If you are going to dedicate an issue to food, few are more qualified or more interesting than the man on our cover. We had the distinct pleasure of chatting with John Mackey, Founder and CEO of Whole Foods, a man who has had a profound effect on eating and nutrition in Austin and across America. His view of the future of our health and its relationship to our diet and lifestyle is not only fascinating, but inspiring. So check it out!
Speaking of healthy food, even if you know what that is, can you find it? Despite all the efforts of Whole Foods and others to make healthy foods available to all, there is a debate about its accessibility. By accessibility, we mean both logistically and financially. Is healthy food available to the masses? Are “food deserts” real? Are healthy foods more expensive than junk foods or are we just using this position and our desire for “quick and easy” as an excuse?
If this were a simple problem with simple answers, we would have solved it long before now. The complexity crosses not only political, business and individual ground, but is entrenched in our basic American personality. Without regurgitating the research data, I will posit some of the more critical observations.
First, physical access to healthy foods can be an issue, but maybe not as significant as some data may represent. While there clearly are neighborhoods that lack easy access to grocery store chains, other options such as farmers markets, local small grocery stores and even mobile produce markets offer healthy food alternatives. While the density of “quick service” restaurants seems to be overwhelming, we generally drive to them (why else would all of them have drive in windows). If you have to drive to these restaurants, you might just as well drive to a grocery store and buy fresh, unprocessed food.
Then there is the question of cost. The general consensus seems to be that quick-preparation processed food, whether purchased at a restaurant or a grocery store, is cheaper than real food. Yet studies of food costs have shown that you can feed a family for less by purchasing healthy foods than processed, nutrient-poor foods. And here’s the but…..but you have to take the time to select it and prepare it and it has been demonstrated that both shopping and preparation for healthy foods takes longer than for unhealthy meals.
No one would deny that we have a real food crisis in this country. The results are obvious. The good news is that many organizations are working hard to provide healthier options. Wal-Mart has committed to make healthy foods accessible to all, Jason’s Deli and Taco Bell are driving hard to eliminate transfats and sodium, and the government is pushing programs and policies to promote healthy eating. For some, these actions border on the nanny-state and infringement on individual rights. For others, its just good corporate and public policy.
Regardless of your view, the reality is that, increasingly, you can access healthy foods at a quick-service restaurant, a fine dining facility, your local grocery store or chain, or a food trailer. The real issue is one of choice. You pick the meal, its ingredients, size, and, ultimately, its healthiness.
So why do we so often make the wrong choice? Lots of reasons. Many unhealthy foods are fundamentally addictive; cooking is work and often inconvenient; it’s quicker to eat unhealthy; being served is a reward after a long and tiring day. No doubt all legitimate points, and even though changing our culture and personal habits may be hard, the alternative is much worse. My counsel is to really think about what you put in your body. Your food fuels your health, so make those choices count because effectively, “you are what you eat!”
Keep Austin Fit,