Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN
Can you imagine a July 4th picnic with no hot dogs and lemonade? How about a ballgame without peanuts and soda? Would a visit to Santa be complete without cookies and hot cocoa? These are just a few examples of foods and drinks that have become part of the way we celebrate special occasions or are a part of our religious, ethnic, and national heritage. You could say the stories of our lives are filled with food and beverage anecdotes!
As a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist, I know eating is about more than just nourishing our bodies. Foods and drinks have special meaning to people around the world and these beliefs are passed on from generation to generation every time they are served in a traditional way. Anyone who has blown out candles on a birthday cake knows what I’m talking about!
When taxes and other restrictions are proposed to diminish the role of certain foods and beverages in our diets they often overlook the role they might play in these important customs. They also overlook the fact there is no one diet that is right for everyone, yet we can all benefit from nutrition education to make better food choices to meet our daily needs.
In my 40 years of counseling people about healthy eating I have never recommended the same dietary plan twice. Instead I have worked to help each of my clients make the changes they were ready and able to make to improve their personal eating habits. This has always involved listening very closely to the meanings of different foods and beverages in their lives so that I could show them how they could continue to enjoy them in moderation.
Supporting more nutrition education can help us eat better without trampling on our traditions. All Americans deserve the right to make their food and beverage choices without being arbitrarily taxed because policy makers want to discourage us from including certain items in our diets. Education, not regulation, is the only effective way to improve public health without infringing on personal freedoms and customs.