Think about the last meal you ate. What did you eat? Where did the ingredients come from? Do you even know what the ingredients were? If you read the side of that bag of chips you just ate, could you accurately describe to me what “hydrologized corn protein” is? How about disodium guanylate? What is the percentage daily value? What are calories per gram?
Odds are you don’t know. And why would you know? Does anyone even care? Who cares what’s in the Doritos chips, they taste so good! When did we ever learn about how to read the nutrition facts on the back of the food we consume? Well, we didn’t. And why would we?
The United States Department of Agriculture was created in 1862 for two purposes. The first was to provide a “sufficient and reliable food supply,” as well as develop and spread dietary guidelines for proper nutrition to the American people. Since 1862 we have put all our trust into the government to provide set dietary guidelines and to update them every five years.
Now we all know about the Food Pyramid, right? Well, it no longer exists. It is now the “Dinner Plate,” which denotes the approximate amount of food a person should consume each meal. Fruits and vegetables take up half of the plate, while protein and carbohydrates take up the other half, and dairy products depicted as the cup next to the plate. Note there are no fats and oils section on the dinner plate.
No matter what shape the food guide is shown as, each producer, especially those of meat and grains, will try and tilt the market to their advantage using any means possible. Scientific jargon and deceptive labeling has a huge influence on what we purchase.
After consumers became aware of the need for healthy food, big business needed to get crafty with how they market their processed goods.
Companies market their products using healthy sounding claims such as “high in fiber,” or “a good source of calcium.” In reality, the salt, sugar and caloric content most likely outweigh whatever “good” nutrition was in that product.
Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health,” explains that the food industry promotes an “eat more” mentality. Instead of saying “eat less meat,” the meat industry says, “eat more lean meat.” Obesity in America clearly tells us that we do not need to be eating more of anything. But you know, less food doesn’t make more money.
Our food system is big business- known as “agribusiness” and defined as “an industry engaged in the producing operations of a farm, the manufacture and distribution of farm equipment and supplies, and the processing, storage and distribution of farm commodities.”
Our food system relies heavily on cheap commodity crops such as corn and soybean that can be found in many of the food products we buy.
According to the National Family Farm Coalition, Farmers are paid subsidies for supporting this broken system. In other words, farmers are paid to produce large amounts of these “bad” crops. Yet they have no choice. A few companies dominate in all realms of the business, ranging from seeds to fertilizers, to processing and retailing.
Overproduction of commodity crop keeps prices artificially low, which in turn helps pump out more cheaply processed food. Fruits and vegetables are actually considered “specialty crops.” Specialty crops. They are special because you can’t grind up corn and make it into a strawberry or a carrot.
Remember how the new “dinner plate” fails to include fats and oils? The fats and oils section of the food guide represents foods that are high in calories or have no nutritional value. That’s funny, because processed food is full of that.
Because commodity crops are so cheap, they are not only used in corn-based products, but are used to feed livestock. Cows don’t eat corn. They eat grass. Scientific American states that meat raised on corn contains higher amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids and less Omega-3 fatty acids, and it has more calories.
So what exactly is it about factory-farmed meat that is so bad? The Union of Concerned Scientists cited a few examples of what farm-raised livestock really eat: same-species meat, diseased animals, animal parts, waste, plastic, drugs and chemicals.
If that doesn’t make you think twice about the industry’s ethics, I don’t know what will.
According to health.usnews.com, the food industry supports groups that lobby against campaigns aimed at anti-obesity or public health. Why? Because of money. You can pay your way out of pretty much anything these days. Entirely unethical seeing the state of our country’s health. It’s all about the profit. It was hardly ever about health. Anything that the food industry has pumped out that has made a profit AND was healthy was an added bonus or maybe it was just a mistake.
Fixing our food system is going to take policy reform and a lot of compromise which I don’t see happening too quickly. In the meantime, educate yourself on what is really in your food before you buy it, and when possible, purchase produce that is grown locally.
If knowing these facts angers you as much as it angered me, know that there are ways to eat healthier.
The Sierra Club recommends eating a variety of non-processed food. Buy food that is locally grown or organic. Despite the recommended “guidelines” announced by the USDA and FDA, eat less meat. If you do eat meat, choose local grass-fed, free-range beef. CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) beef is the product of factory farming where animals suffer from crowded conditions, disease, and malnutrition.
Seafood is a healthier alternative to meat but it important to watch you eat. Some seafood may have been caught in ways that harm the environment. Bottom-feeders such as shell-fish, bass, grouper, flounder, crab and many others are caught using large nets that clear the entire ocean floor.
The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends reading the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Guide to help make the best choices when choosing seafood.
The main goal of marketing is to persuade you into choosing one specific product over another. Don’t be a blind sheep in the grocery store; know what’s in your food. Don’t fall for the creative labeling schemes, check the ingredients and the nutrition facts, and don’t forget to look at the serving size.
It is sad to say that the food industry does not care about our health. We invest all of our trust into a system where the main goal is to make as much money as possible. While we may feel like we have no control over such a system, there are still options. Personal health choices may be more expensive, but they are worth it if you can afford it.
The organic food and drink industry is expected to rise in the next few years as health awareness continues to be a pressing issue. I’m not holding my breath, but I will try to keep some faith in the industry that they can meet consumers in the middle and strive for a healthier America.