Do a lot of people think healthy food can’t also taste good?
“Health” is kind of a bad word to many; there’s quite a negative connotation when it comes to flavor. I try to avoid overuse of the word “healthy” for that exact reason. The reality is a lot of unhealthy foods hit our taste buds with a lot of energy. But over the long term, there’s actually not a ton of flavor in most unhealthy foods.
In your book you recommend that instead of focusing on the “right” choices, people should think about just making “better” choices. Why is that an approach you suggest?
I think people have been sort of bombarded with these idyllic versions of what the “right” way to eat is versus the “wrong” way. And that’s just not realistic. Most people are trying to eat better, and the vast majority of people are struggling to do that. And even people who have good diets love some ice cream or a cookie here and again. We need to value progress much more than perfection.
Are people afraid that making better choices will be difficult or time-consuming?
It feels daunting and really hard to do. And I think part of what the book sets out to do is focus not so much on the what but the how, to actually give people tools to really do it. We just keep telling people you’re supposed to do this, but they’re not given strategies on how to accomplish it. This book sets out to simplify all the noise and give some basic tactics that people can use to make this process easier.
How did your time in the White House inform the things you talk about in the book?
The White House really taught me that instead of starting with what you think the perfect world looks like, you need to start with what people’s realities look like and work from there. And to keep things incredibly simple if you want to get results. But at the same time, I also saw the power of everyday people to change the country and the world, and how their choices and actions can have a profound impact.
What are some of the biggest changes people should make when it comes to their food choices?
First, look at their own homes and kitchens and try to set themselves up for success. People eat what they see. If you work hard to surround yourself with mostly healthy foods and the ones that are in plain sight are good for you, you’re going to see your family eating much healthier. I think we need to eat less meat, particularly red meat, and I say that as a steak lover. And then just trying to cook a little more is the other single biggest thing you can do, even if it’s just one more night a week.
What’s an ingredient more people need to try?
I think beans are wildly underutilized. They’re so good for you, great protein and fiber, and so delicious. You can do all kinds of things with them, they’re a great complement for just about any meal, and they’re so cheap. They do take a while to cook, but just soak them overnight or cook them on weekends … and then use them over the course of the week.
If everyone makes small changes, can that add up to big benefits when it comes to everything from public health to our food supply?
As we continue to demand better quality, more nutrient-dense, and more sustainable food, we’re going to see the market, which is already reacting, continue to try to make more and more changes in that direction. This is a big opportunity to incentivize the food system to serve up better [food] and in doing so reduce our impact on the environment, which is just going to be crucial if we want to continue to grow healthy, nutritious food for generations to come.
More things to do in D.C. this week: