“The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they nourish themselves.”-Brillat-Savarin
In case you’ve missed it, the food and nutrition landscape is in the midst of a massive recalibration right now. This is driven by many factors, but 2 in particular stand out at present: 1. A robust and growing body of evidence around climate change, and its current and future potential impact on human health and agriculture. 2. A newly emerging values framework around food whose calculus goes deeper than the Nutrition Facts panel or price.
As with most shifts of this magnitude, there are growing pains and plenty of disruptions. There’s spirited and valid debate. And a need for clear definitions around the fast-evolving language that’s framing these conversations.
But they are happening, and they are transforming the nutrition world in considerable ways, ushering in what I call “Food 3.0”. A few cases in point from recent weeks:
- A steady parade of food companies have announced they are dropping dozens of ingredients (such as artificial colors and flavors) their customers have said are unappetizing if they are deemed safe by the FDA. From General Mills to Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, ingredient lists are getting a major makeover to be more aligned with what eaters want-and don’t want-to see in their food.
What it means: While much of this category of Food 3.0 represents a tinkering at the margins (removing artificial colors from breakfast cereals doesn’t improve sugar content, for instance), it points to the widespread momentum and breadth of the movement for change.
- In recent months Walmart, Tyson, McDonalds and other influential companies have made public (albeit non-binding) pledges to curb antibiotic use in livestock attached to timelines. While certainly not perfect, it’s a positive first step. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, up to 70% of antibiotics important to human medicine sold in the US are administered to food animals. And evidence suggests this is a major factor in the surge of antibiotic resistance.
What it means: A new clarity is rapidly emerging on how deeply food production, human health, agricultural health, and the environment are interrelated. Thanks to a vigorous body of research and Big Data, a hallmark of Food 3.0 is that issues that were once viewed in silos are increasingly revealed to be interconnected; the more powerfully they ladder directly back to eaters own well being and safety (in this case, drug resistant bacteria), the more people feel a fresh urgency to find alternatives. I suspect that the rapidly growing field of nutrigenomics will illuminate these connections-and what’s at stake for us personally in terms of our genetic expression-even further.
- Perhaps most notable, the considerable dust-up happening right now as industry groups rebel against sustainability being included in 2015 Dietary Guidelines, getting a rider inserted in two Congressional bills that would all but gridlock the 2015 Dietary Guidelines from being released (check out these summaries by my colleagues Ashley Colpaart RD and Carrie Dennett MPH RD to see what’s at stake for the scientific process).
My take: This is perhaps the supreme example of the tensions- and high stakes involved- as Food 3.0 moves into the mainstream. (If you are a registered dietitian, please click here to take action and send a message to Congress.) But while we wait for the politics to play out, Americans at all points on the food system-from farmers and growers, to social entrepreneurs, to visionary food companies, to everyday eaters-continue to drive tremendous positive shifts in our food system that are ushering in something better. Something more resilient. And more transparent. With a fuller and fairer accounting of cost. When I see all of this, I am heartened to think that policy is but one tool we have to effect change in the food system.
- Lastly, there’s the Pope’s groundbreaking Encyclical calling for swift action on climate change and a new moral framework where environmental stewardship of our shared planet is a fundamental aspect in our role as human beings.
My take: At its core, this mindset is what Food 3.0 is really about. At the granular level, it remains to be seen whether politicians integrate this into ideologies and policies. But as Dr. David Katz summed up beautifully, no matter your personal religious or spiritual views, the Pope’s potential to shift thinking and behavior for billions of people around the world offers a glimmer of hope. To turn the tide. To make a difference. To preserve our planet, and a vibrant food system-for our children.
So back to Brillat-Savarin: As a nation, are we changing the way we nourish ourselves?
I believe we are. Food 3.0 is here.
What’s Food 1.0 and Food 2.0, you ask?
I’ll lay that out in my next blog.