I mentioned in my most recent post that I had just spoken to the club on the Michigan State University campus comprised of student dietitians and nutrition majors, specifically being asked to talk to them about the importance of learning how food is grown (meaning agriculture, i.e., from the ground up). As I said, what better way to highlight the theme for this year's National Nutrition Month, which is "Nutrition from the ground up!".
So it was very interesting to me that an on-going discussion within a professional listserv of oncology dietitians has also touched on these concerns, specifically questioning why healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables cost so much more than processed foods, soda, etc. One member of this listserv asked the best question, i.e., how can we advocate for change of policies currently in place to turn this equation upside down?
This is such a relevant and important topic for discussion because dietitians need to use their professional knowledge and influence everywhere possible to advocate for development or change in policies in order promote health and wellness, i.e., prevent costly and debilitating disease, in addition to having the expertise and influence to help treat disease with Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT).
I have done some thinking about this, so I took a few minutes to reply to my professional colleagues and friends. Here is what I posted. Much of it will be helpful to all of my blog readers in addition to my colleagues. Special note: First go make a cup of tea to sip while reading. My response is a wee bit lengthy, even though I think I was very succinct, and in addition, you may find yourself wandering off to some of the links I have provided. :-)
"So, how do we go about advocating for this kind of change?"
This is such an excellent question and really addresses how we as RDs (and also as citizens in this country) can move beyond talking the talk to walking the walk.
There are several places to start with change. First and foremost is in your own home. Angie Tagtow, MS, RD developed "Good Food Checklists" when she was a Food and Society Fellow for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (www.iatp.org), a non-profit organization whose mission is "to work locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems". I have links to all 3 of her checklists on the left side of my blog. They are for: RDs, Families, and Public Health Practitioners. They are fabulous (!!!) checklists to help people see what they are already doing and give them manageable bite-size steps for becoming more local and more sustainable with their food choices.
Secondly, I strongly suggest joining the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (HEN DPG), which is at the forefront of all these concerns and is really a DPG for all RDs, no matter your area of clinical specialty. Who isn't being asked about organic foods, BPA, mercury in our fish, etc etc etc? HEN members wrote the Hot Topic "Perspective on Benefits of organic foods" for ADA, sponsors the Film Feastival at FNCE (wildly popular event) where last year the documentary FRESH: A New Way of Eating was shown followed by an enlightening and invigorating panel discussion, I could go on and on. HEN is the fastest growing DPG within ADA. I can assure you that when the next Farm Bill is being written and debated in Congress, HEN will have their finger on the pulse of that bill and be sharing information on their lively listserv and email blitzes about how to approach your elected members of Congress.
Thirdly, I recommend participating in ADA's Public Policy Workshop. This experience is practical, fun, and valuable. It is important for all RDs to understand that our government's current agriculture policies do not support, and in fact can even be said to undermine, our same government's health policies and goals. (A NYTimes opinion article My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables) is just one example of this contradiction.) Being involved in policy development and/or change is how RDs can really maximize their knowledge and professional influence for positive change for their own patients/clients and their community. Having said that, I hope ADA extends their 2010 National Nutrition Month theme of "Nutrition from the ground up" to pull out all the stops in helping members be involved with shaping the next Farm Bill.
Fourth, read ADA Position Paper Food and Nutrition Professionals can Implement Practices to Conserve Natural Resources and Support Ecological Sustainability. This position paper is currently being rewritten (I volunteered and was selected to review it and add my comments regarding how to make it even stronger), but it is a very good starting point.
Fifth, download (for free) and read at least parts of the special edition of the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Vol 4, Issues 3&4, 2009 - Food Systems and Public Health: Linkages to Achieve Healthier Diets and Healthier Communities. This is an excellent journal and available for only $15/year for members of HEN DPG.
I could go on and on, but I will end with one last recommendation. I suggest reading the following journal article: "Civic dietetics: opportunities for integrating civic agriculture concepts into dietetic practice" by Jennifer Wilkins, PhD, RD, in the journal Agriculture and Human Values Volume 26, Numbers 1-2 / March, 2009.
Oops, one final comment. Don't wait for someone else to figure out what needs to be done, or the best way to do it, or to send funding from Washington. Look around in your own clinic, your children's school, your own home, etc. What questions do you have? What needs do you see? What "bugs you"? What skills and passions do you bring to the table? Jump in wherever your spirit moves you to do so. Creating healthier food systems for your own local community is really a grass-roots effort (again, literally from the ground up!) and there are many "best answers" that will ultimately lead our nation to healthier, wealthier, more food-secure, and happier communities.
Oops again! I like to get poke around the following websites and also get updates by email from:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
American Farmland Trust
Food Democracy Now
Food and Water Watch
Here is my contribution to the wealth and health of my local community today, my purchases at our local Ann Arbor Farmers' Market this morning. If every family in Michigan would spend just $10 per week on locally grown food, that intentional action would keep $37 Million in Michigan (same concept is true for your state, too) each and every week, money that circulates locally and magnifies its economic impact in uncountable ways.
Photo: Spring greens purchased at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market March 13, 2010 - Bok Choi from My Family Farm (upper left), Spicy Assortment from Goetz Farm (upper right) and Claytonia from Brines Farm (front center). The little willow basket holding the claytonia was made by my friend who writes the beautiful blog Dandelion Haven.
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD