Tag Archives: food

Local Food Policy Councils: Innovative Solution or Steward of the Status Quo?

 

FPC meme

Food policy councils (FPCs) are a component of local food networks emerging across the United States that seek to coordinate policies affecting the various components of a food system. Food policies are often siloed within disparate government offices responsible for overseeing agricultural production, food processing and distribution, nutrition education, food residual recovery, and environmental protection (Clayton, Frattaroli, Palmer, & Pollack, 2015). The result is policies and programs that target problems in isolation, creating gaps and inefficiencies within the system as a whole (Harper, Shattuck, Holt-Giménez, Alkon, & Lambrick, 2009; Lang, Barling, & Caraher, 2009). This haphazard food policy environment contributes to the poor wages for food system workers, chronic hunger, diet-related diseases, environmental damage that impact community and individual well-being (Anderson, 2008; Neff, Palmer, McKenzie, & Lawrence, 2009; Lang, Barling, & Caraher, 2009). While specific goals of FPCs vary, their primary aim is to provide a place for a variety of stakeholders to engage in dialogue and act collectively on local food system development initiatives.

The number of active local FPCs is growing as a way for local communities to exercise their voice over policies that promote economic development, promote social justice, and reduce the prevalence of food insecurity (Clayton, Frattaroli, Palmer, & Pollack, 2015). However, few FPCs engage in systematic evaluation and little is known about their actual impact (Dharmawan, 2015; Harper, Shattuck, Holt-Giménez, Alkon, & Lambrick, 2009; Scherb, Palmer, Frattaroli, & Pollack, 2016; Sussman & Bassarab, 2016). Shared evaluation processes that elicit stakeholder participation are important elements of effective collective action on food policy strategies (Kania & Kramer, 2011; Ventura, 2013). Furthermore, because many food policy councils receive public support in the form of meeting space, volunteers from public agencies, and sometimes grant funding, it is important to understand how they engage in evaluation of their work and its impact on the public good.

Evaluation

Evaluation is process of systematic inquiry for judging the value, worth, or merit of a program or strategy (Cousins, Goh, Elliott, Aubry & Gilbert, 2014; King & Volkov, 2005). It can take on many forms, including measurement of needs, performance, programs processes, outcomes, and cost-benefit analyses. However, even when organizations manage to conduct evaluations, the results and recommendations are not always used to enhance organizational learning or improve performance. Even though evaluation reports are an important source of information that contribute to evidence-based policy-making, evaluation results have had little impact on political decision-making (Daigneault, 2014; Weiss, 1990). Evaluation capacity is important as part of the broader theories of empowerment, participatory, and utilization-focused evaluation in which the contributions of all stakeholders are solicited and valued in the evaluation process (Preskill & Boyle, 2008). Within empowerment evaluation theory, self-determination is fostered through a process designed to “help people help themselves and improve their programs using a form of self-evaluation and reflection (Fetterman, 2001, p. 3).”

Food policy initiatives warrant special attention when it comes to evaluation because of their ability to cause great benefit or great harm to society (Werkheiser, 2016). Outcomes such as innovation, inclusiveness, self-determination, and community empowerment should be factored into the evaluation measures of these new political spaces (Cohen & Reynolds, 2014; Werkheiser, 2016). However, few FPCs report engaging in evaluation of their networks or policy efforts (Dharmawan, 2015; Scherb, Palmer, Frattaroli, & Pollack, 2016; Sussman & Bassarab, 2016). Lack of time, funding, expertise, and low organizational priority are common constraints (Calancie, Allen, Weiner, Ng, Ward, & Ammerman, 2017; Webb, Pelletier, Maretzki, & Wilkins, 1998). Despite some recent advancements in self-assessment survey tools for FPCs, is important that individual councils and their stakeholders develop the internal capacity to design evaluation plans, criteria, and data collection methods that are meaningful in their particular context and promote engagement in the organizational learning process (Patton, 2008). Without consistent and credible evaluation, is unclear whether FPCs are truly promote sustainability, economic development, and social justice within local food systems.

