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The Importance of “Staying Put” to Advance Sustainable Food (Part II of III)

Posted by Lynn Miller on Wed, May 18, 2011

Continuing from yesterday’s initial post on the Washington Post’s Future of Food Conference…stay tuned for the third and final post tomorrow!

Policy’s role in sustainable food: Tom Vilsack was a surprise guest in the afternoon, and not surprisingly, people were chomping at the bit to ask him questions.  One particularly tense – but important – moment was when Laurie David questioned why if 80% of the antibiotics in our country go into animals, the government can’t step in to do something about it.  Vilsack insisted that policies exist to ensure the “judicious” use of antibiotics, but neither David nor the majority of the crowd seemed to buy it.

Vilsack remarked that President Obama’s first directive to him was, “Make sure the children are well fed.”  With 32 million meals provided across schools in the country, the government does have a role to play.  Many times, school meals are the only meals children from lower-income families will eat.  Vilsack commented on programs such as “Know your farmer, know your food”, policies that provide crop insurance to those who supply what lands on our tables, the government’s encouragement of food hubs and mobile slaughter houses, and the importance of promoting our exports.  Bethesda Green incubator company BKind would have liked to have heard Vilsack’s belief that school vending machines need makeovers with healthy options.  Vilsack closed by saying SNAP isn’t about assistance – it’s about nutrition.  Ninety percent of SNAP recipients are not getting cash welfare; rather, they are senior citizens, kids, and single working parents.

A dire situation with our nation’s children: The nation’s children are a vulnerable population with worrisome statistics.  To highlight a few: 17M kids live in food insecure homes; 17% of kids are obese; and 1 in 3 before the age of 5 is overweight or obese.  Such statistics mean that children are presenting with chronic diseases earlier in life and suffering from poor mental health.

Cmdr. Heidi Michels Blanck, Division Chief at the CDC, had one simple suggestion: provide water as a main beverage.  However, even that is a challenge.  Only half of US childcare centers have access to water for their children; that’s reprehensible in this country.

While Susan Crockett, VP and Senior Technology Officer, Health and Nutrition, from General Mills got a bit of flack from other panelists, she had one point I found compelling.  Everything the conference centered on essentially was preaching to the choir; General Mills is focusing on the 80% of those who aren’t choosing or must have healthy foods.  Its current strategy is “stealth health” – reducing sugar a gram at a time to recalibrate consumer palates so consumers don’t add additional sugar to their cereals or leave the category all together.  Sure, it’d be great if everyone chose healthy cereals – but they don’t.  So at least General Mills is doing something.

Next up: Part III:  The Bigger Picture and Words of Encouragement

–Adrienne Weil

Tags: CSR: Corporate Social Responsibility, Food Marketing, Washington DC Region: Green Business