Last week, a coalition of large food companies called the Partnership for a Healthier America met in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to fight childhood obesity. Among them was the coalition's honorary chair: First Lady Michelle Obama.
The group, which includes the likes of Walmart, Darden Restaurants—owner of the Olive Garden—and the Hyatt, tackled the ever-looming question of how to tackle childhood obesity, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has more than tripled in the past 30 years, leaving one third of our children and adolescents overweight or obese.
Ultimately, as the group's members pledged to offer more healthy or healthier choices to their customers, they agreed that these healthy choices had to be affordable, accessible and delicious.
I understand companies needing to maintain their bottom line. Walmart, as we know, reigns supreme in the world of, shall we say, "less expensive stuff," so it's not surprising that its focus is on bringing down the prices of fresh food and "better for you" options. An example is that you can now pay the same for whole-wheat pasta as white pasta, Andrea Thomas, Walmart's vice president of sustainability and healthy eating, told NPR. The former used to cost more.
I agree that healthier foods should be more affordable and accessible. But then why doesn't Michelle Obama use her weight to put more money for organic food into the Farm Bill? To push back on Monsanto's lobbying efforts, and even those of conventional agriculture, to allow for a more even playing field in the healthy food production? Why not make subsidies a level playing field so that organic farmers have equal rights and support? Why do I and potential customers of these healthy choices have to accept that in this conversation, we're not talking about organic, or foods made without GMOs, or even allergens? No, we're talking about reducing sodium and offering milk as the first item on a kids' menu rather than sugar-laden soda. We're not talking about true, healthy choices, such as non-pesticide-laden, non-GMO organic apples.
What I wonder is who is deciding what is delicious, and how does one qualify what tastes delicious? By even saying that healthy food has to be delicious, the Partnership is making the assumption that healthy food is not. We have the opportunity to mold taste buds. Children aren't born craving soda or the rainbow-colored, sugar-filled cereals that line Walmart's cereal aisles. Adults give them these foods. Adults insinuate to children that they should want these "foods."
Our taste buds form when we are young. My children regularly tell me that desserts and certain foods are too sweet…ice cream even. They have not been raised on alfalfa sprouts, they just haven't been made to believe that every meal needs to be laden with salt and sugar, or that sugar is a worthy food group. I like ice cream; I was raised in a family that "screamed for ice cream." But my kids understand that sugar isn't going to help them be stronger, faster, smarter. They like and appreciate real food, and they make me question my own sugar habits.
The Partnership talked about having to move carefully, making their changes slowly so that customers wouldn't even notice. Heaven forbid that we tell the American public the truth: as a country we are overweight; our healthcare costs will be our demise; and the food we're eating is not food at all, it is a chemical mix of flavors and additives science has deemed "delicious."
By definition "delicious" is something that is highly pleasing and agreeable to the senses, especially those of taste or smell. It is pleasant, delightful, scrumptious, luscious, delectable. If this group is truly trying to reverse childhood obesity, they should support the healthy school lunch programs and not accept that pizza and French fries have been deemed "vegetables." They should support school garden programs and allow kids the opportunity to discover what an organic tomato tastes like, or an apple, or berries that aren't covered with sugar. Don't try to backtrack by reducing the sodium and sugars that were a part of botched experiments like cereals and conventional canned soups. Introduce children at a young age to the fruits of the earth—pure, clean foods, which are truly "delicious."