Predicting the future is easy; all you have to do is polish off the rearview mirror. Looking ahead toward important food trends clearly points us in one direction, assuming we know how to look behind us at our past mistakes.
Those mistakes include negative food trends and other bad habits. At some point, food became industrialized, non-localized, eaten quickly — and the family table suffered. The food that some eat does not nourish nutritionally or emotionally, but what you eat is who you are. For many Americans, eating fresh food made at home by someone close to them is falling by the wayside. While eating out (or taking in) may save us time or bring us enjoyment, it deprives us of something important.
Studies show that the biggest influence on family eating habits is the person who buys and prepares the food, the “nutritional gatekeepers,” as researchers call them. These gatekeepers influence more than 70 percent of the foods families eat, according to a 2006 report in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association — and that includes food eaten both inside and out of the home.
Experts in adolescent development are emphatic about the value of family meals. It's in the teenage years that the daily investment pays some of its biggest dividends. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide. They’re also more likely to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.
"If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube," says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "A meal is about civilizing children. It's about teaching them to be a member of their culture."
Here in the mountains of WNC, our children are growing up either undernourished (29 percent) or obese (30 percent). Yet Asheville is a “foodtopia,” a “top 10 food destination,” according to TripAdvisor’s 2011 Readers’ Choice poll.
How bizarre — a world of feast and famine.
The future of better food is not a trend, it’s an imperative. The single most important factor to positively impact our community, our families and ourselves is the home-cooked and regularly shared meal, made from what we can gather locally.
This is the challenge of the century. Every piece of research and every intuitive insight supports this. FEAST, a program of SlowFood Asheville (http://www.slowfoodasheville.org), insists that Fresh, Easy, Affordable, Sustainable and Tasty food must be available to all of us. Food must be this first and foremost. Food as entertainment, bragging rights, technical proficiency or exclusivity must become a thing of the past.
For the year (and the generations) ahead, there is one simple truth: It is time to bring food home and for everyone.