Sue Hobbs writes final ‘On the Table’ column for News and Observer
July 24, 2014
It is the end of an era.
For 11-and-a-half years, Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH, professor of health policy and management and nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, has written a weekly food-related column that appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer and the Charlotte Observer. In addition to faculty meetings, book deals, trips to teach in England and France, and other demands of life, she has met the deadline for her Wednesday column for 52 weeks each year.
Her final comments will be published July 30.
Hobbs, author of a number of books about dairy-free, trans-fat-free and meat-free eating, said she was drawn to the column for the same reason she enjoyed sending her books out into the world.
“I love the reach of print media,” she said. “I spent many years doing one-on-one nutrition counseling. After four or five consultations per day, I’d be talked out but would have reached relatively few people.”
She also had the sense that people would benefit from hearing advice given to others who had similar issues.
Her original intention was to use the column to help readers sort out confusing news about nutrition.
“I wanted to help people figure out what to eat for dinner,” she said, “but I also wanted to raise awareness about policy issues and empower people to get involved. Our food environment plays such a big role in how easy or difficult it is to put dietary recommendations into action. Many people don’t realize that they can help.”
What has been most surprising to her over the years, she says, has been the response from readers about various topics she addressed.
“Without fail, the columns that I shake out of my sleeve – I call them the ‘dietitian-y’ columns – are the ones that generate the most reader response, as compared to the policy-related columns, which take much more time to research. So it’s the practical, bottom-line ‘What should I eat?’ columns that people care about most. People want concrete advice that they can immediately apply.”
During the time she’s written the column, Hobbs said, she has received several thousand email messages from readers throughout North Carolina, across the U.S. and from abroad.
“I’ve corresponded with some readers for years and made some great friends,” she said. “In fact, writing the column has made me feel connected with people all over the state.”
On occasion, though, she would receive a threatening note from someone in a trade association or industry group.
“People think food is such a ‘friendly’ topic,” she said. “But the food industry has lots of clout. There’s big money involved, so many of the issues I’ve had to tackle in the column have had some risk attached.”
Even though she authored 600 columns, she never ran out of things to write about.
“But my work has me traveling much more, and it has become increasingly difficult to fit in the weekly deadline,” she said. “I’m looking forward to turning over the space to new voices and fresh perspectives.”
All of Hobbs’ columns, beginning Jan. 2, 2003, are archived online.