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No Silver Bullet In Tackling Nutritional Challenges

‘Food Literacy’ No Silver Bullet In Tackling Nutritional Challenges

Agencies for Nutrition Action media release, 9 May 2013

'Food literacy’ has become the new buzzword in health policy circles, says leading Australian academic and social nutritionist Associate Professor Danielle Gallegos.

More and more, it is seen as a silver bullet for complex problems such as obesity and poor nutrition, she told today’s national nutrition and physical activity conference in Rotorua.

“Too often the term is used to mean individuals cooking food, preferably from scratch. The implication being if people knew how to cook, all would be fine. We would have no overweight people,” she says.

“But we know from TV cooking shows that just knowing how to cook does not necessarily make you svelte.”

Discipline leader for nutrition and dietetics at Queensland University of Technology, Associate Professor Gallegos set out a fresh definition of food literacy, one that acknowledges the realities for some individuals in maintaining healthy nutrition when facing economic and dietary pressures.

The conference, with the theme “It Starts With Us: Ma Mātau E Timata”, is hosted by Agencies for Nutrition Action (ANA), a national body committed to improving nutrition and physical activity in Aotearoa.

“For governments and policymakers, the term ‘food literacy’ has become a convenient way of packaging a range of knowledge and skills that individuals can use to purportedly ensure diet quality,” she says. 

But she says much of what individuals need to know and understand about food and nutrition is contextual. Sometimes ensuring what she called ‘dietary resilience’ involves individuals going to extremes to feed themselves.

She cites the example taken from a recent study of a young homeless woman living under a bridge in Queensland who routinely ‘accessed’ food for herself and her homeless friends.

“She would go to a supermarket and steal barbecue chicken and bread, thereby creating a meal. Context really matters.” 

For Associate Professor Gallegos, a better definition of food literacy is ‘the scaffolding that empowers individuals, households, communities or nations to protect diet quality through change and strengthen dietary resilience over time.  

”It is about having the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to plan, manage, select, prepare and eat food to meet needs and determine intake.”

She says an important function of her definition is acknowledging the breadth of sectors and settings with a vested interest in food literacy.

“What I am talking about is far more than nutritionists telling people how to cook food. Nutritionists need to focus on supporting as well as leading partnerships in the community. It’s about empowering people to build a healthy relationship with food.”

Based at the school of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Associate Professor Gallegos has many years of experience as a practicing public health nutritionist as well as significant experience as a research project manager.

She works with a diverse range of groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities (in particular refugee families) and women.

Agencies for Nutrition Action – Ngā Takawaenga Hāpai Kai Hauora (ANA) has 11 members. They are the Asian Network Inc, Cancer Society of NZ, National Heart Foundation of NZ, Diabetes NZ, Dietitians NZ, Home Economics and Technology Teachers Assn of NZ, NZ Nutrition Foundation, NZ Recreation Assn, Te Hotu Manawa Māori, Pacific Island Food and Nutrition Action Group, and the Stroke Foundation of NZ.


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