Food: Tradition and Nutrition Meet in the Middle

Food and festivity are steeped in tradition at my house.  Certain menus are flexible.  Christmas Eve dinner rarely repeats itself.  Others are sacrosanct; Christmas Day brunch is fixed in stone.  Homemade toffee is made, packaged and shipped across the country.  New Year’s Eve’s has me cooking Chinese out of Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee’s The Chinese Cookbook.  Originally published in 1972, my copy is now held together with rubber bands. 

Food, at this time of year, is less about nutrition than it is emotion.  Dietary restrictions become recommended guidelines, save the attention to our beloved vegetarians.  I am certainly not unique.  We are creatures of habit and seem to love a full spread on the table.  And now there is a bright light shining on all things food related.  Sunday’s Washington Post featured multiple articles on food, rounding out a week of heavy press coverage that tells an interesting story of our relationship with food.

Innovation is trending.  No longer is an egg always an egg.  Last week we witnessed David’s defeat of Goliath with Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek, claiming victory over “Big Food” and the FDA.  (See How little ‘ Just Mayo’ took on big egg and won. ) “Big food” is not a fan of Josh’s Just Mayo, which in fact is vegan and contains absolutely no egg, but instead uses a plant-based substitute.  At the end of the day, lawsuits, secret emails, and a warning letter from the FDA saying the name and labeling may be misleading to consumers buying mayonnaise couldn’t bring the innovator down.  Just Mayo is just that, required to make a few tweaks to its label to please regulators.  My Sunday Post and New York Times carried yet another full-page ad by Tetrick, thanking the FDA.

Innovation juxtaposed with getting back to the basics in I ate only unprocessed foods for a year, by Megan Kimble.  Megan made her own flour, cultured yogurt and canned tomatoes, immersing herself in the science of processing, food transportation issues, energy consumption and pesticide use.  Her biggest challenge was financial.  Americans spend five to six percent of disposable income on food, in contrast to ten to fifteen percent in other developed nations.  Megan ended up spending 27% of her income ($4.50/meal) during her year of eating.  She notes that the SNAP program pays roughly $1.40/meal.

Five myths about gluten, articulated the scientific differences between Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and was followed by a discussion of Bee Wilson’s book, First Bite on How we form our food preferences and how we can change them.  Delving into the question of whether nurture or our nature dictates our food preferences, she concludes genes play a prominent role.  Babies, faced with healthy food choices at age four to seven months, love flavor.  Our relationship with food can change it seems, even for those who are orthorexic, and have an unhealthy obsession with healthy foods.  As the author says, there is hope for those seeking to “rediscover the beauty of food.”  If you need inspiration to find your joy for food, I suggest a quick read of We got 13 chefs to admit their secret comfort foods.

Food is news, big news, which is good news for the consumer and the improved health of our nation.  Your table is a reflection of values, traditions and yes, preferences, some of which are best to enjoy once a year.   Express your gratitude for Aunt Bessie’s Jell-O recipe and embrace the vegetable too.  Whole foods equal total love.  I’m off to my kitchen.

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Biography: Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association, is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration.

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