Terry Walters wears many hats. She’s the author of two cookbooks, Clean Food and Clean Start (the latter of which was just nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award). She also offers group and private cooking classes, runs a health counseling business, and travels all over the country speaking out to change the way Americans think about food. Below, she talks about what's gone wrong with the average American diet and explains how to get started cleaning up your own eating habits.
Q In Clean Food, you accentuate the need to go back to the foods our parents and grandparents ate when they were growing up. Older generations have had less exposure to the processed foods that now stock grocery store shelves. How did this change come about?
A We have absolutely traded in nourishment for convenience. Convenience is key for a lot of people. We have been fed a bill of goods that it is not in our best interest. I think our entire food industry is driven by agendas other than our own health and well-being. The lobbyists have a lot of money and they wield a lot of power, they are looking purely at profit. They don’t want us to go back to eating real food. I tell my kids all the time to eat food that comes out of the green kind of plant, not the cement kind of plant.
Q What do you think is particularly flawed about the average American diet?
A There is a misperception in our society that we need a lot of protein. We need much less protein than the average American eats. I see a lot of people who tell me they have eggs for breakfast, some type of meat in a sandwich for lunch, and chicken or fish for dinner. The average person only needs 15 to 20 percent of their diet to be from protein.
Also, we are so apt to value everything that is on a label. We latch on to the next greatest trend, but truthfully our grandparents were the ones who had it right. They ate food you can recognize. By returning to those basics, we can be much healthier. I would much rather pay my farmer or grocer than my doctor, insurance company, or pharmacist.
Q So how do we break the cycle of a processed food diet?
A Don’t be afraid to try something new. We go into the grocery store and buy what we are programmed to buy. We go down the same aisles, we get the same salad dressings, and we buy the same snacks. We buy the same things because we know what to do with them. Take a deep breath, go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, and force yourself to buy one new food. Doing that once a week, we can slowly build a repertoire of new foods, and we can make our diets much more interesting. Check to see what is being displayed prominently in the produce aisle because those stands are likely to feature seasonal produce that is abundant and at its peak flavor and nutrient levels.
Q Data from the USDA shows that in 2010, there were 6,132 farmers’ markets operating throughout the US, a 16 percent increase from 2009. Do you think the local, seasonal food movement is putting Americans back on the right path?
I think that we are going in the right direction. I think it is grassroots, coming from the bottom up. I wish there was something big happening from the top so it would start trickling down. There are more farmers’ markets, and there has been a lot of change. In truth, if I came out with my book Clean Food 10 years ago, it probably would not have caught on like it did. That said, I think food continues to be entertainment. I see lots of cooking on TV and people watching food on TV, but it doesn’t seem to translate as much into people cooking at home. I am on the board of an urban farm and it’s still a struggle to stay afloat. The subsidies are still going to big agrobusiness a lot more than they are going to organic farms. So yes, we are headed in the right direction, but a lot more needs to be done.
—Anthony Howard, guest blogger