Food Fight

Food FightMichael Pollan weighed in on the healthcare debate in an NY Times op-ed piece this week. You might wonder why the author of Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food would be talking about healthcare.

The answer is individual accountability.

Those of us watching the healthcare reform debate closely have noted some topics that aren’t receiving much attention. Individual accountability – the question of how to deal with the very significant impact that consumers have on their health and well being due to personal behavior – has been noticeably absent.

Pollan argues that the so-called ‘Western diet’ is leading to obesity and a host of other health issues that cost the system billions of dollars each year. No argument there. He continues by bringing the premises from his books to the debate, placing the blame at the feet of the fast food industry and agribusiness interests.

His solution? Go after fast food and other sins of the American diet as part of healthcare reform while promoting fresh and local foods. Suggestions that most American’s are less than enthusiastic about (well, taxing fast food is unpopular at least). In addition, Pollan is throwing punches, stopping just short of suggesting less meat in our diets, a key component of his recommendations in In Defense of Food.

I’ve thought many times about how to draw parallels between modern food movement and healthcare. The connection I draw is a somewhat different from Pollan’s.

I wonder if there is a way to create a consumer movement for healthcare similar to the consumer movement that has come about for food. When I was growing up, meat simply appeared in Styrofoam packages at the grocery store, no one cared where food came from unless it was some exotic foreign land. And organic referred to anything that wasn’t plastic, metal or stone.

Somewhere along the way, people began caring. Movements begun years ago ,such as the California food movement started by Alice Waters, have now evolved to organic, local and slow food movements. Restaurants today are as likely to list the local farm which grew tonight’s greens as they are to list a country from which something was imported. Waiters can often explain how the catch of the day was harvested and why that’s sustainable.

In other words, this complex system by which food lands on our plate is now better understood by millions of consumers than it ever was before. Consumers are making reasonable value judgments between food choices that go beyond taste and price.

Healthcare, in contrast, is nowhere near that point. Consumers don’t know costs, have no meaningful way to judge quality, and often do not know or understand what their doctors are telling them.

In healthcare, we don’t even have taste as a way to judge.

So how do we get such a consumer movement going in healthcare?

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This entry was posted in Consumer Expectations, Health Reform, Industry Trends by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

1 thought on “Food Fight

  1. I share your take on this. I know that natural/local food advocacy is more accepted than alternative health care, but “big cattle” and factory food production is still the 9,000 pound gorilla. Yet, it’s farther along than health care.

    There are movements going on in health care, not unlike the slow food and local food movements (parallel principles), but they fall under the radar or are shoed as “quack” or “wellness” which, oddly, is treated as a “soft” subject when, in truth, it’s where the real focus needs to lie. This is why M.D. Anderson is such a leader, I am quite sure – a “holistic” approach to cancer treatment that firmly rests on the foundation of Western medicine.

    Personal accountability is indeed at the heart of it all, which is going to make change in both areas very volatile for a very long while. Who wants to hear “you have to change your lifestyle?” Or “you need to be your own health advocate?” Or “the food you buy causes environmental damage?” Not popular stuff. Dualistic (“either/or”) thinking and separatism (“this illness ‘just happened to me’ and something outside of me is responsible for fixing me”) in health care and food production is the bottleneck to forward movement in both realms. And it’s the source of the problem for both, sadly.

    Better personal choices (en masse) will have a ripple effect throughout the health care system…but, yeah, how do you legislate that? Guess we’ll find out. 🙂

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