To effect change in our food and health system, we need to harness the power of consumers and make ourselves heard. Daphne Oz says we can't do it without getting every woman on board.
Women are the caretakers of society: We provide for basic needs, remedy injuries, make peace and in general play the unique and essential dual roles of (superstar) supporter and (underrated) leader. While it is easy enough to identify the many ways in which we support our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, it might be less obvious how we act as leaders, if only because we ourselves do not recognize our unique dualist capabilities.

In the home, and when it comes to selecting and preparing the food your family eats, women play a crucial role as gatekeepers and chief adventurers. More often than not, we are the ones who decide what gets to the kitchen table—think about what a massive responsibility that is. Typically, when we think of women at home, the 1950s imagery of a mother in an apron, bringing a sizzling casserole to the family dinner table, springs to mind—and yet, where is the cultural paraphernalia detailing the shopping choices this woman made? How frequently do we see an advertisement displaying a woman weighing the option between a 99-cent can of peas and the fresh-in-the-shell variety? But then there she is, ladling out a hot, split-pea soup to many expectant children.

I wonder why it is that we give credit only for the finished product and not for the multitude of executive decisions that made it possible? More broadly, why do we not place value on the leadership role women play in securing the health of themselves and their families? It's as though there's a purposeful distraction away from the very serious goals and responsibilities that are at stake each time we put food on the table.

In my mind, if we are truly going to spark a food revolution that sprawls this country and finally allows us to set a worthy example of productive agriculture that sustains human health, we need to get every woman on board. Every time you go to the supermarket or the farmer's market or head out back to your garden, you need to be reminded of the incredible power and leadership you embody.

Why women should be seen as leaders

Women need to be seen as leaders in the home with respect and power—we control the fuel (food), so we control the machine. But this feeling of appreciation has to start at home, in you. Too often, it is easy for people to write off the many services women provide because we ourselves do not value our time or effort—it might have something to do with old-school ideals of femininity that are still lurking in our collective subconscious—but the time has come where we no longer need to be self-deprecating on this issue. If anything, our unwillingness to accept responsibility for the leadership role we play in the home inhibits our ability to take full action.

So brush off that battle gear and lay it aside for just one second. Recognize that in order to care for others, you need to take care of yourself—this is not selfish or a weakness. Take time to care for yourself—physically, mentally and emotionally—and you will be better able to devote the other 95 percent of your energy to making sure everyone else is running smoothly too.

We have one day a year (and it's coming up!) where we honor mothers in particular, but I'd like all women to become a part of a movement where we honor ourselves daily. As corny as that sounds (and believe me, I am no feminist or self-love proselytizer), everyone should have the opportunity to value and feel valued for all that they contribute, and that is exactly what we are deprived of when we fail to see the immense power that lies with us each time we do something as simple as prepare a family meal.

Once you start giving yourself credit and allowing others to appreciate you, you will find new resolve to take pride in the work that you do. My hope is that this pride will drive better, more informed decision-making. You truly are the driving force behind the food revolution that every citizen of this country (and this planet) so desperately needs. You are the ones in the supermarket every day, voting with your pocketbooks, determining the future of our personal and planet health. That is no small task.

I want you to practice something: The next time you are tempted just to pop a meal in the microwave and call it a day, see if you can envision every step of the process that went into creating that neatly packaged meal-in-a-box.

How to get the whole family involved 

If you can't get past the field step—and my suspicion is that you won't—perhaps the unknown of how your food was created will make you stop and put something fresh and original together. Put your own spin on it. Know where each ingredient came from, why you selected it and how you are going to use it. Chances are it will be cheaper, too, especially when produced in bulk. The more reason we give food suppliers to make healthful food available to us at affordable prices, the more incentive they'll have to make it happen.

Get your kids involved too! Summer is just around the corner, and one of our favorite family traditions in every season is to visit pick-your-own farms. There are four kids in my family, and we all love to be able to spend a couple hours in the field, next to the dirt and earth, collecting bushels of fresh strawberries (probably as many eaten as picked, in my case—I'm a total fiend), blueberries, corn, potatoes, squash, sweet peas, tomatoes, apples...the list goes on and on. Kids experience such a special feeling when they know not only where their food comes from, but how much better the freshness tastes. And, again, picking your own cuts out labor and transportation costs, meaning less expense to you.

Oftentimes, we'll plan a menu as a family. My brother might plan the appetizer while my sisters and I get started on side dishes and my mom does the main (my dad pours water very well). It's not only a really fun way to spend time together, it also lets us each feel involved in the process of choosing foods that feed our bodies the valuable nutrients so many prepackaged meals leave out. Getting to experiment with new cuisines taught us each from a young age how to make even the blandest vegetables taste good. Give them responsibility, and your children will impress you (I think that rule applies to more than just eating well, by the way).

Next, it's time to impress yourself: You have the responsibility and the power to make a change for the better. Let's spread the word!

Share your ideas on consumer power below!

Daphne Oz is the author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Dietwhich will be expanded and republished in July 2010—and The Dorm Room Diet Planner and creator of the Dorm Room Diet Workout DVD.

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