Modern city diets and our food system - interview with Eliza Altvater-Conn

Modern City Diets and our Food System - interview with Eliza Altvater-Conn

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash, and Dietitian & Food Scientist Eliza Altvater-Conn.


This month we chat with Eliza Altvater-Conn, a New York-based Food Scientist and Registered Dietitian. 

As a Brazilian, whose country is a huge "food bowl" for the world, Eliza's always had a passion for food and its wider ecosystem. She share with us some of the many aspects of our food system and what it means for nutrition.

This week, we ask her:

What have you observed as the differences between modern city diets and the way people approached food and meals back in your home town in Brazil?

Eliza: As I was raised on a small farm in Brazil, I grew up seeing my dad going to the fields to pick unconventional greens and herbs to make food and tea recipes. My mom is a great cook, and until today when I go visit them, it always inspires me to see how to prioritize whole foods when preparing our meals. I have very vivid memories of my dad coming from the field with a huge burlap bag filled with oranges that he had just picked, and my siblings and I would sit there on the porch floor, waiting patiently while he peeled the oranges for us. Other times he would bring mangoes, tangerines, peanuts, and honey, oh the honey, there is nothing like devouring a honeycomb. Those were good times! 

Now with globalization and the practicality of delivery apps, takeouts, and all the other options, it takes a bigger effort and extra time to choose your fresh ingredients and cook at home. Even with small-town populations in Brazil, obesity has taken over due to the shifting towards fried foods, burgers, pizzas, and highly processed foods in general. The thing is that we talk so much about behavior change but the major changes we need are not on that individual level. I believe unprecedented changes in our food system are required to shift our food consumption. Most of what influences the way or what we eat is tied to governmental policies and industrialization. It’s detrimental to our health and to the environment. It’s pesticides, fertilizers, air, water, and soil contamination, antibiotic resistance, low-nutrient foods... It puts us at risk- even when we are trying to make healthy food choices. 

I think healthy eating must be tied to a food system that protects biodiversity and promotes diversity in diet and cultural habits. Quality food must be accessible to everyone and it must be produced and processed based on health benefits, not profit. However a sustainable food system also requires fair trade, and it must be free of physical, biological, or chemical contaminants that cause harm to us and to the environment.

Next week, we talk to Eliza about organic produce and whether they're worth the higher price.