Food

Why food media isn’t helping us eat better

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We may be living longer than ever before, but as a nation we are still on an upward trend when it comes to health risk factors like diabetes and obesity. The most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed over half of Australian adults and around a quarter of children between 5 and 14 years are overweight or obese. The statistics are even more concerning for lower socio-economic groups, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and those in remote areas. Yet we also know more about healthy eating than ever before and can access a wealth of information at our fingertips, so what’s going on? It’s clear that information by itself is not the cure-all to our health ills, especially when it’s contradictory or just downright confusing. Add to that all the extra food noise aired on social media platforms and all of a sudden Instagram becomes a Pandora’s box of mixed food messages, with the virtues of ‘clean eating’ competing with insta-worthy freakshakes and towering burgers.  

Instagram worthy freakshakes; image iStock

When it comes to food media, you “can’t really generalise” about what it is, author of Eating Between the Lines: Food and Equality in Australia and social researcher, Rebecca Huntley, explains. It can certainly play a role in connecting us with our food, helping us understand “what it is to provide food, the cost and the toll” of getting produce from farm to kitchen, but it is not the only route to a “better food politics,” she tells 9Kitchen. While Instagram has definitely moved beyond snaps of weekend brunch to something more interesting, Rebecca says, it will only ever reach a small portion of the population. Unless we deal with the inequality of access to good food, cost and time constraints, the decline of cooking skills, and unhealthy attitudes to eating, we are not likely to see any major revolution on the food front any time soon.

Stephanie Alexander, renowned chef, cookbook author and founder of the Kitchen Garden Foundation, agrees that food media is limited in what it can do, and that the secret is to engage children from a young age with the pleasures of food.

READ: How to get your kids to love vegetables

Pleasure, Stephanie notes, was always at the heart of her kitchen garden program, which is now in some 800 schools around Australia, with another 600 plus who receive support for food education. By emphasising how enjoyable growing, cooking, and sharing good food can be, the aim of the foundation is to bring about a change of attitudes and habits that children will carry through life. Crucially though, this awareness must be supported by families who are interested in cooking and value time around the table. “Without positive models, the advertising dollar fills the gap in many children’s knowledge of food,” Stephanie advises 9Kitchen.

Taking pleasure in food and listening to your body’s needs, according to nutritionist and non-diet dietitian Zoe Nicholson, is absolutely key to developing healthy attitudes to eating. Zoe helps clients move away from an unhelpful diet mentality, where food is put into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps and encourages them to see all food as part of a balanced diet. Just as an over-reliance on convenience foods can have detrimental effects on our health, so can an obsession with a “correct or ‘right’ way of eating,” a condition known as orthorexia, Zoe explains. As co-founder of the Moderation Movement, Zoe takes a consultative approach to her clients, shunning structured meal plans and calorie counting in favour of intuitive eating, where clients learn to listen to their body’s internal cues. Another strategy she uses is a social media detox, encouraging clients to unfollow any social media accounts that trigger emotional distress around food and body image. Nicholson says the effect of this detox is swift and “incredibly powerful” in helping people reduce their anxiety around eating.  

Aspirational food images on social media can be a good thing, but they can also cause anxiety around food; image iStock

So while food culture might allow us to connect with passionate growers, farmers, and chefs, and introduce us to new techniques and recipes, it might also be useful to occasionally switch off and to carve out time, however difficult, to plan, shop, and cook for the week ahead, and to nurture the culture of the table.

It is the food media that speaks to our daily experience – the need to provide healthy, affordable and manageable meals for our families – that might be the most powerful of all, Rebecca argues. Making time to prepare a meal, getting more family members in the kitchen, working less hours, and up-skilling in the kitchen will have huge impacts on our eating culture, along with addressing issues of equality and food security. Change, after all, comes from a number of fronts.  

Maybe it’s time to detox your social food media; image iStock

Rebecca Huntley is a social researcher and the author of Eating Between the Lines: Food and Equality in Australia (Black Ink Books, 2008), Does Cooking Matter? (Penguin, 2014) and was a guest speaker at MAD SYD in 2016. Instagram: @rjhuntley

Stephanie Alexander (OAM), chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, established the Kitchen Garden in 2004. More information can be found at: www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au or on Instagram: @sakgf

Zoe Nicholson founded the Moderation Movement with Jodie Arnot in 2014. You can find out more about her non-diet approach to eating at: www.lovewhatyoueat.com.au and on Instagram: @zoe.dietitain.lovewhatyoueat


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