Last week Food Standards Scotland launched a new initiative called Let’s Change our Future. In essence it’s all about changing our snacking habits so we can all be healthier. Personally, I don’t like the name so I’m going to call it “Drop it, Swap it” as it sounds more exciting.
The campaign on the whole is quite a good one, especially in a country where a staggering number of us are overweight and suffer from type 2 Diabetes. It highlights the reasons why we need to take control of our snacking habits and offers tips and hints to make your eating healthier.
Yet despite the obvious need for healthier eating in our population I think the campaign misses the mark. It completely ignores the common causes of poor snacking, putting the sole blame and responsibility on the eater. Yes, the individual has a very important part to play but corporations, governments and society also have roles in creating a healthier Scotland.
I know we all need to think about what we put in our body. And we do have to take responsibility for the choices we make, but what we have access to munch on can be a huge indicator of our wealth, healthy, social standing and education.
It’s one thing to tell people off for eating poorly, but cost, availability, and the continued lack of education about healthy purchasing and a severe lack of cooking skills also has to be a very big part of any campaign and a big consideration. Tackling one issue is only a band-aid solution; or actually, just preaching to the converted.
What happens when low nutrition processed snack items are so much more economical than healthy fruit, vegetables, nuts and “healthier”processed options? A family or individual on a small budget will most likely look to see how much their pound / dollar / Euro / whatever, stretches. If you were hungry, would you buy, a small bag of nuts or a pack of 10 crisps? Though bad for you, at least you would get 10 portions of crisps rather than a single one of nuts. For a struggling family, it really is a no brainer. A full tummy is better than a rumbling one.
And what happens still when your local shop, sandwich bar, softplay, cafe or leisure centre only stocks high fructose, sugar and fat laden items? This is often the case. Look at your local pool – vending machines filled with sugar and salt. Your local small retailer, if it’s anything like my local, probably only has a very limited selection of healthy options (over-ripe tomatoes and bananas). And softplay, don’t get me started. Trapped indoors with no recourse to eating your own food you’re at the mercy of their menu, generally with barely a piece of fruit available!
I get it, supply and demand. Perhaps our communities don’t care, understand or know how poor snacking options are or how their choices affect health. Or maybe its all economical. Perhaps still there’s an interest in change but they don’t know how. It’s all well and good to say “there’s so many healthy alternative recipes on Pinterest. Go cook those”. But with a clear digital divide, information literacy issues, as well as general literacy issues, the huge expense of buying the “alternative” ingredients and a lack of cooking confidence, there’s no way the middle-class pursuit of vegan, raw, gluten-free, sugar-free or whatever you espouse to, will be taken up by a family where cooking can be expensive, difficult or perhaps not even pursued.
So what’s the solution? I don’t know. Yes, it’s good to have a campaign where people are encouraged to eat more healthily and to consider what they put in their mouth. But will this campaign permeate to the communities that really need it? Will there be a change in vending machine stock or different items available in softplay or cafes? Most likely not.
I’m not much of an activist or someone who puts their voice out there in any political way, but I do feel this issue is important. Here are my suggestions of ways to become active to help create a better, healthier community:
- Teach your child about the importance of healthy eating. I don’t believe its about complete denial of foods, it’s about reducing portion sizing and making sure they eat a balanced diet with as much colour, texture and taste as possible.
- Work with your child to learn about healthy foods. Introduce them to new foods; show them pictures, go to your local grocery store or farmers market and let them touch, smell and taste items. (Okay this assumes you have confidence in doing this. But if you don’t have the confidence, speak to someone who can help).
- Work with your child’s nursery or school to get them to teach about healthy eating, different foods and to start cooking confidence.
- Contact your local politician, councillor or whoever makes decisions near you to find out whether there are any healthy eating initiatives by the city / province / state/ district, whatever. If there aren’t petition to have some started.
- Volunteer with a healthy eating initiative, anti-poverty group, literacy group or cooking group to help build skills in your local community and try and build a more knowledgeable community where poverty doesn’t restrict healthy eating.
- If you’re a restaurant owner, cafe owner or food supplier, take a look at the amazing work EveryTable is doing to make healthy food more affordable for those who need it (NowThis Video). Consider taking up this way of working for your own business.
These are my own suggestions but I’m sure there’s plenty more we can all do to help make communities healthier. Yes, “drop it, swap it” and consider what goes into your mouth, but let’s also try and make our communities healthier by taking pride in them, helping upskill them and ensuring there’s availability of affordable healthy food.
Forks and pens at the ready – get on out there!