Empowerment

The local food system movement has been criticized for its equation of the proximity or scale from which food is derived with desirable characteristics such as social justice, nutrition, quality, and environmental sustainability (Born, & Purcell, 2006). This un-reflexive conceptualization of local food systems can overlook elite privilege and contextual differences in food systems, which may undermine the movement’s ability to challenge existing structural inequities and affect meaningful change on a large scale (Allen, Fitz-Simmons, Goodman, & Warner, 2003; DeLind, 2011; Rice, 2015). Furthermore, food policy councils without a lens for equity may inadvertently reinforce existing privilege by overlooking opportunities to advocate for indirect policies that improve food security, such as living wages in food industries, land ownership, access to healthcare, and historical traumas (Hoey, Colasanti, Pirog, & Fink Shapiro, 2017). To address criticisms of the local food movement and demonstrate their value for improving economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and social justice, FPCs need to engage in transparent evaluation of their processes and outcomes. Evaluations can be used to determine program impact, inform future action, persuade stakeholders, and legitimize the existence of the council in the eyes of the community (Fleisher & Christie, 2009; Højlund, 2014; Patton, 2008).

Cookie-cutter approaches to evaluation and external experts are often perceived as inappropriate or unhelpful to local food policy councils. Empowerment and participatory are bottom-up evaluation methodologies that aim to bolster self-determination and community empowerment by actively involving food policy council members in evaluation decision-making (Fetterman, 2001; Patton, 2008). Effective empowerment processes and evaluation use require substantive participation from a diverse range of stakeholders (Cousins & Chouinard, 2012; Patton. 2008; Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015). Substantive participation refers to the broad, equitable, inclusive, and balanced representation of stakeholders whose needs are formally reflected in the official agenda of the organization to be actively involved in the collaborative process (Koski, Siddiki, Sadiq, & Carboni, 2016; Ventura, 2013, p. 21). The use of empowering processes and attention to substantive participation in institutional and community relationships promote well-being through fostering self-determination, respect for dignity, and expression of voice and choice in personal and social affairs (Prilleltensky, 2007).

So what? Evaluation Capacity & Food Policy Councils

It is easy to get excited about new solutions to the problems facing our food system. However, without systematic evaluation of these strategies, efforts can be misappropriated and distract from solutions capable of having a greater impact. Food policy councils are relativity new in the food system landscape and evaluation has so far been limited. Many councils focus on building relationships that increase awareness of and access to farmers’ markets, urban gardens, food pantries, and SNAP. While these are certainly valuable programs, they are largely reactionary or piece-meal solutions that overlook the root causes of chronic food insecurity, unintentionally reinforcing the status quo of food dependency. This begs the questions: are the strategies advanced by food policy councils making a substantial and worthwhile contributions to the improvement of local food environments and food security of marginalized communities? How sustainable or long-lasting are these improvements? And, given scarce resources, are there other programs or policies that would lead to more significant health outcomes at an equivalent or lower cost? Building the evaluation capacity of food policy councils and other collective impact networks in the food systems arena is one important action that could leverage the passion and commitment for a more just food system in ways that provide substantial benefit in terms of innovation, economic development, self-determination, and inclusive institutions. Systematic and consistent evaluation of food policy council strategies would provide the much needed evidence that they meaningfully impact their local communities.

