Worthwhile endeavor to clarify food consumption trends

by Josh Sosland
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A frequent comment by advocates of grain-based foods goes like this: If only the public had a better grasp of reality, a far more positive light would shine on the industry and its products. Ignorance and misinformation about food affect perceptions, food consumption and regulatory patterns in complicated ways, but overall, the industry maintains that more scientifically sound information about grain-based foods would be a plus for the industry. Against this backdrop, baking should welcome the recent announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of plans to conduct a major survey on food choices and expenditures by U.S. households — the National Household Food Purchase and Acquisition Study. Engaged to conduct the survey is Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan firm that conducts research and surveys in health care, education, welfare, employment, nutrition, and early childhood. Among the vexing uncertainties affecting grain-based foods is great confusion over exactly how much of its products the public consumes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s current methods yield different results. One approach, which queries consumers about what they eat, suggests the public is not consuming adequate amounts of grain-based foods. Another approach, based on availability minus waste, suggests the public is consuming too much. The launch of the survey comes on the heels of an E.R.S.-led study of the problem of limited access to nutritious food. While it is impossible to predict what the new study will show or the different potentially convoluted ways that the data will be used, grain-based foods should feel hopeful when it comes to exploring ways to maintain and enhance the nutritional profile of the American diet.

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