We parted ways after near two hours of an easy-flowing conversation. I was with Dr. Yoni Freedhoff; a Medical Doctor, an author, a professor, a blogger, and a family man.
I’ve had a difficult time choosing what parts of our conversation I should incorporate into the written interview, which also happens to be my closing piece for the nutrition month project. We talked about the movement to reclaim words and associated research done by Tom Wadden, using food as a reward for children, black and white thinking, vicarious goal fulfillment and the time it really takes to make a change.
Dr. Freedhoff shared many resonating thoughts with me and two stood out.
- Change takes time, even though many things happen fast. It could take 50-100 years for us to actually change the food environment.
- Aim for strategic foundational change.
I asked him about #saltshaming, a collaborative idea between another dietitian and myself. To salt shame restaurants that have high sodium entrees in hopes of pushing them to reduce the salt (maybe trans fats and sugars) in their dishes. His simple response made me think. It made me think really hard. He asked me why would I focus on a campaign attempting to make a restaurant lower sodium in their food when I could instead focus a campaign on getting people out of the restaurants.
Convince people to cook at home more frequently.
What happens if restaurants lower the amount of sodium in entrees? Chances are they’ll use it to encourage people to eat there more often. Eating out more probably isn’t in the best interest of the public.
Dr. Freedoff explained that the idea of eating out should be done regularly is problematic. He sees sodium as a downstream problem and the upstream issue is cooking and prioritizing healthy living above other things.
The inconvenient truth of it all is that it requires effort. A lot of effort.
We talked about the various barriers to healthy eating. There are too many to list.
Do your kids learn about home economics in school or are you going to have to teach them at home?
We already do. They started cooking with us when all they could do was hold a spoon. Each week they [his three daughters] take turns menu planning. It teaches them the value of cooking and gives them the ability to pick things that they like.
I’d say 85% of the food we eat is made from fresh whole ingredients inside the home. We’re trying to teach our kids that kitchens are important and healthy places where you can have fun as a family and they can be lovely, nurturing and exciting. You can create something, have fun and eat together.
Our kids take turns preparing the menu for the entire week including all meals and snacks. It teaches them menu planning and again the value of cooking. We’re living the life we want our kids to live and that includes treating their body with respect. Getting them keen in the kitchen is crucial.
Are there rules for the menu planning?
There are no real rules but if they put down pizza night it means we make pizza at home, not takeout. They know the foods we tend to serve and to date they haven’t requested new meals. We make new recipes weekly and we do family ratings. If the meal gets a unanimous score of 4/5 [a 5 finger scoring system] or above it goes into our meal rotation.
I had someone recently tell me that teaching the various facets of nutrition in school is as important as teaching maths and sciences. What do you think about that?
I don’t know how you would quantify that in terms of importance.
I do think that schools fail miserably at teaching Home Economics and that’s not just food. It’s budgeting, critical analysis, and things that if we could do a better job of teaching kids it would have real value for them. Teaching kids to understand the value of dollars, spending, budgeting is very important and we don’t do it. Teaching kids about nutrition, cooking, and health, are also important and we don’t do it. How you decide what’s more valuable than another thing, I don’t know.
What I’d love to see stop in schools is the use of food as a reward. It’s ridiculously pervasive and it starts in kindergarten and it should never exist at all and that’s something I believe we can change over time. Before I worry about home economics in school lets start by not teaching kids that food rewards every little deed.
We talked about eagerness and wanting things to change faster than they will change. In short, he told me to be patient.
I’ve heard that before…
So it could take fifty to one hundred years for change?
It’s short. We’ve been around for quite a while as a species and the amount of change we’ve seen around food, health and nutrition in the past twenty years [is immense] … there has been a positive change. I think the pace we’re tackling food right now is faster than the pace that we saw when people first started tackling tobacco.
I do. I’m heartened by it.
What about the menu labeling law (and debate) that’s going on in USA, do you think it’s useful to label calories?
We know it’s useful. What I mean by that is menu calories matter to those who care. The studies are clear, for the people who self-identify as caring about this before they walk into the restaurant, labels will make a big difference on their ordering. It also makes a difference to the people who don’t care in a sense that a lot of restaurants have reformulated as a consequence of the labeling laws and they may end up getting fewer calories due to the reformulation.
The then question becomes is it important or valuable to make more people care? I don’t know that there’s a clear-cut answer to that. How you teach things matters. I worry about teaching calories as dichotomously good and bad without context. I think that there are good and bad foods [and calories] but that’s a ridiculously simplistic way to dumb down the debate that food has an impact on health.
How they roll out the inevitable public health campaign that would go along with the menu board calories is important. If they do come out as everyone should be aiming below this number [of calories], I think that could be potentially problematic.
I do think knowing the calories is a piece of information with which people can make more informed decisions.
Do you think one person can make a change in public health policy?
Absolutely. There are examples throughout history. I think loud voices can make a change over time but it takes a long time. These things can’t change quickly, national policies and school policy change takes a lot of time and effort.
I just learned that Canada is the only G8 country…
Without a school food program.
I guess he knew that was coming…
It would be good!
It would be good depending on what it was. It seems like a no-brainer but only if they are serving good foods.
We closed our conversation discussing the societal stigma of weight, pondering whether it is ingrained in us or if we are teaching children at a young age. He told me how much he enjoys working with his patients and about 6 X 16, a food industry sponsored cooking and food literacy program seeking to teach kids how to cook six meals by the time they are 16 years old.
Dr. Freedhoff gave me some great advice about being a passionate young professional. Trying to find the balance between passion, drive, and making changes. You must have room to compromise to take small steps that will eventually lead to large changes.