Tim York's Centerplate ( Photo courtesy Markon Cooperative )

It’s that time of year again, when people make new commitments to better their health and wellness. 

For many, that starts with self-made promises of eating healthier, increasing their produce intake, and avoiding fats and sugary foods. We know if there’s a short-cut for nutrition recommendations in health circles it’s the familiar refrain: eat more fruits and vegetables. 

There are mounds of scientific evidence that link eating produce with good health. It’s a nice place to be as we kick off a new year, and it keeps getting better. A peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology last year projected the prevention of almost 8 million premature deaths around the world with increases in produce consumption. Eating more fruits and vegetables is also linked to reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancer.

“This study is yet another example of the decades of nutritional research that overwhelmingly show the benefits of all genders and all age groups eating more fruits and veggies for better health and a longer life,” according to the Alliance for Food and Farming, which recently shared the study among its constituents.

The evidence is compelling, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say only 10% of Americans consume the 5-9 servings recommended daily for good health. 

That’s where we can step in and collaborate to encourage produce consumption.  

Collaboration is not always easy for those in the agri-food chain. As if we don’t have enough battles, too often there’s tension between farmers touting one production methodology over another or stirring up the “big ag is bad, small farms are good” debate. Whether consumers want organic or conventionally grown products, or to buy from a major grower at retail or a farmers market, our messaging should inspire consumption.

I have an ambitious resolution for 2018: Let’s reframe agriculture as a continuum of food production designed to meet the diversity of food demands for now and the future. 

On one side is the conventional farm operation while on the other is the smaller urban farmer, with variations scattered in between. There’s a place for any and everyone who can deliver on consumer needs. Disparaging our brethren is a non-starter in a world where working together makes a lot more sense. 

In foodservice, we’re looking for creative ways to include more produce on menus, including increasingly center-of-plate offerings. It means thinking creatively, introducing crave-worthy flavor offerings. Chefs are also applying protein-based cooking techniques to vegetables: searing, charring, grilling, oven-roasting, smoking, even flash frying as a strategy to attract diners. Meanwhile, our retail counterparts are stirring up new ways to make produce more convenient, tasty and available. 

Imagine if consumers and the industry made good on their resolutions to eat more produce and worked together to do so. The end result is greater health and wellness.

Will you do your part in 2018?

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative. Centerplate is a monthly column on “what’s now and next” for foodservice and the implications for produce. E-mail him at [email protected].