Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dietitians working in food policy, the new frontier

In conjunction with Registered Dietitian (RD) Day, U.S. Food Policy is participating in an RD Blog Fest on behalf of National Nutrition Month. Check back periodically as other dietitian’s blogs will be linked throughout the day.

As a RD mastering in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, I see now more then ever as the time for RD’s to fully embrace the world of policy as an agent for change. A short trip down memory lane shows us the causal story of how our food system and societal health got where it is today, all through policy. As the ‘food and nutrition professionals,’ it is imperative that dietitians understand how food is grown, why certain foods are grown, and how these policies are contributing to the very disease we are attempting to rebuke.

In 1973, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, encouraged farmers to "get big or get out," as he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm. Evidence shows that while the present capital and technology-intensive farming systems are productive and able to produce cheap food, they also bring a variety of economic, environmental, and social problems.

Industrial farms are subsidized by commodity payments (your tax money) and are contributing to environmental degradation through: bi-cropping (corn and soy), heavy use of pesticides, inefficient use of increasingly scarce water, depletion and erosion of soil, difficulty recycling nutrients and destruction of biodiversity. Recent research has also shown a decrease in nutrient values in fruits and vegetables over the last 30 years. This alone is great reason for RD’s to be the leading soil advocates.

What is infuriating is that the food that is being subsidized and grown throughout the Midwest is not really food at all, in that it is not fit for human consumption. It is an input and it must be processed, which leads us another problem: processed food. Almost every product you find in the center aisles of the grocery store is made from corn and soy. From steaks to chicken nuggets, condiments, juices, frozen entrees, pastries, etc., are ultimately derived from corn, either as high fructose corn syrup or from the corn-based animal feed that is being fed to animals. The animals confined to the industrial food system are also not supposed to eat this corn. Cows are ruminant animals and are suppose to eat grass. This is like trying to make a patient with Celiac’s Disease eat a diet of wheat gluten. The cows, like the patient would, get sick with a condition called acidosis which causes one of their four stomachs to inflate, ultimately causing suffocation. To combat this problem, the industrialized food system provides animals living in CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) with a low dose of antibiotics. Presently, 80% of the antibiotics in the US are used non-therapeutically in animals being grown for consumption.

Those working in the community and clinical dietetics and with at-risk populations see the ramifications of these policies every day. The American people, especially low-income populations, are sick. Both corn-fed beef and high-fructose corn syrup contribute to the obesity epidemic in the United States. Those working on obesity know that behavior change alone is not working. Patients are stricken by a federal policy that makes cheap food possible. While American’s spend a smaller fraction of their budget (about 11%) on food compared to any other industrialized nation, the cheap food is catching up to us on the other end: our health care costs, or what I call, “sick care.” Another issue for those working in the area of hunger and food security is our dependency on petroleum inputs to grow food.

With a new administration and a new secretary of agriculture, now is a great time for RD’s to join in the political process that is entrenched in our food. In order for your representatives to begin to change these archaic policies, they must first know that there is political will. Dietitian’s can be the story-tellers and the educators for their policy makers, communities and clients. As the nation's food and nutrition experts, registered dietitians are committed to improving the health of their patients and community. Registered Dietitian Day commemorates the dedication of RDs as advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world. There is no better place to an RD to start, then in policy.

