Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You Can Take Control of the Food System Right Now

Food corporations aren't in business to help us eat healthier - they're in business to make money, since they are ultimately accountable to their shareholders. So when big food reassures us that they care about what's in our best interests - namely reducing lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes that stem from over-consumption of their products - that's really only a partial truth. It's a truth only in the sense that they care about how our interests will affect whether or not we purchase their products.  The idea that big food has any moral obligation to care about whether or not we get sick from their products is false, regardless of how their advertising might spin it. (Remember this ad by coke?  That's what I'm talking about.) And even that supposed "truth" that we as consumers are powerful enough to sway product development with our concerns could be considered a stretch.  Really, psychology is king in this industry, trumping public opinion and moral outrage, and the only thing we can do about it is to eat critically and move toward greater government regulation.

I was recently sent this article by a colleague that explains what I mean.  The article is long, but I'm glad I read the whole thing because it really gets into the nuts and bolts of how the food industry operates.  The fact that big food tries to create and optimize products for maximum addictiveness isn't all that surprising, but it does speak to the need for each of us as individuals to take control of our own health by making informed food choices, and to push for greater government oversight in order to regulate the production and marketing of these products.  Again, the industry isn't interested in pleasing the consumer; it's interested in pleasing its shareholders by selling product.  If the best way to sell product is to placate consumers with hollow reassurances while at the same time marketing them highly addictive and nutritionally poor goods, so be it.  There is no ethical compass here. In this system, the vast complexity of a human being is reduced to a set of psychological impulses.  If a company can capitalize on those impulses to make more money, all the better for them, but not necessarily all the better for you.

The point is, it's not about big food being good or evil.  Morally corrupt or not, they're looking after their best interests, and so should you.  It's easy to slip into eating unhealthy foods because we perceive them to be cheaper, tastier, and more convenient than their healthful wholesome cousins (I've fallen into that trap more than I'd like to admit) but when you're about to go for that prepared meal or snack because you think it's less expensive and less time consuming than making a real meal, consider whether or not that perception is really true, or if it's just the result of effective corporate marketing.  More and more I'm finding that I can make meals that are easily prepared and more delicious and satisfying than anything processed, despite what any food commercials tell me. There are thousands of variations on the sandwich, for instance, many of which are very quick and easy to make with local healthy ingredients, and are much cheaper and more delicious than fast food versions of the sandwich like burgers.  And if I really have no time for a full meal, or are just bored with the meal options I've been preparing for myself, I'll go the snack route, but not in the conventional chips and cookies way.  A combination of fruit, nuts, veggies, and cheeses makes a great on the go snack, and if you focus more heavily on the fruits and veggies it can be very affordable.

Regardless of your approach, buying locally produced food and preparing your meals yourself is a great way to feel empowered about your place in the food system.  On a larger scale, that empowerment means communities can work more effectively together to make lasting changes in government policy at all levels of the system, which translates into a better standard of living for everyone.  But it all starts with how we as individuals respond to the current food system, and who we choose to support with the one thing that big food cares about the most.  Money talks - how will you spend your opinion?

Have a great afternoon,

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