U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance held the latest in their series of Food Dialogues Friday in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum. Moderated by Carolyn O'Neill, food journalist and television personality, the panel addressed nutrition and discussed the various forces affecting American eating habits.
Joining O'Neill on the panel were Dr. Roger Clemens, USC School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles, Calif.; Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services; Bob Haselwood, Kansas farmer; Dennis Derryck, Corbin Hill Farms, New York; Dr. Craig Rowles, veterinarian and Elite Pork Partnership manager, Iowa; and Barbara Ruhs, nutritionist, Arizona.
"Land, water and energy are all affecting food choices in the U.S.," said Clemens, kicking off the discussion. Thornton agreed, adding that Americans' fast-pace lifestyle determines what and how we eat, as well.
Processed food has increasingly come into play in that lifestyle, and with recent backlash. Ruhs pointed out that when she visited a large-scale tomato farm, she saw how quickly they moved to process tomatoes into cans.
"A tomato is picked and in a can within hours. That's optimal," she said. "A tomato on the shelf has been sitting out longer than one in the can."
Clemens agreed, adding that the "new fad" of home canning still creates a processed food and still has an enormous carbon footprint. "Think about your own footprint in canning a bushel of peaches at home. The peeling, then the sugar, paraffin, energy, refrigeration. And you can go buy a can of peaches at the store, for what?" he asked, insinuating that cost is very low relative to the home cost of canning.
In addition to confusion over what's processed and what's not, consumers are also puzzled regarding the safety of fresh produce.
"There's this feeling that there's organic…or there's everything else that's laden with pesticides," O'Neill pointed out. Clemens concurred, adding that a lot of people aren't aware organic crops can be treated with natural pesticides.