What could an RD do to learn more?
Here are some other posts by fellow RD's--

Beyond Prenatals - Food vs. Supplements and Real Advice vs. Fake Advice
Annette Colby - No More Diets! A Registered Dietitian Shares 9 Secrets to Real and Lasting Weight Loss
Diana Dyer - There and Back Again: Celebration of National Dietitian Day 2009
Marjorie Geiser - RD Showcase for National Registered Dietitian Day - What we do
Cheryl Harris - Me, a Gluten Free RD!
Marilyn Jess - National Registered Dietitian Day--RD Blogfest
Julie Lanford - Antioxidants for Cancer Prevention
Renata Mangrum - What I'm doing as I grow up...
Liz Marr - Fruits and Veggies for Registered Dietian Day: Two Poems
Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen - Family Nutrition ... It's our "Beat"
Jill Nussinow - The Registered Dietitian Lens I Look Through
Wendy Jo Petersen - March 11 is our day to shine!
Diane Preves - Registered Dietitians and the White House Forum on Health Reform
Andy Sarjahani - Dr. Seuss Tribute continued: Green Eggs and Ham and a Sustainable Food System
Rebecca Scritchfield - Big Tips from a "Big Loser"
Anthony Sepe - RD Showcase: Registered Dietitian Day, March 11, 2009
Kathy Shattler - RD Showcase for Nutri-Care Consultation
UNL-Extension, Douglas/Sarpy County - Nutrition Know How - Making Your Life Easier
Monika Woolsey - Dietitians--Can't Do PCOS Without Them!
Monika Woolsey - In Honor of National Registered Dietitian Day
Jen Zingaro - My life as a Registered Dietitian


Anthony Sepe said...

Happy RD Day to you.
Very nice blog and wishing you continued success.
~Anthony Sepe

Alan Knox said...

Hi. I came here from the link on Renata's blog Nurturing Notes. We've cut out almost all processed foods from our diet. But, from your post, it looks like there's still some "processing" involved. Thanks for the info.


Annette Colby, PhD, RD said...

Hi Ashley,

Wishing you a Happy National Registered Dietitian's Day!

I absolutely appreciate the wisdom contained within your article. You make a solid heartfelt argument about processed food:

"Almost every product you find in the center aisles of the grocery store is made from corn and soy. From steaks to chicken nuggets, condiments, juices, frozen entrees, pastries, etc., are ultimately derived from corn, either as high fructose corn syrup or from the corn-based animal feed that is being fed to animals."

I also believe health and energy depend on far more than calorie counting and convenience foods. Long-term health involves developing an intimate relationship with food and your body. Move beyond your mind and touch base with your physical self. Before eating, ask yourself, “Is this really what I want?” Inhale the aroma of your food, see what you are about to put in your mouth, "feel" into the choice you are about to make. Taste the food as you chew. Are you enjoying the experience of this eating episode? Do you like this feeling? Change the process of getting healthy from an intellectual pursuit to an experience that builds self-respect and a joyful physical experience.

Thanks for your great article and perspective.

With appreciation,
Annette Colby, PhD, RD

robinplotkin said...

Proud to say I knew you when you were changing the world in Austin! Keep up the GREAT work! Happy RD Day!

hormonewoman said...


Thank goodness someone like you is taking this on!

Thanks for using RD Blogfest to get the word out about issues that affect all of us.


Renata said...

This was the first nutrition blog I ever heard of. Parke, I'm glad you decided to carry on with it and added a team of contributors. I thank all of you for the information you share. I attended my second food policy coalition meeting today and I was asked, "how did you hear about this group?", then I told them about your blog. Thanks also for sharing in this posts ways that RDs can get more involved.

All the best to you,

Beyond Prenatals said...

Thank you so much for the great blog. These are issues I am really interested in. I will definitely come back for me. Thanks for the RD suggestions and keep up the great work!

Ashley Colpaart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley Colpaart said...

Thank you all for the kind words. I am in the midst of mid-terms, so I can't respond individually. I enjoyed participating in the RD Bloggerfest event and look forward to working with you all in the future.

Anonymous said...

Happy Dietitian Day! Though I thought LD is "Law Degree" at the first time...

I am wondering when there will be a humanitarian worker's day...~O(∩_∩)O~

Diana Dyer said...

How can dietetics curriculum requirements be changed to include an understanding of all you are discussing? The expansion of dietetics back to "you are what you grow", rather than starting with "you are what you eat", is urgently needed to help drive policy changes.

Happy RD Day to you - I eagerly look forward to following your career!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD