A Values-Based Approach to Food

Jan 10th, 2017 | By | Category: Agriculture, Commentary

By Janna Graham

Janna Graham

Janna Graham

As one year comes to an end and another begins, sources in business, fashion, science, and pop culture offer their food trend predictions for the upcoming year.  So what’s in store for 2017?  Most trend watchers agree that we’ll continue our quest for gluten-free, high-protein foods, while expanding our interest in sustainable, low-waste dining.  Whole Foods Markets predicts that we’ll be stocking up on gluten-free pasta (including veggie-based noodle strips), purple vegetables, and coconut everything. Bone broths, touted for their health benefits, will grow in popularity; food writer Mimi Sheraton points to the continued proliferation of meat and “lots of lots of marrow.” Food Business News believes we’ll be eating dessert for breakfast – especially chocolate – trying an increasing variety of plant-based meat substitutes, snacking on sardines, and incorporating goat into our dinners.

Some of the predictions are no-brainers; for example, gluten-free eating has replaced our former obsession with low-carb dieting and shows little sign of tapering off. Other predictions are more perplexing: Why sardines? And why would Americans suddenly develop a new affection for a food that’s been around for so long?

The answer is that the way we eat reflects our cultural values. The fact that we can make a game out of predicting how Americans will eat in the upcoming year points to our unique approach to food. The wild and sometimes dichotomous shifts in American eating patterns remind us that, unlike most other nations and cultures, we don’t really have a national cuisine to call our own. As Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, our lack of a coherent, culturally-based approach to food (minus our insistence that food be fast and cheap) is the reason we tend to get caught up in food crazes and fads. We look to science to tell us how to eat, rather than tradition and pleasure. Low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, paleo, raw – modern dinner parties can require the kind of creativity and precision better suited to a gala production. Some of us have developed a sharp memory of nutrition content, of how many almonds equal one ounce, of which foods can be combined and which should not. The fact that we can find millions of passionate devotees for each food fad is a testament to Pollan’s claim: Only in a nation that lacks a coherent food heritage could so many be swayed so easily to forego everything that went before in pursuit of the magic bullet that will allow us to eat for both health and pleasure.

This pursuit offers its own brand of frustration and anxiety, both fascinating and complicated.  Barb Stuckey of Forbes examined this year’s most popular food-related Google search terms. The result? Despite our current fascination with gluten-free diets — confirmed by our collective search history — Americans also really needed information about ramen noodles, rigatoni, linguine, and bundt cake, which comprised four of the seven “sustained risers” showing steady growth in search frequency. A reflection of our cultural values, indeed. Stuckey points out that the apparent hypocrisy of our modern American diet makes it difficult to take food trend predictions seriously.

At the Pocatello Co-op, we firmly believe that people should figure out their own approach to food, an approach that is based on a value system rather than a series of fads. For example, most Co-op members value sustainable and local food systems as well as working together to achieve our goals. These values have an effect on the kinds of food we choose and the kind of grocery store and café we want. What matters to you? And how does that affect what and when and where and with whom you eat? How important is the taste of your food, or the cost? Are you concerned with how food makes you feel, where it comes from, or how it’s produced? The answers to these questions reveal far more than how we eat. They reveal our core values.

The process of living our values should include a serious consideration of our food choices. It requires us to become more connected to the process of choosing, preparing, and eating food. As we do this, we discover that our connection to food leads to a greater connection with our family, friends, and community. We discover that this connection promotes the health and pleasure we crave from food and which can sometimes seems elusive. We don’t all share the same set of values, but we can all agree that food should be a positive part of our lives rather than a source of guilt, worry, or stress. To achieve this, we can’t look to national trends. Instead, we should decide what we value, and let that be the basis of our diet.

 Janna Graham is outreach coordinator for the Pocatello Co-op. She’s at outreach@pocatellocoop.com.

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