 

References

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Allen, P., FitzSimmons, M., Goodman, M., & Warner, K. (2003). Shifting plates in the agrifood landscape: the tectonics of alternative agrifood initiatives in California. Journal of rural studies19(1), 61-75. DOI: 10.1016/S0743-0167(02)00047-5

Anderson, M. D. (2008). Rights-based food systems and the goals of food systems reform. Agriculture and human values25(4), 593-608. DOI: 10.1007/s10460-008-9151-z

Bjørnholt, B., & Larsen, F. (2014). The politics of performance measurement: ‘Evaluation use as mediator for politics’. Evaluation20(4), 400-411. DOI: 10.1177/1356389014551485

Born, B., & Purcell, M. (2006). Avoiding the local trap: Scale and food systems in planning research. Journal of planning education and research26(2), 195-207. DOI: 10.1177/0739456X06291389

Buchanan, D. R. (2000). An ethic for health promotion: Rethinking the sources of human well-being. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Calancie, L., Allen, N. E., Weiner, B. J., Ng, S. W., Ward, D. S., & Ammerman, A. (2017). Food policy council self-assessment tool: Development, testing, and results. Preventing chronic disease14(3), 1-14. DOI: 10.5888/pcd14.160281

Carman, J. G. (2007). Evaluation practice among community-based organizations: Research into the reality. American Journal of evaluation28(1), 60-75. DOI: 10.1177/1098214006296245

Clayton, M. L., Frattaroli, S., Palmer, A., & Pollack, K. M. (2015). The role of partnerships in US food policy council policy activities. PloS one10(4), 1-14. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0122870

Cohen N, & Reynolds, K. (2014). Urban agriculture policy making in New York’s ‘new political spaces’: strategizing for a participatory and representative system. Journal of Planning Education and Research in Rural Sociology and Development, 34, 221–234. DOI: 10.1177/0739456X14526453

Cousins, J. B., & Chouinard, J. A. (2012). Participatory evaluation up close: An integration of research-based knowledge. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cousins, J. B., Goh, S. C., Elliott, C. J., & Bourgeois, I. (2014). Framing the capacity to do and use evaluation. Organizational capacity to do and use evaluation: New Directions for Evaluation, 141, 7–23. DOI: 10.1002/ev.20076

Cousins, J. B., Goh, S. C., Elliott, C., Aubry, T., & Gilbert, N. (2014). Government and voluntary sector differences in organizational capacity to do and use evaluation. Evaluation and Program Planning44, 1-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2013.12.001

Daigneault, P. M. (2014). Taking stock of four decades of quantitative research on stakeholder participation and evaluation use: A systematic map. Evaluation and program planning45, 171-181. DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2014.04.003

DeLind, L. B. (2011). Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars?. Agriculture and human values28(2), 273-283. DOI: 10.1007/s10460-010-9263-0

Dharmawan, A. (2015). Investigating food policy council network characteristics in Missouri: A social network analysis study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/aa0b7fbd3316b8539a4748e3887428fc/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Emerson, K., & Nabatchi, T. (2015). Evaluating the productivity of collaborative governance regimes: A performance matrix. Public Performance & Management Review, 38, 717-747. DOI:10.1080/ 15309576.2015.1031016

Fetterman, D. M. (2001). Foundations of empowerment evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Fleischer, D. N., & Christie, C. A. (2009). Evaluation use: Results from a survey of USAmerican Evaluation Association members. American Journal of Evaluation30(2), 158-175. DOI: 10.1177/1098214008331009

Harper, A., Shattuck, A., Holt-Giménez, E., Alkon, A., & Lambrick, F. (2009). Food policy councils: Lessons learned. Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1-63. Retrieved from https://foodfirst.org/publication/food-policy-councils-lessons-learned/

Hoey, L., Colasanti, K., Pirog, R., & Fink Shapiro, L. (2017). Implementing Collective Impact for food systems change: Reflections and adaptations from Michigan. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Retrieved from http://foodsystems.msu.edu/uploads/files/JAFSCD-Implementing-Collective-Impact-March-2017.pdf

Højlund, S. (2014). Evaluation use in the organizational context–changing focus to improve theory. Evaluation20(1), 26-43. DOI: 10.1177/1356389013516053

Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 9(1), 36-41. Retrieved from http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.lano.org/resource/dynamic/blogs/20131007_093137_25993.pdf

