Meanwhile, in the Grammar Crisis room....

Sunday, November 26, 2006

From the archives: Nutrition conference snarkiness

(Introduction: When I was a college student, I went to cover a health conference for a journalism class. The conference was (to me, at least) utterly ridiculous. I wrote the original story you saw here, looked at it, realized my professor would fail me if I handed it in, and wrote a wussy version instead. As I'm short of blog material, here it is for your amusement!)

It is a conference room like any other, devoid of significant distinguishing features. The chairs at the circular tables that populate the room are arranged so that they face the front of the room. The stage is appointed with chairs for an expert panel, a podium and a large projection screen.
It is in this room that the Third Annual Nutrition and Health Public Forum is being held.
The panel, hosted by the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and Columbia University’s Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Program for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is aimed to solve the question, once and for all, what good food is. The panel was composed of Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Marion Nestle, organic chef Dan Baber and Dr. Joan Gussow.
First to speak was Nestle, who, it must be noted, has a hilariously inappropriate name for a nutrition specialist. Dr. Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and, predictably, took an ill view of processed foods.
“When you choose foods, you’re voting with your fork,” said Nestle. Senior citizens in Florida appear to have problems with that voting mechanism, too. “We live in an environment that is conducive to eating unhealthily.”
She recommends eating less, moving more, eating more fruits and vegetables and not eating too much junk food. All of which places her at about the level of the moms of America when it comes to nutritional expertise. She also states that one should never buy food from the center aisles of a supermarket, nor should one buy a product with more than five ingredients, with unpronounceable ingredients, or comes in a box. Coincidentally, her book, “What to Eat,” happened to be coming out that week.
Next up was Dan Barber, who is an executive chef at Blue Hill and serves on Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Barber does not have much to say, really, besides providing an anecdote about almond carrots.
“The ultimate nutrition secret is that there is no secret,” said Barber. He failed to mention why, if there are no secrets, the audience needed three professors and a chef to tell it what’s healthy. He did say that, when it comes to organic eating, “elitism is a big issue.” When asked about the price of organic foods, he made note of the price of cable, which is now in most American households, and said “it’s a matter of priorities.” You should, presumably, make it your priority to eat food that tastes like dirt, was grown by hippies and costs four dollars more than the less rotten version on your supermarket shelves.
Dr. Joan Gussow of Columbia University spoke next. She believes that getting food from distant locations is one of the primary drivers of global warming, because shipping companies use a great deal of fossil fuels. This proves, once and for all, there is no subject on earth that cannot be more obnoxious by mentioning "global warming."
“What we eat has more effect on climate change than any other factor,” she said. “Only radical solutions can save us.”
So what is Gussow’s solution? Food supplies should be localized. She’s a strong proponent of growing one’s own food. This is good, as most Americans have been pining for the return of agrarianism. After all, who doesn’t miss the days of backbreaking labor and low life expectancy?
The final speaker is Dr.Andrew Weil, director of the program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine. Weil spoke about the relatively new field of nutritional medicine. The field, he says, has two main thrusts: optimal eating, and dietary change to prevent disease. He claims that, because of the relative health of New Yorkers, residents of the city have a “warped view” of nutrition, and that the rest of the country is in poorer shape.
Weil also had some harsh words for the fast food companies.
“When American fast food goes to foreign cultures, it becomes instantly popular, despite the presence of good food,” Weil said. “There is an analogy with the tobacco companies.”
(The analogy? "Tobacco is to hideously overblown health nut cause as fast food is to, well, hideously overblown health nut cause.)
While it is impossible to say if the conference made any effect on society in general, it made a profound effect on me. I immediately went to the nearest McDonalds franchise, and ordered the biggest damn burger I could find.


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