Changing the Menu: Changing the Conversation

Changing the Menu: Changing the Conversation

April 1, 2015

By Phil Lempert, President & CEO, Retail Dietitians Business Alliance

Last Thursday, at the close of our panel discussion at The Washington Post’s America Answers, I was asked for one wish to help our consumers when it comes to our food supply. My answer was simple: have the USDA fund an RD in every supermarket in the country.

I was honored to participate in the panel discussion and webcast moderated by Tamar Haspel of the Washington Post along with NYU’s Marion Nestle and Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Our focus was centered on “the forces that shape our food supply.” 

What seems to be rapidly changing is the way we are communicating and empowering others about food, nutrition and agriculture. At America Answers, Steve Case the cofounder of AOL and Chairman of Revolution Foods, presented his insights on why he’s investing his fortune in the food business. Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods, shared with me his desire to have all stakeholders involved in the food chain sit down together – including both organic and conventional farmers and producers at the same table - to discuss the issues and questions we all face. 

In addition to her Unearthed column at the Washington Post, Tamar is an oyster farmer whose love and knowledge of food began our discussion with an overview of the new Dietary Guidelines to which Marion, whose degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, is long renowned for cutting through the food politics clutter in her many books and Food Politics blog, pointed out that every five years, when the DGA’s are published, they are fiercely controversial although they always say the same thing: eat more fruits and vegetables, eat less junk food and don’t eat too much. She also added that the controversy is raised, as food companies don’t share that desire as if we eat less, they sell less.

Ricardo, who holds a Ph.D. in physiology and M.S. in crop production, pointed out that the s Single biggest thing that the food industry sells us is not food, the food is incidental, what they give us is convenience. And that is a large share of what we are buying in any retail environment whether it be a supermarket or a fast food restaurant. That the food industry researches very carefully what consumers want and what they want is time saving, low cost and flavor from our foods. We simply do not prefer the foods that are the healthiest for us, he added.

Haspel a wonderful wordsmith, summed it all up by saying “we have the food supply we deserve – and it is geared towards feeding us what we prefer rather than what we should be eating!”

Our minutes were drawing to an end as Tamar asked each of us for our wish to help shape our food supply. Marion urged all of us to vote with our forks and suggested, “how about running for office” to bring a new food voice to Washington. Ricardo wished for us to invest in an infrastructure that could give us the policies to institute the changes we need. We all agreed that the ultimate choice to eat healthier can be led by the shopper. 

You can watch the entire America Answers: Changing the Menu program here.