I recently had the opportunity to talk sugar, actually excess sugar, with a smart group of people at the James Beard Foundation Food Conference. Our panel, Taming Sugar: Challenges and Solutions, moderated by Jonathan Halperin from the Sustainability Lab and joined by Laurie David, executive producer of Fed Up, and Cindy Gershen, owner of Sunrise Bistro and Catering, discussed the perils of sugar and the possibilities of ways to reduce the amount we consume.
Our conclusion: Education and awareness are the way to win the battle against excess sugar and everything it brings to bear including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
A simple conclusion, yes, but the actual solution is much more complex. So we came up with a battle plan (a recipe of sorts):
Step 1. As individuals we must do our part. It's people like Laurie David who had the passion to create Fed Up, a documentary that shows us how big of a problem we have to solve. Yes the movie is depressing, but it's a needed wake up call. It's people like Cindy who work daily with school kids teaching them how to improve what they eat, teaching them how to cook and what food is good for them. We need thousands of people like Cindy educating kids and adults across the county. The main premise behind my #dessertworthy campaign is the reduction of sugar-laden processed foods and saving desserts for a treat not a daily occurrence. MarionNestle, Robert Lustig and other healthy food advocates agree if we do this there is room in a healthy diet for the enjoyment of occasional desserts.
Step 2. Use our voice and our wallets. Food companies are not going to stop adding sugar in foods until we stop buying them. They are in the business to make money and it's naïve of anyone to think they will stop on their own accord just because it's not good for us. They respond to consumer demand. Yes there are food companies that produce good quality food and should be supported and applauded but they are smaller companies and we need everyone on board.
Step 3. Urge your congress person to make the right decisions about food policy. Right now they are debating school lunches. Let them know how you feel and that you're paying attention. For me, kids need healthy food to grow mentally and physically. We are teaching them the wrong messages by keeping non-healthy highly processed foods in school cafeterias. Introduce treats once or twice a week. There's still room for bake sales at schools. It's a great opportunity to teach kids about how and when sweets should be eaten. It teaches kids to give to their communities and also raises money for good causes.
Step 4. Support a variety of approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. We need to attack this problem at all fronts. We have to be supportive of all efforts that encourage healthy eating from the White House, food companies, schools and in Congress. Some approaches will be more successful than others but they all will help raise awareness. No one program will solve the problem but together they will and we can.
It is time to get started on this recipe for change. As Sam Kass, President Barack Obama's Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy and Let's Move Executive Director said at the JBF Food Conference, "Engaged citizens have an impact." We can change our diets, what we buy, our food policies and we can save lives.