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Is there safe food in your future?

May 11, 2011

The “future of food” conference recently held at Georgetown University managed the miss the biggest “food” policy problem of all — too  many people still don’t have enough of it.

While “food policy experts” (and at least one poet, pictured here) gathered at one of the nation’s ivy-covered colleges to extol the virtue of biodynamic heirloom produce, tens of millions Americans were wondering whether they would simply have enough food to eat. Today, 44 million Americans — including 1 in 4 children — are depending upon food stamps for their basic nutritional needs. And, food prices are rising.

What did the “experts” say? Let them eat (flourless, organic, locally processed) cake.

Some panelists did offer that policymakers should expand access to healthy choices by providing incentives to build grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods. But, few mentioned the rising cost of basic staples — or the need to reform trade, farm, and energy policies to simply make food more affordable during the worst economic downturn in 70 years.

Thanks to a new project by Feeding America, we know that roughly 16% of the people living near Georgetown — and within sight of the White House and the Capitol — are struggling with hunger. Is there food in their future?

By and large, the “experts” also managed to miss another important question: how do we make food safer?

As food lawyer Bill Marler noted:

Food safety as I live it was not on the agenda.  In fact, the only time it was discussed was when Barbara Kowlazcyk (the mother profiled in Food Inc. who lost her son to E. coli O157:H7) asked speakers on one of the panels about food safety as she lives it.  The response was the same response that I hear often — “know your farmer, know your food” – “if you can look your farmer in the eye, you know the food is safe.”  To me, it is not a satisfactory answer, not to Barbara or the 48,000,000 Americans who are sickened, the 125,000 who are hospitalized or to the families and friends of the 3,000 who die each year because of foodborne illness.

The conference served as a useful reminder that, for the most part, the much ballyhooed “food revolution” is largely occurring in the minds (and the fancy restaurants and farmers markets) of elites.

Of most, most Americans are not food revolutionaries. Most simply want safe, affordable food that tastes good, according to a new survey.

Here’s what actual Americans are saying:

  • Taste still prevails as the number-one motivator for food and beverage selections.
  • More Americans report that the price of food is a significant factor in how they are making food purchasing decisions.
  • Americans continue to be interested in learning about healthful foods. But, significantly fewer Americans are concerned with their weight status this year, according to the survey.

Filed under: Product Safety

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