To the Editor:
I appreciated Emily Hallet’s recent op-ed (“Sustainable food is about taste, not calories,” 9/28) written in response to mine about some myths surrounding the health benefits of organic and sustainable food (“Organic doesn’t always mean low-calorie,” 9/20). Her flowery prose about the “energy-rich and nourishing” organic brownies was particularly enjoyable and perhaps it should be a candidate for another Yale Sustainable Food Project table tent. The logic, though, requires a second look.
Hallet primarily argues that delicious, sustainable food can reduce our caloric intake by helping us “to consciously indulge in quality instead of quantity.” While this premise that more people would savor better-tasting food seems appealing, it remains unsupported by scientific evidence and by some general common sense. I love YSFP food, but when I find something particularly tasty, I know that I often eat more, not less.
Sustainable food isn’t causing America’s obesity epidemic, but it isn’t necessarily helping either. While a sick America does come from a sick food infrastructure, as Hallet suggests, a major factor behind this sickness is cost, not quality. Advocating the even-more-expensive organic varieties does little to help those who can’t afford basic fruits and vegetables in the first place.
Moreover, Hallet ignores the key distinction between organic and sustainable that I highlighted in my editorial “ ` . It is highly probable that many of the ingredients used to make the organic brownies do not come from Connecticut, yet still bear the mark of the YSFP. Wal-Mart, for example, now sells organic food manufactured thousands of miles away. How are we supposed to connect with the growers who make our food when we don’t even know what’s in the food and where it comes from?
In the end, the question comes down to honesty. If the sustainable food is really as good as Hallet contends, why does the YSFP explicitly choose not to include the ingredients and nutritional values with the food? Nutrition information is readily available for “normal” food but not for the much-praised sustainable food. Giving students more information about the food they’re eating would not only help some avoid the “freshman 15,” but it could also help those with special dietary restrictions.
Yale has made a big investment in the YSFP for many good reasons. It’s time the YSFP fulfills its end of the bargain by going beyond fancy advertising and giving us the truth about what’s on our dinner plates.
Robert Nelb ’08
Oct. 1, 2006