Over this wonderfully long winter break, I’ve spent a lot of time catching up on my food reading list. At the top of my list was Soda Politics, written by one of my ultimate nutrition heroes, Marion Nestle. If you like my blog, you should check out hers. Anyway, her writing always gets me thinking who is really to blame for our diet crisis.
Those of us who believe that poor diet is largely a result of systematic and societal factors as opposed to individual factors tend to want to blame the trillion-dollar food industry. After all, a lot of the harmful aspects of our food system wouldn’t exist if corporations weren’t prioritizing profit over public health.
That being said, how could any reasonable person expect a corporation, particularly a publicly traded corporation, to prioritize any goal above increasing return on investment? For-profit business exist to make a profit (yes, I know, DUH). I don’t think the CEO of Pepsi is evil for permitting her employees to market to psychologically vulnerable young children; she’s really just doing her job.
With that in mind, it is critically important for the public and the government to recognize the ways that corporate dollars influence our food policies and our behavior so that we can begin to regulate the food industry appropriately. Food companies are not going to regulate themselves to the extent that it interferes with profits. I don’t hate them for it. But if we want to drastically change the food environment in this country, I believe this is the most realistic way to look at it.
If you are wanting some evidence for why we should regulate the food industry, here are a few fun facts about “Big Soda,” courtesy of the stupendous Dr. Nestle:
- Overwhelmingly, the only studies that do not show harmful health effects of soda are those funded in some measure by the soda industry.
- Coca Cola and PepsiCo market aggressively to those minority groups that are most heavily affected by diet-related disease.
- From seed to bottle, the best evidence estimates that it takes 340-620 liters of water to produce one liter of soda. (That one really drives me crazy — for something that not only we do not need but in fact would be much better off without.)
- To silence those who would criticize Big Soda for its detrimental impact on health and the environment, soda companies shell out millions to health and environmental organizations. More on that in this post.
- When any locality tries to pass anti-soda legislation, Big Soda and its trade organization the American Beverage Association hire marketing firms to create so-called “front groups” to fight the legislation. These front groups are designed to look like an independent grassroots campaign, but in reality they are just industry puppets. Another tactic Big Soda uses to fight unfavorable policies is to donate huge amounts of money to the locality’s obesity prevention efforts — only ones that don’t hurt their business, of course.
There’s a ton more where that came from. Check out the book if you’re interested.