Tuesday, March 16, 2010

GMA science forum 2010

This afternoon, I will participate with Jane Black and Sam Fromartz in a panel at the Grocery Manufacturers Assocation (GMA) annual science forum. The panel is about consumer interests in alternative food movements. The (perhaps slightly dismissive?) session title is "New Foodism."

I focus on three themes: nutrition, environment, and small farms and food businesses. Here is a section of what I will say:
The “New Foodists” favor fresh whole foods that frequently are not required to carry a Nutrition Facts panel. They generally believe that good health will follow automatically from choosing the right food pattern. From a nutrition science perspective, it frequently happens to me that I doubt a specific claim I hear from this movement, and yet I end up believing the broad thrust of its perspective on nutrition. For example, organic food advocates sometimes emphasize comparatively small differences in micronutrient content between organic and conventional food, whereas a more mainstream nutrition scientist would instead emphasize the comparatively low average sodium content of the typical organic food diet. As another example, “New Foodists” favor grass-fed beef and local pork and cheese, seldom expressing much concern about saturated fat, whereas a more mainstream nutrition scientist may think it is probably just as well that these products are priced comparatively high, so that the overall saturated fat content of the New Foodist diet remains reasonable.

But, these distinctions make little difference in evaluating the overall nutritional wisdom of the focus on healthy eating patterns. The big important contribution of the Good Food Movement is not its diagnosis of micronutrient content. Rather, the big contribution is that this movement makes eating healthy more tasty, fun, and inspiring.

You probably won’t believe me if I quote Michael Pollan on this topic, so let me instead quote my colleagues Alice Lichtenstein and Robert Russell, who are, respectively, a renowned nutrition scientist and the former director of the Jean Meyer Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they recommend focusing not on the specific nutrients in nutrition supplements, but instead on healthy eating patterns in foods. They advise, “other factors in food or the relative presence of some foods and the absence of other foods are more important than the level of individual nutrients consumed.” That, in a nutshell, is the same nutrition perspective I hear from the Good Food Movement.
The conference has more excitement in the air than I would have expected in advance. It's not because of my panel! Michelle Obama is the keynote speaker this morning.

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