Opinion | Who Is to Blame for the American Diet?

To the Editor:

Re “Why Your New Year’s Diet Is Doomed” (Op-Ed, Jan. 11):

Bravo to Mark Bittman on an excellent analysis of why most people will fail most of the time when trying to improve their diets. As a pediatrician and a longtime board member of a major food organization that sponsors farmers’ markets and nutritional information, I could not agree more.

Nutrition information is David to the industry’s Goliath. I fervently hope that President Biden’s agriculture secretary-designate, Tom Vilsack, will do much more than he did when he held the position previously.

He can use the Agriculture Department to promulgate policies that use the broad sweep of the departments that Agriculture oversees to begin the long task of counteracting the food advertising budget’s hold on American eating habits.

Barbara Gold

To the Editor:

Mark Bittman is right to point out how much processed, low-nutrition “junk” is in the American diet.

Yes, the food industry shares much of the blame for pushing garbage foods on us, and yes, it is easy to fall into bad but convenient eating habits. But blame also rests with the medical profession and other nutrition experts who have, over many decades, exhorted us to move away from protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and dairy, and move to high-carbohydrate diets. That pretty much opened the door to processed garbage foods and the authoritative conviction that they were good for us because cholesterol was the boogeyman.

But we also have ourselves to blame for making bad food choices. Many people have never learned how to cook even basic meals. Perhaps we need to return to home economics classes in high school with an emphasis on basic culinary skills.

Sauté a piece of chicken in olive oil, steam some broccoli and add some butter and Parmesan cheese. It’s not hard, and it takes only a few minutes.

Tom O’Hare
Charlestown, R.I.

To the Editor:

While the intent of Mark Bittman’s article was to reduce shame, I fear that it will be taken the opposite way for “mothers with standard American diets who rely on formula and baby food.”

Single-ingredient baby foods are no more processed than homemade foods. Store-bought baby food is timesaving and reduces the risk of contamination and spoilage. Formula is a safe and nutritious option if a mother chooses not to breastfeed.

It’s a monumental achievement of science and technology that mothers can choose these reliable options and rest assured that they are healthy for the baby.

Juliet Buglisi
Flanders, N.J.
The writer is a registered dietitian.

To the Editor:

As the obesity epidemic has exploded in the last 25 years, we always hear about changing one’s lifestyle, and indeed there are companies, health professionals and health clubs that all focus on that goal to improve health. But as Mark Bittman points out, the deck is stacked against us, and changing one’s lifestyle is bound to fail.

If we could do one thing to improve health, reduce medical costs and extend healthy life spans, it would be to build a food supply intended to nourish people. That starts with looking at all federal policies at Agriculture, Commerce, Education, and Health and Human Services and instilling good nutrition in all policies.

Doug Tynan
Wilmington, Del.
The writer is a health psychologist and a mental health education coordinator for the American Diabetes Association.

To the Editor:

Mark Bittman finds a culprit in the providers of food, and dismisses personal responsibility. I guess it is all that marketing that has resulted in Pacific Island countries with the highest rates of obesity.

And he insults me with the implication that eating is an activity that I as an adult am powerless to control in the face of the corporate villains. His contention probably sells well.

Eric Johnson
Buenos Aires