Americans are trending toward "healthier" eating. The tag line of the 2008 Healthy Foods Conference reminds us "healthy is in."
There's progress in our national relationship with food, and admitting our problems is the first step. Stats show that childhood and teen obesity has leveled out. Kids aren't getting bigger, but they're also not getting lighter.
There's plenty of talk about the health benefits of functional foods and nutraceuticals like "whole grains" and "omega 3s." The Nutrition Business Journal notes more than 97 percent of Americans surveyed spend at least a portion of their grocery budgets on healthy food.
Food manufacturers have jumped on the band wagon of popular interest. The national food trend survey called, "The Current State of the Healthy Foods Market — Consumer, Retailer and Manufacturer Perspectives Study," also completed by the Nutrition Business Journal, reveals:
- Whole grains are the top-ranking healthy-product attribute, according to consumers surveyed, with 57 percent citing this as very or extremely important.
- Consumers are increasingly buying healthy foods to manage a specific health condition, including 21.4 percent choosing products to lower high cholesterol, 14.5 percent to manage digestive issues, 13 percent to control blood sugar levels, and 11.2 percent for general allergies.
- Retailers cite "Better-for-you Kids Products" as the category where they anticipate seeing the most growth in 2008, with 25.8 percent of retailer respondents selecting this option.
- Local foods are gaining a following with consumers; more than 66 percent of respondents say they would be likely to try a new store in their market area if the store could offer them a better selection of local products.
The food dialogue is coming full circle, but we have to qualify the conversation and go forth carefully. We all fall prey to the lure of "it's good for you" food marketing. Last night Patrick wanted ice cream after dinner. I said no. He already had a free ice cream courtesy of the local library summer reading program. Read one book. Just one book, and kids get a free ice cream cone from Chik-fil-a. He wanted ice cream at home again and said, "But's it's all-natural vanilla. It's good for me."
It's not good for him. It's just not completely "evil" for him. The Nutrition Business Journal categorizes food in their research and reporting as "functional foods, lesser-evil foods and natural/organic foods in the United States."
Lesser-Evil foods are "altered from their originally manufactured state by the removal of unwanted substances including fat, calories, preservatives, caffeine, alcohol, salt, etc."
Now we actually talk about food on a spectrum or axis of evil. The language hints at the complexities of what we're actually putting in our fresh mouths and how we feel about it. Has food ever been this complicated? As the conversation tilts toward terms of morality - of good and evil - it's no wonder that we're doing all we can to alter food and make it appear as more or less than it is. It's our human tendency to stretch the truth, bend the rules and quite literally sugar coat the story. Think organic gummy bears or Hot Pockets with "real cheese."
Food is about sustenance and pleasure. It's not evil. We need to go way back to basics - eat and grow food free of chemicals and artifical ingredients. Simple. We all need to remember - food is "more than good." And remember as you eat "lesser evil" food, you are what you eat.
The "Food" Conversation
A sample of what business, farmers, industry and regular folks are saying about how we grow, eat and sell food.
The Organic Summit: Cultivating Innovation & Transparency in the Organic Community
New Hope Natural Media
Healthy Foods International Exposition and Conference
The Nutrition Business Journal
What to Eat
Nugget o' the Week: "The grocery aisle is changing, health has gone mainstream. At Healthy Foods International you’ll find the products that fit into this new picture of health: low fat, reduced calorie, less sugar, low sodium, added omega-3’s, increased fiber, whole grains, all natural baby food, cleaning products and more that help build the perfect healthy taco, sundae, burger, soda and beyond." - from Healthy Foods International.
Nothing beats a nice healthy sundae and a soda for dinner.