I stumbled across a news story “Peter Jennings reporting: How to Get Fat Without Really Trying.” This story is several years old but the ideas are still relevant. Although as a general rule I don’t watch much TV, this 43 minute report is a good overview of the forces at work in our food supply. It is fine to say “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” but our entire culture works against this. Are Americans fat because we don’t know that we should eat our vegetables or because we have allowed our food supply and government to be corrupted to an astonishing degree?
The government spends a whole lot of our taxpayer money telling us to eat more fruits and vegetables. Yet less than 1% of farm subsidies go to support the growing of these essential foods. Where does the bulk of farm subsidy money go? Milk, meat, grains and fats. This makes these food products artifically cheap and makes healthier foods like fruits and vegetables seem expensive by comparison. It explains quite simply why fast food chains can have a ‘dollar menu’ and yet the same dollar will only buy one (maybe two) apples at the grocery.
Our largest crop is corn. Not ‘corn on the cob’ but feed corn, used to make animals fat. Somewhere along the line it was forgotten that corn is not the natural food choice for cattle. It became necessary to add antibiotics to factory farmed animals and dairy cows. In the report, they called this process being ‘cornified’. What a great term. Eighty million acres of corn grown with taxpayer money. The rest of the corn is used to make corn syrup. Since corn syrup comes from heavily subsized corn, it is cheap, cheap, cheap. Thus, ‘foods’ made from corn are also cheap, cheap, cheap.
Another subsized crop, soybeans, has also been perverted by these subsidies. Instead of people eating healthy soybeans in their natural state, most of the soybeans grown go to produce soybean oil. Sure it is vegetable oil but it is a fat. As stated in the report, with just sweetener (mostly high fructose corn syrup), flour, water, fat and artificial food colorings and flavorings, you can make almost any common American food item. Pudding, chips, cheese food, cereal, fruity drinks, soda, crackers, cookies, snack bars etc. can all be made from the same base ingredients. Therefore, they are essentially the same nutritionally. That is to say, there is none. What is the difference between a high fructose sweetened cereal and a soda? You could argue that the cereal usually has some vitamins sprayed on to appease the health conscious moms but they are virtually the same.
Unfortunately, these low quality, low nutrition foods are what is being pushed in all the groceries in America. Children are sucking down Gatorades, Go-gurts, and Goldfish in ever increasing amounts. “If you build it, they will come” has become “if you market it, they will eat it”. Just stick ‘new’ or ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ on the label and people will buy, and eat, anything. It is important to remember that the goal of the food industry is to maximize profit. How can they do this? Either make the food cheaper or get people to buy more of it. Or both. The fact that Americans need to eat less does not compute in the world of agribusiness.
Think you are too smart to be caught up in the games played by the food industry? They don’t need you. They have gone straight to your kids. If your kids watch TV (or go to school) they are being directly marketed to and the kids are being induced to “nag” you for the foods the industry is selling. That’s right, the food industry is consciously trying to increase the ‘nag factor’ to get you to buy their products. They count on the fact that parents don’t want to fight about food and so will eventually give in. And guess what? They’re right. How do we know? Because the junk is selling far faster than apples and cucumbers. It has become the cultural norm to eat junk so they have successfully marginalized real food. Other countries have figured this out and many have very strict limits on what can be shown during kids shows. In America, our kids are fair game with no protections at all.
Don’t believe me? Next time you have a group of 5 to 15 year olds in your kitchen and they ask for a snack (and they will) try putting out a bountiful spread of carrots, cucumbers, blueberries, apple slices and bananas. Even if they eat some of it (some will, some won’t find anything to their liking) they will still ask for a snack. Why? They have been conditioned to think of a snack as something salty, crunchy and/or sweet eaten in unlimited quantities anytime they may be hungry. I have done this time and time again with almost universal results. Make no mistake, marketing works.
So, this bears repeating: eat food. Feed your kids food. Food doesn’t come in a box or a bag. Food doesn’t have dancing animals or cartoon characters on it. Food isn’t neon or day-glo. Food doesn’t have chemical sounding stuff in the ingredient list. Nobody gives you coupons to buy real food. Fill your cart first with food and hopefully you won’t have much room for the other junk.