Koski, C., Siddiki, S., Sadiq, A. A., & Carboni, J. (2016). Representation in collaborative governance: A case study of a food policy council. The American Review of Public Administration, 46(6), 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/0275074016678683

Labin, S. N. (2014). Developing common measures in evaluation capacity building: An iterative science and practice process. American Journal of Evaluation, 35(1), 107-115. DOI: 10.1177/1098214013499965

Lang, T., Barling, D., & Caraher, M. (2009). Food policy: integrating health, environment and society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Neff, R. A., Palmer, A. M., McKenzie, S. E., & Lawrence, R. S. (2009). Food systems and public health disparities. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition4(3-4), 282-314. DOI: 10.1080/19320240903337041

Nielsen, S. B., Lemire, S., & Skov, M. (2011). Measuring evaluation capacity—Results and implications of a Danish study. American Journal of Evaluation, 32(3), 324–344. DOI: 10.1177/1098214010396075

Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-focused evaluation. (4th ed.). St. Paul, MN: Sage Publications.

Preskill, H., & Torres, R. T. (1999). Building capacity for organizational learning through evaluative inquiry. Evaluation5(1), 42-60. DOI: 10.1177/135638909900500104

Prilleltensky, I. (2007) Empowerment and social justice: Values, theory and action [Video file]. Microtraining Associates. Retrieved September 4, 2017, from Academic Video Online: Premium

Rice, J. (2015). Privilege and exclusion at the farmers market: Findings from a survey of shoppers. Agriculture and Human Values, 32(1), 21-29. DOI: 10.1007/s10460-014-9513-7

Sadan, E. (1997). Developing a theory of empowerment. (R. Flanz, Trans.). Empowerment and Community Planning. (pp. 27-168). Tel Aviv, Israel: Hameuchad Publishers.

Scherb, A., Palmer, A., Frattaroli, S., & Pollack, K. (2016). Exploring food system policy: A survey of food policy councils in the United States. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development2(4), 3-14. DOI: 10.5304/jafscd.2012.024.007

Sussman, L., & Bassarab, K. (2016). Food policy council report 2016. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Retrieved from https://assets.jhsph.edu/clf/mod_clfResource/doc/FPC%20Report%202016_Final.pdf

Ventura, S. (2013). Wisconsin food systems council: A working white paper. Wisconsin Food Security Council. Retrieved from http://www.couleefoodsystem.org/uploads/ 2/6/6/1/26616725/wi_state_food_council.pdf

Webb, K. L., Pelletier, D., Maretzki, A. N., & Wilkins, J. (1998). Local food policy coalitions: Evaluation issues as seen by academics, project organizers, and funders. Agriculture and Human Values15(1), 65-75. DOI: 10.1023/A:1007408901642

Weiss, C. (1990). Evaluation for decisions: is anybody there? Does anybody care? In M. Alkin (Ed.) Debates on Evaluation (pp. 5-19). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Werkheiser, I. (2016). Food policies empowering democratic and epistemic self‐determination. Journal of Social Philosophy, 47(1), 25-40. Retrieved from https://philpapers.org/archive/WERFPE.pdf

 

Self-determination and Resiliency: The Case for Community-based Food Systems

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There are no unicorns, and there are no unicorn foods. This was the analogy given by an agricultural economist speaking on a panel about the future of our food system in reference to the fact that we as humans have multiple, and sometimes conflicting, values and needs that cannot be met by one perfect food. Since no one food, or one food system, is likely to live up to meet all of our needs, we ultimately need to make decisions and prioritize what is most important to us. Personally, I have oscillated through periods of shopping at farmers’ markets and supporting local food systems, and also periods of relying on grocery store chains to deliver the most convenient and economical source of daily sustenance. After the book Dark Money, by Jane Mayer, landed on my reading list this past summer, my commitment to community-based food systems once again strengthened as I reflected on the themes of self-determination and economic diversity.

