Is Our Food Too Good?

By Lynne Finnerty, American Farm Bureau Federation with Contributions by Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau
Health officials are sounding alarms about our obesity epidemic. Since 1980, obesity has doubled among adults and tripled among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Meanwhile, food purists proclaim foods commonly available from the supermarket at an affordable price to be inferior to foods grown without the use of modern techniques. They say that “authentic” foods produced the way they might have been decades ago taste better and are more nutritious than what is on the shelf at the grocery store.
There’s just one problem. Assuming that people don’t eat food that doesn’t taste good, does the food purists’ assertion run into a wall of blubber?
Ah, Our Wonderful Food Obsession
We have a national obsession with food. There are magazines, newspaper columns and blogs devoted to how to cook it, the best places to eat it and the fanciest tools for making and serving it.
It’s a multibillion dollar business. High-end kitchen products retailer Williams-Sonoma earns more than $3 billion a year and has just announced robust profits for the most recent quarter, despite the recession. The Food Network is among the most popular cable channels. Professional appliances from Aga, Wolf and Blue Star cost several times the price of more run-of-the-mill ranges, and they’re all the rage.
Maybe the issue isn’t the food itself, but our preoccupation with it.
It wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have television networks devoted to food, most of us cooked on stoves from Sears, we had fewer restaurant choices and cooking with fresh herbs was the height of foodie-ism.
We also didn’t have quite so many varieties of food. There were two types of potato chips—plain or rippled. Now, there are dozens. All of this choice is not a bad thing, but it can make it more difficult to “eat just one.”
Roasting a chicken used to be a simple affair—salt, pepper and a few other seasonings. Now, thanks to our insatiable appetite for new, gourmet ways of cooking and a media that feeds it, we’re more likely to slip fresh sage leaves and herb butter under the roaster’s skin, the pepper is freshly ground, the salt is from the sea, the cavity is filled with lemons and garlic and we might add some white wine to the roasting pan. With all due respect to mom, who put a solid meal on the table more regularly than most of us do nowadays, a 21st century gourmet roasted chicken (including that “supermarket bird”) is amazing.
Our Food is as Good as Ever and Even Better than Before
Food is just as good today as it’s ever been, if not better. And, thanks to modern agriculture, there’s plenty of it to go around.
Arizona Farm Bureau, through its Fill Your Plate program, strives to highlight this very point. The organization is finding that the public’s fascination with farmers and ranchers extends beyond the farm gate. Views on the Fill Your Plate web site tell the story.
In the searchable online directory, some of the most often searched terms are “beef” and “wine.” These two searchable categories represent a tiny slice of Arizona’s ranchers and wine growers, but represent how great Arizona’s wine and beef industries really are.
Another popular area on Fill Your Plate is the recipe section. What makes Fill Your Plate’s recipe tabs so special is that most of the recipes contributed to the website are from farmers and ranchers themselves. So, not only are America’s farmers and ranchers good at what they raise and grow, they’re also excellent cooks. It’s no accident that if they grow good food today, they can also prepare it with expertise in the kitchen.
Arizona Farm Bureau’s social media efforts even reflect how the public sees agriculture and especially our fascination with all things food. When the organization talks about recipes and food issues in general, more engagement immediately occurs. Post a recipe from a farmer on Arizona Farm Bureau’s Facebook page and ask fans their opinion on the ingredients and fans will immediately respond.
As a result, Arizona Farm Bureau plans to have more discussions around recipes and food in general as it relates to social media tools focused on Arizonans. The message is clear: Talk about food and people will talk back. Within that content engage your audience with exciting information about agriculture and the conversation will continue.
And, we’re building our advocates. Recently, Arizona’s local media celebrity Jan D’Atri did a series with Arizona Farm Bureau that involved two vintage cookbooks from the Arizona cotton and cattlewomen. Both radio shows garnered a large response from Jan’s audience wanting to purchase the cookbooks.
More food-related programs are planned in 2011. After all, Arizona Farm Bureau and other affiliate agriculture groups are in the business of food. With the public’s fascination with food and the ongoing debate about obesity, Arizona agriculture no longer plans to stay on the sidelines.
With so many delicious foods and our national fixation on all things food-related, maybe it’s just up to us, as it’s always been, to decide how much is enough. As much as it’s tempting to blame someone else when your jeans feel too tight, there are no mystery ingredients or production methods that have shifted the paradigm or changed the basic rule — calories in should not exceed calories out.
It’s the job of farmers and ranchers to grow the food. It’s our job to determine how much of it we should eat. Farmers and ranchers are doing their jobs. Are we doing ours?
Editor’s Note: Lynne Finnerty is the editor of FBNews, the newspaper of the American Farm Bureau Federation.