Monday, October 24, 2011

Food and Ivy League - the man's thing to do?

The Green Elephant started its journey on Sustainability with a focus on food. At first I was confused about what food really meant to me, having grown up in China and eating everything from chicken feet to brains. I’ve heard interesting criticisms about my passion for eating: some thought I was a foodie crazy about the “Organic” label and the status symbol of boutique eater; some thought I was nuts for thinking healthy food for the poor is economical. I had even tried to engage legal academics, but the response I got was some protectionist argument about how China banned our chicken exports.

I put the topic on hold and started to dig into more about the three faces of sustainability – people, planet, and profit, hoping that either the conversation about food will be more productive when converged with these things or that people start to realize we really do relate to food in fundamental ways that shapes our everyday behaviors that impacts the world.

Recently, the Food Law Society at Harvard Law School hosted a conference on our food policy. The Ivy League crowd discussed healthy diets, federal agricultural laws, hunger, and how to encourage healthy eating; it highlighted the need to increase access to cheap, healthy food and to rebrand healthy food as something with more mass appeal than the trendy foodie’s crave to be special.

Legal and economic issues were the focus; and “the U.S. hunger paradox” was specifically addressed. I guess the idea that there is more food to go around in our country, more cheaply than any nation in history, yet more people are going hungry seems to be at odds with the availability.

The problem, as Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s Co, explained, is that we have so much cheap (fossil fuel driven and subsidized) food that people who can afford to buy can afford to waste; it’s so cheap that many people throw good food out unconcerned. On the other side, Rauch said, the poor either can’t afford healthy food or have no access to healthy choices, thus leading to malnutrition, obesity, and other related health problems. These are also people likely to be without health insurance, and visit the ER rooms often without paying the bills – driving up the cost of health care on all fronts.

Jennifer Pomeranz, the director of legal initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, criticized the restaurant industry for lobbying to keep calorie counts off of menus. therefore worsened access and understanding to healthy food.

Freya Williams and Graceann Bennett—two executives at OgilvyEarth, observed that environmental sustainability and healthy eating is seen by the football loving macho mentality nation as “feminine” or “for rich elitist snobs and crunchy granola hippies” as hindrances to greater sustainability. The apparent “gayness” of eating less meat and less good old American fast food means generations of inspiring the wrong kind of eating habits and the foodie mentality prevents the healthy eating trends from taking root in the moderate middle class mentality.

There are no real and easy answers. Even with a lot of market cash and advertising powers, men will not think of being sustainable and healthy. That is just not the manly thing to do. Many manly things, however, appears to be counterintuitive and retarding our process of evolution. What is a man to do in this manly world?

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