Dark money is a detailed history that tells the story of a wealthy network of capitalists who have organized and funded a strategy to promote a neoliberal policy agenda aiming to capture the state and impose a new order around corporate interests. This strategy is designed by powerful business leaders to influence public opinion in support of policies that seek to privatize public goods, erode environmental and safety regulations, and suppress wages and labor rights, ultimately boosting corporate wealth and power at the expense of the public. Organizations, like the Koch Foundation, use their tax-exempt foundations to channel money to tax-exempt non-profits that champion their cause through research, advocacy, and public education. Or, as Kari Polanyi Levitt and Mario Seccareccia put it in their erudite commentary on the subject, these foundations foster the “proliferation of neoliberal think-tanks and other such lobby groups, often masquerading as research institutes that can hijack government policies at the local and national levels and end up almost as in camera advisors to elected representatives.”

This brings me back to our food system. Our predominate, commodity-based, food system has contributed to a dietary pattern disproportionately skewed toward a handful of artificially low-priced foods, namely wheat, corn, and processed meat products. Even within types of foods, variety has decreased. The varieties of cabbage grown, for instance, have decreased from 544 in 1903 to just 28 in 1983. In part, this has to do with innovation in seed production that provides farmers greater certainty in the quality of their product. But it is also the effect of a more highly consolidated food system that demands homogeneity in appearance and transport hardiness. All of this is associated with negative impacts on public health. While this system is arguably highly efficient in delivering calories, it is limited and fragile in its ability to provide workers with a living wage and ensure access to a diverse range of appropriate foods for large segments of the population. Further, its resilience over the long-term is questionable.

Resiliency in the food system consists of three key dimensions: (1) the diversity of the food system’s components, (2) the degree to which the components are connected, and (3) the degree of decision-making autonomy within the food system. Significant consolidation of the food system decreases the diversity of its components, including the varieties of foods grown, production methods, distribution channels, employment options for workers. Alternatively, community-based food systems support a wider base of farmers and value-added producers. These smaller, more diverse, networks increase farmer autonomy while building sustained relationships and shared responsibility for investing in the health and prosperity of the community. For example, the New South Produce Cooperative and Grassroots Farmer’s Cooperative in Arkansas connect members to distribution networks, provide technical assistance, and help small farmers raise capital as a collective. This wider base of producers also leads to more diversity in crop varieties, production methods, and employment options that are adapted to local conditions and cultures.

If degree of decision-making autonomy among a broad base of producers is a key component of a resilient food system, this brings us back to reflecting on the systematic erosion of public voice resulting from the extreme neoliberal agenda described in Dark Money. Because of the substantial wealth large food companies have accumulated in relation to workers and consumers, they now have a more influential political voice than the majority of citizens. Eroding the impact of citizens’ political voice creates a more controlled environment in which farmers and other food producers may find themselves with limited autonomy over their production and distribution decisions. With limited competition in the industry and few places to look for more favorable contracts, more and more decisions are instead dictated by corporate interests (whether or not it is beneficial for the farmer or local community). Operating under such conditions leaves the base of our food system vulnerable to shocks, disincentivizes innovation, and makes it difficult to adopt beneficial practices critical for adaptation.

When an industry becomes too concentrated and competition is diminished, politically powerful companies tend to rely on “special political privileges” rather than invest in the human, social and financial capital creation to build the adaptive capacity required for innovation, ultimately hindering their resiliency and ability to consistently provide stable levels of appropriate foods to the public. Farmers’ markets and locally-owned shops may not prove to be the most efficient way to produce and distribute food. But it can be an efficient way to produce and distribute a portion of our food if we re-define efficiency to account for alternative values like autonomy, civic participation, fairness, and long-term resiliency. So, at least for now, I’ve once again circled back to grocery shopping at farmers’ markets and local shops like my right to self-determination and democracy depend on it.

