An insightful take on America’s poor relationship with food, from Mark Bittman, February 8, 2011…
In recent weeks we’ve seen a big, powerful government agency, a big, powerful person and a big, powerful corporation telling us what to eat. Even with all this big, powerful input, we know nothing that we didn’t know last year. We do, however, have a new acronym; unfortunately, it’s not the one we need.
And a little progress. Limited kudos go to the United States Department of Agriculture, whose Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 — yes, it’s 2011, but they’re published every five years — are the best to date. We’re told to eat “less food” and more fresh foods; wise advice. But aside from salt, the agency buries mostly vague recommendations about what we should be eating less of: we’re admonished to drink “few or no” sodas — hooray for that — and “refined grains,” Solid Fats and Added Sugars. And there’s our fabulous acronym: SOFAS.
The problem, as usual, is that the agency’s nutrition experts are at odds with its other mission: to promote our bounty in whatever form its processors make it. The U.S.D.A. can succeed at its conflicting goals only by convincing us that eating manufactured food lower in SOFAS is “healthy,” thus implicitly endorsing hyper-engineered junk food with added fiber, reduced and solid fats and so on, “food” that is often unimaginably far from its origins. When it comes to eating more “good” food, the report is clear, because that can’t harm producers. When it comes to eating less of what’s “bad,” the language turns to “science,” because telling us which products to avoid — like a 3,000-calorie fast-food “meal” or a box of low-fat but chemical-laden crackers — would play badly with industry. Instead we’re told to avoid SOFAS. Where’s that SOFAS aisle?