Asking the right questions to promote a healthy diet

September 25th 2014

…food is more than itself. It is not everything, but it is touched by almost everything: memory, weather, dirt, hunger, chemistry, the universe…It is identity, and culture, and history. It is science, and nature, and botany. It is the earth. It is our family, our philosophy, our past. It is the most important matter in our lives…It is transcendent 1

Niamh Carey

Niamh Carey

If power and resources was no obstacle and you could change one thing about the food system, what would it be?

It’s interesting to look at the complexity of the food system from a personal perspective, to engage with our passions and personal interests as well as with the data, policy and research that often inform decision-making processes.

Food is all around us and it is part of us. To try and improve the food system without acknowledging our personal involvement would be a strange thing to do.

I’ve been working with a team on the European Joint Programming Initiative ‘A healthy Diet for a Healthy Life’ and we’ve been asking ourselves some interesting questions. As we designed a workshop for researchers and policy makers, we’ve asked ourselves ‘what’s the biggest challenge that we personally face in relation to a healthy diet? And what is the biggest challenge that we think is faced by EU citizens?’

Asking great questions often leads to some surprising answers. Albert Einstein once said ‘if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.’

What are my biggest challenges around food and diet?

©Niamh Carey

Asking ourselves new questions around the challenges of a healthy diet gave us some fascinating answers. We didn’t need data to answer them. We saw that our biggest personal challenges were already around us. Feeling short of time and personal motivation, being restricted by what is available in shops, restaurants and fast food outlets, and not knowing what is in the food that we buy – especially if it is processed.

To answer our question, we related stories about relatives and their health, and also shared how our families have shaped our food-habits. We realised we’ve been conditioned by many aspects of our lives and these conditions have shaped our current relationships with food. We also felt that we had lost the connection to our food, signified by the barrier of plastic that surrounds much of what we buy. We felt we had the desire to change but often lacked agency to do so, and that this was connected to our embedded habits that were difficult to challenge.

We’ve decided to ask these same questions in our workshop and then create research and policy recommendations from the answers. We’re expecting the process to be quite surprising.


1Bill Buford, from his introduction to ‘The Philosophy of Taste’ by J.A. Brillat-Savarin, 2011 edition.

Thanks to Linda Mitchell, Jeraldene Lovell-Cole, Ondrej Valenta, Friederike Bathe and Jolien Wenink for the conversation that inspired this blog. Go to the Healthy Diet for Healthy Life website for more information.

Niamh Carey
Freelance graphic recorder and facilitator

Niamh Carey is a gardener, graphic recorder and facilitator. She worked at WWF for 9 years, 5 of those were spent working on sustainable food. She now works freelance and lives with her family and dog in rural Wiltshire. See more of Niamh’s work at DrawItOut

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