10 Ways to Connect your Worksite with Local and Regional Foods

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What to do When you Hate Beets?

Fresh Beets
I don’t like beets.  When we hear this from children, we encourage them to try again, hoping they might like them once they get older.  Curiously though, once we become adults, encouragement to try disliked foods ceases and we develop the belief that our food preferences are fixed.  We might even justify this belief by claiming a genetic predisposition to dislike certain flavors or foods.  I don’t like beets, and at this point, I never will.  However, even a genetic predisposition to a certain trait does not necessarily equate to predetermination of behavior.  Our mental beliefs play a substantial role in our preferences for food.  And the good news is, our mental beliefs change.
As living beings, we are constantly changing.  At the conscious level, new experiences shape our ideas.  And at the unconscious level, all of our cells are reproducing and dying, our atomic energy arises, then passes away instantaneously.   We are literally changing both at an emotional level and physical level in every moment.  Consequently, we are not the same person we were yesterday, or last year, so how can we expect that our food preferences also do not change?
I certainly did not grow up eating fruits and vegetables.  Nor did I have parents who ate them. Typical childhood meals consisted of frozen pizza, Ramen noodles, and macaroni & cheese until I was 24 years old.  I doubt I even heard the word nutrition until my early 20’s, although I had certainly heard the word “diet” and been on several of them by that time.  All of that changed when I moved to Burma.  I was astonished by what real, fresh food looked like on the table in front of me when sharing meals with Burmese friends.  Needless to say, the dearth of fast food restaurants and Western packaged food meant that I had to learn how to eat vegetables.  Funny thing is, I now wonder why nobody ever told me how delicious they are!
It is well documented that it can take children 15-20 exposures to develop a taste for a new food. Trust, independence-seeking behaviors, and taste bud development all play a role.  However, more fundamentally, at each exposure we are an entirely new person, and this doesn’t stop when one reaches adulthood.  Therefore, even as adults, we can learn to like previously disliked foods if we keep these two facts in mind.  We can choose just one or two vegetables for our “let me learn to like this” bucket list, and make a strong determination to try them in various forms over the next few months or even years.
Practicing mindful eating can help enhance our expectation of liking a food (2). Prepare smaller quantities and taste the food slowly.  Notice the flavor and texture without labeling it as good or bad.  Be aware of how you feel about the flavor or texture, without judging the feeling.  Just notice.  If you still don’t like the food, accept the reality of that moment with kindness, and be determined to try again another day-knowing the person who tries this food again in the future will be new and different.
I now like beets.  It happened recently with a roasted beet and brie salad, and then again with a beet and coconut curry over rice.  With a strong determination to taste them, without consideration of past preferences, after 2 years of trying, at the age of 32, I finally like beets.
1. Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008.
2. Hong, P. Y., Lishner, D. A., Han, K. H., & Huss, E. A. (2011). The positive impact of mindful eating on expectations of food liking. Mindfulness, 2(2), 103-113.

The Multiple Dimensions of Food

I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Wellness Conference 40th Anniversary Legacy & Vision Dinner, during which several pioneers of the Wellness movement discussed their involvement in shaping the dialogue and structures inherited by younger generations.  One particularly grounding message for me was a reminder by John Travis, MD, MPH, that above all, the currency of wellness is connection.  We understand that what we eat is important for maintaining our physical wellness, and foodies have long advocated that being connected to our food helps us make healthy food choices.  However, as many of us intuitively know, food is about more than just healthy or unhealthy choices.  Food is a medium through which we connect to multiple dimensions of wellness.
Social connection is crucial to our well-being.  Quality social connections can reduce mortality by 50% (1) and observations from Blue Zones indicate that social connection contributes to the long, healthy lives enjoyed by the centenarians living in these communities (2).  However, many Americans have developed the habit of eating alone- at our workstations, in restaurants, and in our cars.  Food is a natural facilitator of social bonding.  Everyone eats, and everyone can talk about food.  While food is not the only way to facilitate social bonds, sharing cake at a friend’s wedding, enjoying a tomato salad with colleagues, or tasting mango-chicken curry on a family night out builds shared experiences and enhances opportunity for meaningful social connection.

