food available to the poor as "junk," can you blame them for choosing the most heavily advertised, most appealing, and most convenient, even if they are the least healthy option?

No comments:

Post a Comment