Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture, oh my!

If you’ve heard any of my presentations lately, you’ve heard me say the food and nutrition conversation just keeps getting bigger. Now, layered on top of food preferences, culture, religion, budget, cooking skills, medical history and everything else that comes into play with our food choices, people want to know more about the agricultural practices that led to that food on our plate.

I started to see the shift towards wanting more information years ago when I was working for a grocery chain that had both conventional and natural/organic private brands. I was the dietitian for our stores and for our brands.  This meant helping people navigate all the choices we offered in store, making selections that were best for their individual needs.

As social media evolved, I was the dietitian who answered your nutrition, health and related questions on Facebook. Access to me and to information from our whole team got a whole lot easier. We talked to people every day in every vehicle imaginable. You asked, and I’d work with our buyers and sourcing team and anyone else who could help provide the answers to the diverse questions we got. And the day I found myself talking about where our chickens came from or where our dairies were that supplied our natural/organic milk sticks in my head. Not only did I need to know the nutrition science, the culinary application, and the health benefits to different choices, now I needed to know how to answer questions about agriculture. Because it was impacting decision making on foods that impact health.

Here are three things we can do together to help make sure we honor our personal preferences and the farmers who make sure we have the food we need as we continue to be a population removed from the farm and where our food is grown and raised.

  1. Get the Facts, ma’am. And I’m not just talking about the Nutrition Facts, although those remain important. Just like research continues to evolve about nutrition, the same is true for agriculture. Don’t assume that because you grow tomatoes at home that you understand modern agriculture. Talk to a farmer at a farmer’s market. Talk to a professor in an agriculture program at a college or university. Read about awesome new technology on farm. You have a smart phone. So do most farmers. Our cars have new technology. So do tractors.
  1. Forget fear. Find the truth. Food is personal. Don’t let a good looking fear monger in social media or on television freak you out about your food. Just because they are loud and know how to tweet doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. Dietitians like me have a code of ethics we follow and requirements to stay current in our knowledge in the field. Can you say the same for whomever it is that is trying to tell you what to do to take care of yourself? We are all smart. Find someone smart about nutrition. Save the other food and nutrition conversations with untrained people for entertainment, not for health choices.
  1. Visit a farm or ranch. Many people often forget that a farm is the farmer’s home, yet the public is inquisitive and wants to visit. So many farmers graciously open their homes to the public for tours and to help answer the questions people have about how to grow and raise food. You can also visit a farm virtually. Disclosure: I am fortunate to have grown up around agriculture because my grandpa was a farmer (dairy cows and Percheron horses). I now work for farmers and am the Agriculture Chair for the Food and Culinary Professionals.