My first exposure to the food service industry was while still in high-school when my first real job was as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. In the mid-70’s I took my first job in restaurant management and it was not until the late 80’s that I went to culinary school to become trained as a chef. As a restaurateur attending local, state and national conferences held by The National Restaurant Association and later The American Culinary Federation it was not surprising nor did I question the presence both as purveyors and sponsors of all aspects of the food production industry including The Sugar Association, the National Dairy Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and, of course, the largest trade association serving the food and beverage industry the National Food Processors Association. This is actually only a short list of the plethora of organizations that promote food who are the foundation of funding for virtually all meetings, gatherings and conferences regarding the food service industry.
It was only after being working through a USDA Team Nutrition Training grant to the Oregon Department of Education School Nutrition Programs department that I became aware of institutional and private sector interdependence. It was hard to escape or ignore the tacit endorsement of the various food-producing industries who were instrumental in providing conference funding, educational programs, research development and public policy recommendations as evidenced by their presence at meetings and conferences for state and local education boards, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the National Association of School Nurses, the School Nutrition Association, the National PTA , to name a just few which I attended. Look at these organizations membership roles to get an idea of how each serves the other.
Along with these various trade, professional and government associations the USDA is charged with both promoting public health, food supply and safety while at the same time supporting economic development across all sectors of the economy. Even the language used in the media, in this course and in daily conversation is misleading. We talk about spending on healthcare, crop production, food processing, diet research without acknowledging that each of these spent dollars is actually an investment in a trillion-dollar enterprise which fuels the stock market, creates profits and provides countless jobs for everyone from warehouse janitors and farm laborers to investment bankers and CEO’s. The survival of the economic status quo is at stake whenever changes in current food habits are suggested by scientists like Dr. T. Colin Campbell.
With these cross purposes as the backdrop against which food, diet and health information is disseminated it is not surprising that data is skewed, research is contaminated, funding is targeted and information biased. Public health and business profit seldom develop along the same path. In such an environment it would be surprising if confusion was not the norm.