Editorial: Public Policy for All of Us: Partnership for Change
Cancer researchers have long been concerned about evidence linking meat to colon cancer and dairy products to prostate cancer, among other worrisome associations. Cardiologists are troubled by the government's never-ending promotion of beef. Parents lament the fatty cheeses and burgers in the government's school lunch program. Environmentalists are worried about the enormous use of pesticides used in producing feed grains for livestock, while animal advocates note that Americans eat no fewer than one million animals every hour.
Even so, the federal government continues to include meat and dairy products among its recommended foods in the Food Guide Pyramid, part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that dictates the contents of school lunches and food assistance programs.
We aim to change that. PCRM's new effort grew from a conversation I had with Milton Mills, M.D., a longtime PCRM member who pointed out that, while lactose intolerance symptoms are very common among minorities and can be quite severe, milk products are pushed on every child in every school lunch program. And while diet-related diseases affect all demographic groups, they take a disproportionate toll among minorities. Prostate cancer, long associated with the meat and dairy diets of western countries, is a leading killer of African-American men. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity have reached astronomical figures. It was obvious that federal guidelines need to be considerably friendlier to those who choose healthier diets.
Along with Dr. Mills, PCRM dietitians Patricia Bertron, R.D., and Lauri Chonko, R.D., have worked with many other advocacy groups, and we are delighted to have received the support of the Congressional Black Caucus; former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, M.D.; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Martin Luther King, III; Jesse Jackson, Jr.; Muhammad Ali; and a great many others in our program for reform.
Collectively, we are calling for the government to make dairy products optional, in no way superior to other calcium-rich foods. And plant-based foods should be promoted. If an African-American or Asian-American family prefers to get calcium from kale, collards, beans, tofu, or calcium-fortified juices, these foods should not be regarded as somehow unacceptable. If a Hispanic or Native-American family chooses to eat more vegetables or meatless dishes, this should be encouraged. The same dietary options will benefit Caucasians as well, who, as a group, are more out of shape than at any time in our nation's history.
We all have the right to choose the kinds of foods we prefer for ourselves and our families. As research continues to show that certain foods have health benefits while others pose risks, government guidelines need to adjust with the times.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM