Paleo, gluten-free, raw, vegan, whole food, sugar-free, or is it fructose-free? Is dairy essential or harmful? Why are legumes in the ‘foundation layer’ of the Healthy Eating Pyramid and condemned by paleo advocates? When did choosing an oil to cook with become harder than buying a pair of shoes? Hallelujah to fats making a comeback, but you’ll need to do a short-course in order to navigate them.
If you are stressed and confused about what foods your child should be eating, you are not alone. Here are three reasons why parents are divided on food.
1. Parents have lost faith in Australian food authorities.
Organisations such as Nutrition Australia, the Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA), the Heart Foundation, and the Health Star Rating System, are meant to be our beacon of light to choosing healthy foods. But the conflicts of interest within these groups can no longer be ignored. How are we meant to trust Nutrition Australia’s recommendation to consume dairy when they are partnered with Dairy Australia? How are we meant to trust the DAA’s recommendation to consume grains when their corporate partners include Arnotts, Nestle, and the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum? It is no secret that the day McDonalds received their ticks from the Heart Foundation, was the day the tick died. The phasing out of the tick was perfectly timed with the phasing in of the Health Star Rating System, a system that awarded Milo a 4.5 health star rating. I’ll just let that sit there for a moment.
If the DAA want to educate people on the importance of consuming grains, they will have to do better than ‘whole grains are full of nutrients for healthy bodies, with a great flavour and texture’, because chocolate also contains nutrients and has a great flavour and texture, and I know which one I would rather eat for breakfast.
2. The people advocating for change can’t agree on the changes and are setting the benchmark too high.
Every ‘diet’ has its own list of compliant foods (and usually a few loyal advocates on Facebook who take policing of that list very seriously – another post maybe). Paleo followers will eat raw honey, sugar-free followers run from it. Rice is a great alternative if you are gluten-free, but if you’re paleo it’s a no-no. Depending on who you follow on Facebook, butter is back. Obviously not if your vegan or paleo, although some paleo followers do consume butter, as long as it's grass-fed. It’s messy, and a big ask to expect parents to step away from the comfort of the healthy eating pyramid and self-educate.
It’s also worth considering whether the food Gods (Pete Evans, Sarah Wilson, every naturopath with a Facebook account etc) leading change are setting the benchmark too high for the average family. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve unfollowed a food blog because I got sick of seeing photos of their children eating wild-caught fish and organic kale for breakfast…I’d have one dollar. My point is, they need to get real if they want to make changes that will stick. If parents are going to give up the convenience of cereal and toast in the mornings, they need quick alternatives that their kids will actually eat. Less posts about ‘the importance of nut activation’, and more ‘scrambled eggs in 30 seconds’.
Extreme representations of food ‘lifestyles’ in the media are scaring off a large portion of parents who are trying to make healthy changes while remaining in the real world, which brings me to my final point.
3. Journalists are failing to fulfil their role as watchdog
We get it, some food advocates do things a bit differently. But while journalists are writing about Pete Evan’s irregular choice of sun protection, they are neglecting their important role of helping to keep influential and powerful individuals and institutions honest and accountable. Quality journalism is needed in order to make sense of the current food mess. It is the job of professional journalists to questions why so many people have lost faith in the authorities entrusted with our health, to question why someone like Pete Evans has more than 1.5 million followers on Facebook, and why that number is growing.
If Australia’s food authorities want to win back public trust, I suggest something outrageous, like independent, science-based, food advice. The food Gods leading change can do their part by not scaring everyone away with overwhelming amounts of information and constant social media updates showing us how much time they have to spend in the kitchen. Then all we need is a handful of good journalists to do their jobs, and we may finally be able to enjoy food again.
Tanya Bird is a freelance writer, mum, escapist. Into satire, procrastination, making lists and searching for missing pieces of Lego. She blogs at tanyabird.com and can be followed on Facebook @TanyaBirdFreelanceWriter.