Enough With the Bad News – 11 Great Food Developments This Year

persimmons

This is a guest post by Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD.

I got myself worked into a lather, one that had been brewing for weeks. Mr. Mom’s Kitchen came home to find me ranting. Not about the usual business of damp towels left on bedroom floors or backpacks and other assorted school gear strewn across the living room. This time it was about KFC, the fast food purveyor of all things fried chicken. It was the KFC “Go Go” cup that got to me. A generous plastic “to go” cup filled with fried finger foods marketed as a snack….something to plunk into your car cup holder perhaps, to nibble on as you go about your errands.

A snack? At nearly 600 calories and 28 grams of fat?

My ire had been percolating over other food-related matters, too, like the fact that teenage soft drink consumption is higher than ever, owing in large part to multi-million dollar ad campaigns targeting this lucrative market. Teens’ bones are still forming, people. Leave them alone! And then there’s all the news of late about food waste while much of our country lacks enough to eat.  Heartbreaking.

I wanted to share all this with you and more. Get you in on my rant, feel the frustration, share your own.

But then I remembered something very wise from New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof when I heard him speak several years ago. He was on tour for his book Half the Sky, which portrays stories of hope among some of the most oppressed populations in the world.  He said that focusing on the negative doesn’t motivate change. It causes the public to throw their hands up and ask, “What’s the point?”

So rather than sit for another second on what is so upsetting about the troubling American food culture, I’d like to focus on the hopeful bits. The “moving in the right” direction stuff. We are into the holidays now, it seems only right.

So, I gathered up everything I could think of that is GOOD NEWS and I’m here to lay it on you. If you have some good news that I’ve overlooked, please lay it on me. Maybe if we focus on the positive, over time it will bulldoze what’s really lousy.

1. Growing Your Own 
Let’s start with that gorgeous bowl of persimmons. It’s from my backyard tree. What could be more hopeful, especially since growing your own food is good for body, soul, and planet. Interest in homesteading — whether planting an herb garden or playing hostess to a couple of egg-laying chickens  – is generating as much interest as ever.  That’s really good news.

2. A Decline in Childhood Obesity
After decades of rising rates of obesity among children, several US cities reported a reversal of the trend this year. And obesity among low-income pre-schoolers dropped in 18 states. These are promising signs that the tide may be beginning to turn.

3. A Boost to Farmer’s Market Access
In 2008 just 750 farmer’s markets across the country accepted SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). Last year the number was up to 3,200 markets, and rising. That means folks who rely on government benefits can choose to spend their food dollars on farm fresh produce. That’s good for them and good for the farmers.

4. Improvements in School Food 
Although school lunch programs have a ways to go, stories abound about efforts to start gardening programs, source from local farms, set up salad bars in cafeterias, and improve the overall offerings for our kids. Most encouraging  are strict new requirements that effectively kick the likes of high-sugar drinks, snack cakes, cookies, and potato chips out of school vending machines and snack carts. Hurrah.

5. Happier Kids Meals 
McDonald’s banished soda from Happy Meals this year. It’s now water, milk, or 100 percent fruit juice.  Tiny victory.

7. Redefining the Convenience Store
Enough with the nachos, hot dogs, and Big Gulps at corner stores, there’s a new kid in town. This year saw the launch of a fresh approach to the convenience store called Green Zebra. Started in Portland, Oregon with big plans for expansion, this new concept runs under the motto, “We only have room for the good stuff.” Take that 7-11.

8. Sliding Soft Drink Sales 
While soda intake among teens continues to rise, overall consumption of non-diet sodas is on the  decline, with notable progress among children ages 2 to 11. Perhaps the teens will catch on to what their younger peers are up to. Let’s hope.

9. Increasing Organics
The organic food market is predicted to continues its rise, with significant annual growth predicted for the next several years. While organic labeling isn’t perfect, it is one of the few guarantees that food is raised or grown without using synthetic pesticides, genetically modified ingredients, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Hopefully this rise will also make buying organic a little more available and affordable.

10. Banishing the Bad Stuff
Efforts are underway by the FDA to ban trans fats from the food supply altogether. That means you will no longer have to look for those “partially hydrogenated fats” when you read food labels because they won’t be in there. Fingers crossed.

11. Helping HEALTHY Foods Compete 
Healthy foods can now compete on a more level playing field with junk food adversaries when it comes to marketing to kids. Growers and retailers of fresh fruits and vegetables can use the Sesame Street characters to market to kids FOR FREE. No licensing necessary. Who needs Beyonce when you’ve got Big Bird.

What good news in food do you have? Even your 5-year-old gobbling down his broccoli counts in my book. Share!
Katie Sullivan Morford is a freelance food and nutrition writer, registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition, and cooking teacher. She is the author of her blog Mom’s Kitchen Handbook and the cookbook Best Lunch Box Ever. To know more about Katie, check out her website!

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  • Joy

    Thanks for posting! Whole Foods announcing mandatory labeling of GMOs in the works was a great change this year too!

    • Katie

      Agreed. Let’s hope they are the first of many to make this kind of commitment..

  • InfiniteOnion

    Boy, remember when pizza in a cup was an idea stupid enough to be a punchline in a Steve Martin movie about an idiot, now it’ll probably be the next big thing.

    Dibs on the patent!

  • monikarobinski

    This year, I’m sorry to say that in my little world I didn’t see any improvements. I feed my baby girl organic products and hope for her future to be better food-wise than contemporary kids’. My stepson’s teacher fed them sweets as a reward for any tiny thing, even like throwing trash in the trash can, where it belongs anyway… When we asked for no more sweets as rewards, she said that it was just to warm kids up (for 3 months?), so finally the sweets ended in the classroom, but the lunch menu started looking more like the old menu, with more and more crap in it. We started packing lunches, to get to know that now every child gets a cheap piece of crap-pie, no matter if he/she has packed lunch or hot lunch. To be honest I’m discouraged and feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle.

    • Katie

      That does sound discouraging. Good for you for requesting no more sweets in the classroom.

  • SixCatFaerie

    Hi!

    We recently purchased a Nutri-Bullet. We are getting organic fresh/frozen fruits & veggies into our diets for the first time in years. We are seeing & feeling a difference!

  • Beth Rosen

    This is wonderful. Nice to see the good things. Next year I hope to see the HFCS ban and a GMO label law go into effect.

  • jadegreen_eyz

    I subscribe to FDA and CPSC alerts. This morning I received an FDA alert stating, “Phasing Out Certain Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals.” It is a voluntary program but a step in the right direction.

  • Dandy

    There are 8 fast food places in a 2 block radius of our high school. That doesn’t include the grocery store deli or the 3 mocha places. Thankfully my boys don’t eat it everyday and are concerned about their health.