As I procrastinate from studying for my Anatomy and Physiology lab practical exam, I want to use this post to commemorate a year of blogging. I realized it’s been a year because the annual Food Revolution Summit, which last year pushed me to finally start this blog, is now happening once again. I haven’t always been consistent with the posting, but I am proud of myself for getting my voice out there in the food movement somewhat regularly, and I hope I can continue to have a greater influence as I “move up in the world.”
I just smiled reading back over my first post, which laid out my major frustrations and beliefs about our heavily flawed food system. On this anniversary, I think I will do something similar and lay out what I believe are the biggest issues and challenges underlying our food crisis.
Lack of transparency.
Since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the public has been wary of what the food industry tries to get away with behind our backs, and with good reason. Factory farms and industrial meatpackers continue to use cruel, unhygienic, and unsustainable practices in order to provide us with massive quantities of animal products at low cost. Several sectors of the food industry, notably meatpacking, fruit and vegetable growers, and fast food restaurants take advantage of undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable, marginalized groups as employees, not paying them a living wage for sometimes dangerous or unhygienic work, and allowing sexual harassment to go on in the workplace. If consumers at large really knew where their food came from, I doubt such shameful practices would continue much longer.
Aggressive marketing and branding.
Especially to children. Kids today grow up begging their parents for the foods they see in commercials and ads literally everywhere they go. I myself remember asking my mom to go to McDonald’s regularly as a kid. This branding makes junk food normal, acceptable, and desirable among the next generation practically from the moment they leave the womb (ok, I exaggerate, but it’s pretty soon after that). The earlier they get hooked on the convenience, taste, and immediate gratification of highly processed food, the greater the risk of chronic disease.
The two most heavily subsidized crops in the U.S. are corn and soy, which are not coincidentally also the most heavily processed crops that go into food products. Conventionally grown, genetically modified corn and soy dominate the fields in what is called a monoculture, crowding out more expensive but more nutritious whole fruits and vegetables and the benefits to the environment of cultivating a variety of crops. Minimally processed corn and soy can of course be nutritious and healthy, but most of this corn and soy goes to animal feed, and much of what does not becomes stripped of any health benefits to go into packaged food as added sweetener and fat. Thus, our soil and our bodies have become less healthy pretty much directly as a result of our government’s own policy.
Food politics (aka Big Ag and Big Food’s influence on government policy and health professionals)
I’ve written it many times. The food and agriculture industry lobbies an incredible amount so that lawmakers continue to create legislation that is favorable to their bottom line. As a result,
- supplements are unregulated and often do not contain the substances they are labeled to contain
- the Dietary Guidelines have never instructed the public not to eat or to eat less of any food, regardless of the strength of evidence arguing against its consumption
- food marketing to children has never been curtailed, regardless of the strength of evidence arguing for its harmfulness
- a professional organization of dietitians unofficially endorsed a highly processed food product
- the foods that are making us, livestock, and the planet very sick continue to be subsidized
- I could go on and on.
Desire for immediate gratification
I truly believe this is the root of all of our food troubles, and many other troubles as well. Humans are wired for immediate gratification; it’s what allowed us to evolve as a species through time. Back when food was scarce, those who were genetically inclined to crave and seek out the sugary fruits and fatty meats were more likely to survive. Industrialization allowed for more and more immediate gratification: immediate communication with people over long distance, faster transportation, and, of course, food you could eat immediately without having to grow and cook it yourself. All of this seemed like a great idea because humans are wired to seek out immediate gratification. Getting what we want right this minute almost seems imperative to our survival at times, because at one time it was. But industrialization and mechanization and computerization of our food system (and many other systems as well) happened before we could realize the effect it was having on our planet and our health. Hindsight being 20/20, I think people would be a lot better off now had soft drinks and Taco Bell and Doritos never been created. Unfortunately, they provide immediate gratification for our taste buds at low immediate cost. I say immediate because, as we now know, the long-term costs of our indulgences and excesses in salt, sugar, fat, mass-produced animal products, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are nothing short of astronomical. This quality makes us highly vulnerable as consumers, and also encourages industry leaders to go to any lengths to increase profits and returns on investments, regardless of the long term costs to society. This explains the, ahem, questionable business practices of industrial agriculture and food manufacturers. As you might imagine, this also plays a big role in industry’s influence on government, as elected and appointed officials profit from their connections to the private sector.
The question is, can we as a society overcome this desire for immediate gratification and potentially reverse malnutrition (including over nutrition and undernutrition) and climate change, the two biggest crises facing our planet today? Remains to be seen. I have hope. Thanks for reading!