FoodGrads Book Club – Chapter 1 – SWITCH

SWITCH Book Club – a virtual reading experience with Food Grads followers and graduate students from Northeastern University in a synchronized reading of “SWITCH – How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

Chapter One

Related: Introduction to the Book Club

Here, the authors start off the book by bringing readers on to the stage with them to look at change and to set up the format of the book.  Let’s talk about change.

Simple adjustments to revolutionary overhauls, change is not always easy.  Even change that seems needed and obvious may have opponents or encounter political challenges in bringing about the change.

Let’s start with a few questions for people to consider.  Technically, you don’t even have to read the book to participate, as the discourse alone should be of interest to all.

How has food changed your personal or professional life?

How have you taken a proactive or even and advocacy role in making changes related to food (or something other than food)?

What is it about food that you want to see change and, perhaps, how has this change impacted your career goals?

Some of my initial thoughts about change related to food –

Back in 1993, after the landmark Jack-In-The-Box E.coli outbreak, I became determined to make changes so that others would not be harmed or killed by a preventable foodborne pathogen.  Referred to as “the most infamous food poison outbreak in contemporary history” and the “9/11 of the meat industry,” this outbreak involved 73 fast food restaurants in California, Idaho, Washington, and Nevada, and resulted in nearly 750 reported cases of foodborne pathogen from contaminated beef patties. Worse, the outbreak left four children dead and another 178 young victims with permanent injuries, including kidney and brain damage.

That year, I began consulting with the USDA as they initiated research into new inspection policies and proposed establishing a Pathogen Reduction Program in federally inspected meat-processing facilities. However, these specific policy changes would require a radical change in how the USDA viewed pathogens.  While significant time was required to make these changes, I stood with former USDA Secretary Mike Espy as he proclaimed that— in the absence of a way to detect or prevent the presence of E.coli bacteria—the USDA must do “everything [it] can do to help inform consumers about proper preparation and storage of not-ready-to-eat meat and poultry.”

One of our goals for change was to do something about the lack of information or warning on food we purchase.  You could go to the hardware store and buy any tool to find a page or so of litigious warnings, such as ‘wear protective eye wear’ or ‘adult supervision required’ or even ‘do not use for other than intended purposes.’  But we had nothing for food.

In the wake of the 1993 outbreak, the USDA’s new Pathogen Reduction Program began a consumer awareness portion described as a “bold action” to educate the general public. Specifically, the USDA began mandating use of Food Safe Handling Labels affixed to packages of raw meat and poultry. For the last 25 years, this has been the most visible device the USDA has employed to educate consumers about food safety as the USDA requires these instructions to be displayed on all packages of raw (or not-ready-to-eat) meat and poultry sold in the U.S.

Sounds easy, yet this change was anything but easy.  Read my article explaining the difficult process for change here.

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Twitter: @DarinDetwiler


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  • Food has allowed me a platform for better understanding politics, law, economics, geography, and society.