It's a food virtuous world

I regularly gather with friends in Washington for "dinner club." Today I went online to explore ideas for my next menu, and I noticed something: food virtuousness abounds.

I regularly gather with friends in Washington for "dinner club." Today I went online to explore ideas for my next menu, and I noticed something: food virtuousness abounds.

The zeitgeist in food and nutrition seems to be a search for "moral excellence" to attain what we perceive as the most healthful or ideal diet, meal, or food.

How do I consider everyone's needs and beliefs – gluten-free, natural, sustainable, organic, minimally processed, locally grown – and serve something for dinner my guests will eat – and maybe even enjoy? Is it possible to create a menu that acknowledges the anticipated recommendations in the forthcoming 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which may put stricter limits on intakes of foods with solid fats, added sugar, refined grains and sodium? Can I serve an apple brown betty? Is a cheese plate allowed? Is my meal "whole" enough? What if I serve something that came out of a package? Am I a bad host?

The reality is, we are in the midst of an obesity public health crisis and it's true that despite 30 years of dietary guidance, most Americans don't meet daily recommendations for fruits, vegetables, milk, and whole grains – yet we exceed calories, solid fats, and added sugars. But if idealistic goals haven't worked, maybe it's time to consider a simplified approach. Do we need to adhere to every food ideal and all dietary guidelines every day? Or is it enough, for instance, to first cut back on portion size?

With so many directives we may be setting consumers up for more failure. How about some positive approaches with small goals that consider the realities of daily life? Consumer behavior related to food is very complex – and communicators like us can play a meaningful role in helping consumers cut through the clutter, focus on realistic goals, and make positive choices.

Susan Pitman is a partner at FoodMinds.

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