Growing up in the Bay Area, one is surrounded by some of the most food-conscious eaters in the United States. Despite moving back to my birthplace, Washington, DC, at age 11, my love for “Californian” cuisine and the use of fresh and healthy ingredients remained fully intact. Luckily, my mother fully supported and encouraged healthy eating, always choosing organic produce and making my sister and I meals from whole foods. However, it was my semesters abroad while in college that truly transformed my attitude towards food. During the fall of 2011, I studied at the University of Cape Town, where I took advantage of South Africa’s abundance of quality yet inexpensive produce, choosing to make the majority of my meals myself. The following spring, I moved to Madurai, India, where I lived with a host family — and was let into the kitchen all of one time. While I missed the freedom of choosing what and when I ate, my host mother fed me a very traditional and balanced (and delicious!) diet of South Indian dishes, which she would often spend all day preparing. Seeing the disparity between the meals I ate with my host family and the new, Western foods often advertised on billboards and television commercials — Come try the McAloo!, for example — eventually inspired my decision to study changing food and lifestyle patterns happening in India’s urban centers during my semester in India as well as for my year-long senior thesis.
I’m excited to be a part of the Healthy Planet team because I wholeheartedly believe in their mission: to inspire a new generation of conscious eaters — conscious being the operative word. We, as a population, have become completely removed from our food system, notably in knowing where our food comes from or if it’s really food at all. With the advent of processed foods, unpronounceable ingredients have become the norm — and that is not okay. Healthy Planet is about educating people about the food industry in order for them to make informed choices about what they are eating; at Healthy Planet, healthy food means real food. Michael Pollan has said many wise words about what and how to eat, but at the most basic level: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
One of the problems I have with our current food system is the mixed messages surrounding portion sizes and serving sizes that seem to constantly confuse consumers. Over the past few decades, food portions have undergone serious inflation. On the one hand, you have the infamously large portions served at restaurants, particularly chain franchises (which are problematic on a number of other levels, but that’s another story). On the other hand, you have what appear to be single-serving-sized items — bags of chips and “healthy” juice drinks, alike — that contain multiple “servings.” While labels do portray this, we have become confused about what a healthy-sized portion looks like. Until consumers understand the true meaning of a “serving” and until restaurants and labeled food can start serving us appropriate amounts of food, our food system will remain broken — while our waistlines will continue to grow.
Annie Demarest is an Marketing Intern at Healthy Planet US. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @anniedemarest