Our intellectual well-being, the degree of engagement in creative and stimulating activities to expand ones knowledge and share this knowledge with others, is an essential element in our lifelong journey toward wellness (3).  Intellectual wellness can positively impact resiliency in the face of mental health difficulties and the ability to cope with stressful situations (4).  The connection with food, by gardening, photography, cooking, and even genetic engineering, is a way through which to exercise our intellectual and creative nature.

Food and eating behaviors also serve as symbols through which individuals connect with their faith and spirituality.  Special foods are prepared to celebrate important religious events and donated as a way to show respect and selflessness.  Avoidance of certain foods and fasting are a means of obtaining spiritual purification and heightened awareness.  Even though more people are transitioning away from organized religion, food is often still a symbol of values and morality in their lives.  Avoiding harm to animals through a vegan diet or eating organic vegetables may enhance spiritual connections and a sense of oneness with the world.

Emotional wellness can be promoted through a balanced and positive approach to food.  Emotions and food influence each other bi-directionally in ways that can both support or diminish our emotional wellbeing.  Stress may cause us to reach for comfort foods, while the over consumption of unhealthy foods may be a risk factor for depression and low energy (6). Excessive worry about health is associated with a decline in quality of life as inner guilt and self-hate are not the seeds of self-care and wellness as (5).  A connection with food, absent of guilt and worry, can improve our emotional well-being.  We feel rewarded when we cook a delicious meal, or believe we improved our community by purchasing local foods.

More than 15 million people depend on food production, manufacturing or service in the United States (7).  Chefs, nutritionists, plant breeders, farmers and truck drivers connect with food through the pursuit of a meaningful livelihood.  However, many of the employment opportunities available in the food and agricultural industry still place workers in unhealthy and stressful situations that are not conducive to occupational or overall wellness. Unmanageable work-family interfaces increase the likelihood of choosing unwanted foods and eating behaviors as a coping mechanism (8). The rise in worksite wellness programs can help more individuals positively manage the work-family interface, enabling food choices they find acceptable, increasing job satisfaction and occupational wellness.

Given that food influences so many aspects of our well-being, let’s ensure, as wellness champions, that our advice and wellness programming consider the full spectrum of the human experience with food. Our promotion of healthy diets need not detract from overall wellness, but rather it should enhance balance and connection with food in all of its dimensions of wellness to support people in realizing their full potential for health and happiness.

References:

1. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316.
2. Buettner, D. (2012).The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Books.
3. Roscoe, L. J. (2009). Wellness: A review of theory and measurement for counselors.Journal of Counseling & Development, 87(2), 216-226. http://www.stuaff.niu.edu/stuaff/grad_resources/pdfs/Wellness%20Article_Counseling.pdf
4. Hammond*, C. (2004). Impacts of lifelong learning upon emotional resilience, psychological and mental health: fieldwork evidence. Oxford Review of Education, 30(4), 551-568.
5. Sanhueza, C., Ryan, L., & Foxcroft, D. R. (2013). Diet and the risk of unipolar depression in adults: systematic review of cohort studies. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 26(1), 56-70.
6. Rief, W., Glaesmer, H., Baehr, V., Broadbent, E., Brähler, E., & Petrie, K. J. (2012). The relationship of modern health worries to depression, symptom reporting and quality of life in a general population survey. Journal of psychosomatic research, 72(4), 318-320.
7. http://ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy.aspx
8. Allen, T. D., & Armstrong, J. (2006). Further examination of the link between work-family conflict and physical health the role of health-related behaviors.American Behavioral Scientist,49(9), 1204-1221.