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Here's How the Conversation About Food Has Changed

Sitting down to enjoy a meal is so much more than just the food and nutrients on our plate. Food has a way of igniting the senses and being the centerpiece of many of our fondest memories with family and friends.

Food provides us comfort. It also allows us to celebrate our traditions, cultures, religions and other commonalities. We can even discuss our differences over food.

While food serves as a conduit to these occasions, the conversation about food itself has changed.

I’ve had the pleasure of working as a dietitian for more than 30 years and have represented America’s dairy farmers for most of my career at National Dairy Council. There was a time when we simply talked about nutrition and health. Today, it’s a conversation about “sustainable nutrition.”

Sustainable nutrition is about nutrient-rich foods that are responsibly produced. It’s about a balance between nourishing people, while caring for animals and benefiting communities and the planet.

I frequently encounter people who ask me about dairy’s journey from the farm to their plate. Do dairy farmers follow sound animal-care practices? What steps do they take to protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint? Do they recycle resources?

These farm-to-table questions are understandable. Most of us are generations removed from the farm and are unfamiliar with what it takes to produce food. Only about 2 percent of the U.S. population farms, rising each morning to make sure the remaining 98 percent of our country has nutritious and delicious foods to eat. Because of this gap, many people are hungry for a bigger connection to their food.

Yes, we want to eat nutritiously but we also want to eat food and support farms and companies that are doing the right thing. We want to feel good about all aspects of our food.

My career has allowed me to get to know our dairy farmers. They are some of the hardest working people you’d ever meet and make a daily commitment to their cows and their land. They’re family oriented and often are pillars of their communities who create jobs and give back in many ways. It’s an honor to share their story and introduce them to people who long ago lost their connection to the farm.

So, in addition to sharing how dairy contributes to nutrition, health and sustainable food systems, I also talk about the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. FARM provides a national framework to assure animals are cared for in a humane and ethical manner. More than 98 percent of our milk supply comes from dairies that participate in FARM.

I also share dairy’s sustainability story. All foods – plants and animals alike – have an environmental impact, and the dairy community is committed to doing its part. Research shows dairy contributes only 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases. And the dairy community is dedicated to continuous improvement, which is why we set a voluntary goal to reduce emissions by an additional 25 percent by 2020.

Dairy also is good for communities and economies. The dairy community supports roughly 3 million jobs and generates $625 billion for the American economy each year.

With the fall season upon us, there likely will be times when you are seated around a table enjoying a good meal and a good discussion. It’s likely dairy will be part of your plate in some way. As you enjoy dairy’s great taste and nutritional benefits, remember there’s a farmer behind your dairy foods who put great care in getting it to you in a safe, sound and sustainable way.

And that is nutrition you can definitely feel good about.