The Environment and Food: A Conversation with Laurie David
By Gregg St. Clair, BA, MSTOM, LAc
In my last article, I wrote about overeating, obesity and its environmental impact. I'd like to expand on this topic with a short interview from one of our leading environmental activists - Laurie David.
Laurie is best known as the producer on "An Inconvenient Truth," the academy award-winning documentary featuring Al Gore.
I got a chance to meet Laurie at last summer's Omega Center, "Design by Nature" conference. The weekend focused on how we can preserve some of life's essentials such as food, water and shelter. Laurie was a keynote speaker and the author of a new book, "The Family Dinner."
David agreed to speak to me about a range of issues including the environment and staying healthy in the modern world.
St. Clair: Laurie, thank you for sharing your time with us. Your web site has a feast of environmental topics sure to satisfy the pickiest activist. What motivated you to write about the family dinner now in your career?
Laurie David: I had an epiphany one night sitting at my kitchen table. I realized, now that I am a seasoned mom of teenagers, that insisting on family dinner had turned out to be the most important activity my kids and I had done. Bar none! And all the issues I care about from raising healthy daughters to stopping global warming crossed the dinner plate.
SC: At the Omega Center Conference, you spoke about the benefits of the family dinner going way beyond the table. What's the bigger picture?
LD: The bigger picture is that so much more happens at the table then just the chance to pack in the protein. The dinner table is the place we civilize each other, where we learn vocabulary and debating skills. It's where our kids learn to listen and take turns. It is the place where the family gets to "purposely" be a family. It's were we get to fill each other up in a way no multivitamin can substitute.
SC: In my last column I wrote about the environmental and public cost of obesity. How can the family dinner help with these problems?
LD: It's not a coincidence that as family dinner has declined, our obesity rates have gone up dramatically. When you don't cook the food yourself, you really don't know what you are eating, but you can bet that it will be higher in fat, salt and sugar. Since half of all food we are eating is take-out, well you can see the problem. Of course, it's also about how we are eating as well as what we are eating. When you eat in front of a screen, well, that's fattening. When you eat standing up or in the car, chances are you're not eating well. Moreover, when you do dinner right, screens turned off conversation turned on, you almost always eat healthier portions and more nutritious food.
SC: In your book you mention steps and strategies to ensure successful family dinners. If you had to focus on one or two, what do you feel would be most beneficial?
LD: It's simple. Eat sitting down, phones and TVs off, and talk. I love to play verbal games at the table, so I suggest that too and my book has lots of ideas on that front. And remember, the same rules apply to the parents as apply to the kids!
SC: There always seems to be resistance to new things; such as health care reform. What's more difficult - getting a politician to admit there's global warming or getting kids to try a new vegetable?
LD: Well it goes back to the old chicken or the egg theory. What came first, the picky eater, or the parent indulging the picky eater? You have to remember that it can take your palate 10 or more times of trying something in order to start liking it. Parents give up too quickly. As for those climate diners, chances are they are in the pockets of the oil or coal industry.
SC: I recently read (in Reader's Digest of all places) that the FDA is strapped for time, money, resources, people and motivation. Does our government have the ability to steer the nation in a healthy direction, or will it have to come from the private sector?
LD: Both! Honestly, what we are feeding kids in schools, where they get about 40 percent of their calories, is criminal. So we need the USDA to change that. We need the government to legislate against using antibiotics for healthy farm animals, we need to stop allowing soda advertised on TV the same way we put our foot down on cigarettes. That is just a short list. And, we need families to make dinner time a priority again.
SC: When we met, I was impressed by your enthusiasm. I'm sure you are pulled in a million directions. What do you do to keep yourself healthy, centered and balanced?
LD: Family dinners of course! They are the highlight of my day, always!!
SC: One of the themes I took away from the conference was hope. What excites you now and what are you working on next?
LD: I am continuing to work on issues related to the environment and food safety – antibiotics in our meat, food-dyes, GMO's, and hoping to continue to inspire everyone to hold on to some of the rituals and values that our country was built on. Family dinner was once at the core of who we were as a nation, and it needs to be again.
SC: Most acupuncturists I know get into the profession because we are passionate about it and want to help people. What's your parting advice for those of us who want to help create a healthier future?
LD: I believe it's up to everyone to become an advocate. Pick your passion and spread the word within your circle of friends. And remember it's not about everyone doing everything, it's about each of us doing something. And then try to do a little more!
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