Brainfood mentioned in Newsday article about MyPlate
Check out this OpEd that appeared in Newsday this week!
Opinion: MyPlate's going to need some help
Updated: June 27, 2011 8:32 PM
By AMY ALBERT. AND JENNIFER WHEARY
Amy Albert is a former senior editor at Bon Appétit and Fine Cooking. Jennifer Wheary is a senior fellow at Demos, a public policy organization in Manhattan.
First lady Michelle Obama stood as the picture of health earlier this month when she kicked off MyPlate, the Department of Agricultures's new dietary guideline campaign. The cornerstone of the campaign is a simple representation of what a healthy meal should look like.
Gone is the food pyramid first adopted in 1992. The new graphic suggests making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, the other half proteins and whole grains, and having a little low-fat dairy on the side.
Obama's presence at the kickoff is another in a series of her efforts to get the country, particularly kids, to eat better. That's welcome: A study released last week from the Institute of Medicine found that 20 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight or obese.
The day after the MyPlate launch, the first lady was in the White House kitchen garden harvesting vegetables and planting seeds with children and members of the American Indian community, a group with an exceptionally high rate of childhood obesity.
She is showing the nation that tackling the obesity-malnutrition crisis is a matter of smart choices that need to be made every single day. But she's also telling us that it's a much larger issue than fits on a single plate.
Healthy eating is as much a matter of economic disparity and education as it is a lifestyle choice. MyPlate is easy to understand, and that's desperately needed. But the new graphic is just the first step in tackling a complex, urgent problem.
Higher rates of obesity among the poor make it glaringly clear who has easy access to nutritious food (and who doesn't), who has time to cook it (and who doesn't), who's been taught to identify a lean protein or healthy grain when they see it (and who hasn't). Much more needs to happen if this administration is serious about improving Americans' eating habits.
Access to fresh, affordable food is a necessity, not a luxury. The first lady has set the tone with her example. Food manufacturers have followed suit, continuing to improve labeling, and some have begun delivering better nutrition for the dollar by cutting empty calories and trans-fats from their products.
Congress has passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to focus on school nutrition, which means that kids are starting to see more salad bars and fewer vending machines in their cafeterias. Such funding for nutritious meals and other programs supporting child health cannot fall prey to budget-slashing.
For national efforts to have full impact, action at the local level is essential, too. The location of food stores and how close they are to public transportation makes a huge difference in how well a community eats. The Long Island Index and Sustainable Long Island have found that poorer people have the least access to supermarkets.
So Sustainable Long Island helped start up of two youth-run farmers' markets in North Bellport and Roosevelt last year, bringing fresh, nutritious food to these areas between July and October. An impressive 65 percent of the transactions last year were made using government assistance money. Based on last year's success, Sustainable is providing assistance to get markets up and running in Flanders, New Cassel and Wyandanch this summer.
While everyone needs to be able to afford high-quality ingredients -- fresh vegetables; good quality meat, poultry and seafood; and healthy starches like barley, buckwheat and quinoa -- access to healthy food must go hand-in-hand with widespread education about how to prepare it. Cooking wholesome, simple meals -- quickly and without much effort -- needs to be taught in school and elsewhere.
Organizations like Brainfood in Washington -- which uses cooking as a tool to teach teenagers skills like collaboration, goal-setting, accountability and time management -- should be an inspiration. So should the Harlem Children's Zone, where the Educated Eaters Project and Good Food Garden are giving kids firsthand experience in making healthy choices.
Michelle Obama is a powerful ally. But her advocacy can't translate to action until fresh, unprocessed food -- and knowing how to cook it deliciously and quickly -- is available to all.