Restaurant chef cooks up ‘America’s greatest food shame’

Dan Barber credits nutritional analysis with turning the tide on ‘America’s greatest food shame’

Dan Barber, the chef best known for opening Blue Hill, a top-tier New York restaurant, finds a clear path between health food and extreme self-denial. His latest aim is to force people to change their diets, using nutritional testing.

Barber, who eats a bowl of raw kale salad every day, is partnering with US site Nonprofit Quarterly to help participants measure their calorie intake against what they believe they need. So far 250 people have signed up.

“I’m the first one to say these meals are not for me and never will be,” he says of his eponymous Blue Hill restaurant in New York. “But they change the way I approach eating and they are what I call ‘America’s greatest food shame’.”

The American food industry is responsible for 38% of all dietary fat, Barber says. But the body of scientific evidence suggests most people eat more calories than they need. Because much of the nutritional value goes to waste, America wastes 30% of its food supply, which is worth $200bn a year. “So I like to use the food industry’s own statements as proof that people don’t understand what they are doing to their bodies,” Barber says.

Consuming too much of one food causes weight gain. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute puts it down to too much high-fat, low-carbohydrate Western diets, which are rich in saturated fat and carbohydrates.

Barber has a solution to solving America’s “greatest food shame”: “There’s science now that says what people are doing on an individual level is damaging to the body and the environment.” His plan is to help people accept that the average calorie counts is probably a lie and help them make the effort to cut them back or to substitute healthier alternatives. It is a process not unlike a self-help book.

One of the clients who responded to the advertisement, Jamie Virgil, spoke of the changes to her health she made after overcoming her habitual use of the doctor’s scale. “You miss out on things that you want to do. You don’t do all the things you want to do … if you’re eating a lower number, you have to think like that.”

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