It was an interesting role reversal that was played out at the annual meeting of the society for Nutrition Education recently.

In the give and take over proper diet, nutritionists usually do the giving. But the nutritionists and dietitians in the audience were being told by the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Food and Nutrition Services what they ought to be doing if they "really cared" about the health and well-being of the people in this country.

Carol Foreman told the audience in effect that they aren't doing a very good job of educating people about what to eat, because they are not taking on the "hard issues."

"Handing out a list of the Basic 4 isn't taking on a hard issue," he said, referring to the bulk of nutrition education that does not tell what foods should be avoided in the diet and instead uses the phrase "Eat foods from the basic four food groups."

"Nutrition educators should provide material and encourage debate about . . . additives, and processing and advertising and competition in the food industry. If nutrition education is going to work, nutrition educators will have to be active in changing the food system," Foreman said.

Then she ticked off some of the ways in which the Agriculture Department is taking an activist role in an attempt to improve the American diet.

It has:

Discontinued the use of fortified milk drink as an alternative to the snack program in the summer feeding programs. Fortified milk drinks are high in sugar and contain no fiber.

Proposed the end to the use of "formulated grain/fruit products," otherwise known as fortified cupcakes such as Astrofoods in the school breakfast program.

Sought comments on the possibility of removing highly sugared cereals and those than contain artificial colors and flavors from the Women and Infant Children (WIC) feeding programs.

Attmepted to tailor the foods donated to the school lunch program to the preferences of the children, and on a national basis, supply fresh fruits and vegetables.

In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland has announced the department's support of the Case amendment, which would restrict the sale of junk foods that compete with the school lunch program. The Senate has passed the amendment. It is not included in the House version of the bill.

USDA soon will propose some drastic revisions in the school lunch program, possibly including the use of combination proteins, such as beans and rice, in place of meat.

The department also has proposed some sweeping reforms in the stamp program including elimination of the purchase requirement. The Senate has passed the bill. The House was scheduled to vote on it this week.

Foreman urged her listeners to lobbying, for these programs if the Agriculture Department is to succeed in making some of the proposed changes.

"If you believe in the importance of an adequate diet, you've got the opportunity to put your mouth to work in behalf of your beliefs," she said.