LIZ WILLIAMS (this article was first published August 17, 2012)
Food is basic to our lives, yet we have allowed our lack of a cohesive food policy to foster unintended, as well as unobserved, consequences. These consequences, in effect a default food policy that is at times both contradictory and obsolete, have changed the way we eat. And since we seem to so often forget that everything is connected, our policies in energy, highways, education have influenced how our culture eats and, inadvertently, work against family meals. Even today, when we have tried to encourage healthy eating, we don’t really look at the big picture.
It probably isn’t possible to start over with farm bills, highway money, changes in tax structure, and all of the things that have affected our default food policy. So I recommend that we think about what we want to encourage and work from that point. For me that central concept means family meals.
Eating together as a family helps create feelings of self-worth. It helps us to eat less and more slowly – thus reducing obesity – and helps children do better in school. The fact that we are losing this precious cultural resource – eating as a family – in the wake of eating in our cars, being too busy to cook, and having over-programmed lives is a terrible loss for families and for our society. I understand that it is too late for us to return to cooking for hours every day – making our own bread, our own cheese, and our own wine. Those of us who do still do these things are usually hobbyists. We do not do it out of necessity.
All of us are busy. Some people must take children from school to lessons or practice of some sort. Often sports games and performances require that we and our children must eat in our cars on the way from here to somewhere else. Often busy people working more than one job to make ends meet pick up meals on the run and their children eat alone while the parent or parents are at work. This is reality. In order for us to put together a coherent policy we should face reality. There is no going back. So what do we want going forward? I vote for family meals.
There are many more points to be decided in order to create a policy that would encourage, or at least not discourage, family meals. But whatever we want, it must be based on the current situation as the point of beginning the analysis. What we currently live with is an unintentional policy. I prefer an intentional policy that has been consciously enacted. Just like a defense policy, a food policy deals with something fundamental to our safety as a society. That something is our health, which in some cases can actually affect our defense. If we could create policies that encourage health, instead of looking at health care as a pharmaceutical matter, we would be acting responsibly for our children and the future. And by considering food a matter of overall policy, instead of trying to pass laws about single things like sugary drinks, we would see how interrelated so many matters actually are. This exercise might lead us to writing laws that advance a true policy.