Our Western world has never been so well informed about food, nutrition and its impact on health as it is today. When it comes to making the “right” eating choices, however, all this knowledge bears little weight if one can judge—for instance—by the relentless worsening of the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
This is because dietary norms are deeply rooted in social values. And just as social values are difficult and slow to change, so are our eating habits.
“Food rules are never really about food, they express cultural values”, Charlotte Biltekoff, an associate professor of American Studies at UC Davis Food Science & Technology Program, said recently at an event in Berkeley. The small crowd in attendance had come to watch a documentary in the making about the story of the school lunch revolution at the local Unified School District (BUSD). I can only speculate that most people present were internally nodding in quiet assent, as BUSD is the first district in America who starting offering fresh, cooked-from-scratch, nutritious meals to its students (82.4% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches) after a ten-year parent-led campaign.
“Dietary ideals express social ideals—what it means to be a good citizen and a good person”, she added. The war-time propaganda in America, for instance, graphically portrayed the unhealthy doughnut-eater as a traitor and a Hitler supporter.