Slow Food and Health

In and beyond the U.S., there’s a global trend that “health care” is morphing toward health. In the U.S., this is a critical turn for the better given that health care consumes 17 cents of every dollar spent in America. As a health economist, I’m very concerned about the rate of growth in health spending in the U.S. than other components of the economy. Americans have become value-oriented shoppers in the past few years – more so during this economic downturn. Note that, in 2008, the only two stocks in the Dow Jones Index that increased in value were Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

We haven’t been good value-oriented shoppers when it comes to health. But there’s one area where we can make an immediate, healthful and positive economic contribution to health in this country: by being better food consumers.

In today’s Perspectives column on, I’m thinking about the impact of food on health. We don’t include food purchases in the health care component of the GDP; perhaps we should. But only the good stuff; if you think of the Mediterranean Diet, then you’ll have an idea of the market basket of foodstuffs I’d put into health-ful spending. The stuff that contributes toward diabesity should go into the market basket for ill health.

I’ve been a member of the Slow Food movement for many years. Slow Food started in Italy, Mecca for many of my favorite things: the art of Botticelli, Big Tuscan Wines, handmade marble papers, and, yes, Mrs. Greene, slow-cooked food. The goal of Slow Food is to counter the fast food-fast life and bring back local food: that is, the locavore life. The idea is to think about what we eat and how these choices impact the world around us: our local community, our global community.

One fellow who’s been thinking a lot about this is Mark Bittman, who writes the “Bitten” column in the New York Times. I’ve been a fan of his since he wrote his book, How to Cook Everything. His newest book begins where Michael Pollan ended after In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma

The book is Food Matters. In this wonderful tome, Bittman connects the dots between global warming and the environment, obesity, overconsumption, and overly-junky food.

Bittman’s personal story is that, after adopting a Pollan-like foodstyle 2 years ago, he dropped 35 pounds, lowered his cholesterol and is better managing blood glucose levels. He also decreased the size of his carbon footprint.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a passionate combination of political treatise and practical cookbook. Food Matters now holds a prize spot with my other favorite foodie books, including the classic (and very dog-eared) Moosewood Cookbook, the Silver Palate original cookbook, and Lidia’s Italy.

Buon appetito! And remember – Slow Food is good for your health, and the health of the planet.

Published on: February 24, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist and management consultant who has worked with every segment of health care stakeholder in the U.S. and Europe for over two decades. Jane founded THINK-Health, a strategic health consultancy, in 1992 after spending a decade as a health care consultant in firms in the U.S. and Europe.

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