Sunday, November 28, 2010

Junk "food" from the term "Junk Food"

Today's issue of the New York Times contains an article entitled "Junking Junk Food", which tells us among other things that 40% of the calories consumed by our children ages 2-18 now comes from "food" that is considered (kindly) to be "empty calories". Paired with that horrible statistic is the fact that more than 2/3 of our adult population and 17% of our children are now overweight or seriously overweight (i.e. the word no one wants to utter is "obese").

I have come to think that calling "junk food" and "snack foods" FOOD is doing a grave disservice to the word food. What is food anyway?

Here are some definitions of food on the Web:

  • any substance that can be metabolized by an animal to give energy and build tissue
  • any solid substance (as opposed to liquid) that is used as a source of nourishment; "food and drink"
  • anything that provides mental stimulus for thinking
  • Food is any substance, composed of carbohydrates, water, fats, proteins and water, that can be eaten or drunk by animals, including humans, for nutrition or pleasure. Items considered food may be sourced from plants, animals or other categories such as fungus. ...
Interestingly, I could not easily find any definition of "food" on the websites for The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or The American Dietetic Association (ADA). It sure might be there, but I could not find it by simple searching through the general web or directly on their respective websites. 

Well, as a 30+ year member of The American Dietetic Association, my professional organization that promotes its members as "the nation's food and nutrition experts", I admit that I'm having confusing thoughts about this whole concept of "food". What is it that we are experts about if we cannot define it, at least to my understanding and satisfaction? In addition, maybe as an aside or maybe not, my professional organization has long promoted the ideas of "all foods in moderation" and "all foods can fit", admittedly another conundrum for me if ADA is not defining the term "food".

I'm still working on this for myself, but in the meantime, I propose that the word "food" be actively dissociated from the words "junk" and "snack" and maybe even the word "processed". Thus the title of this blog post: Junk "food" from the term "junk food". I think those pairings have done a major disservice to whole foods, those foods known to contain nutrients required for growth and health that can also be eaten and enjoyed for pleasure. 

• Web definition: Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat. ...

I do recommend reading the book by David Kessler, MD (a former head of the FDA) The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. The content of this book is not a pretty sight.......but knowledge is power, and knowing that each of us has that power to "vote with our dollars and/or fork" three times a day (or more if we eat, i.e., snack, between meals), allows us to choose not only how we are fueling our bodies and promoting our own health and wellness, but what we are choosing for delicious (i.e., pleasure!) eating plus who (such as local farmers) or what distant corporation is going to the bank with our hard-earned dollars. 

As I said, I am still mulling this over in my mind. I have started asking dietetic students and interns who come to work for an hour, a day, or a summer on my farm to define food for me, at least to start thinking about and discussing with me what they think of as food, so that when they are members of ADA, they will have a clearer idea in the beginning of their career what they feel comfortable promoting!

Feel free to share your own ideas - you don't have to be a student weeding with me on the farm to do so!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Ellen said...

Diana - I met you at the farmers' market while visiting my daughter in Ann Arbor this summer. I bookmarked your web site as soon as I got home.

I am a registered nurse & am certified in oncology nursing in the Dept of Veterans Affairs. I just copied this blog post & sent it to the VA email group for oncology nurses. It will supplement the discussion on nutritional support specifically for patients with head & neck cancers.

Thank you for your good work!
Ellen Ballard RN, BSN, OCN

Diana Dyer said...

Thanks for stopping at our farmers' market booth of "Garlic, Garlic, Garlic!" Thanks also for dropping in to my blog. All the oncology RDs I know are very involved with the nutritional support and education of the patients at their cancer centers who have been diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Working with these RDs (many of whom are also certified oncology nutrition specialists - CSO) should be a great team! Please stop again. :-)