Food Inc is very good at manufacturing food-like items that dominate our supermarket aisles. If you cleared the aisles of Food Inc’s products you would only have 3 aisles left:
- The meat/protein aisle
- The produce aisle
- The dairy aisle (if you only include milk/cheese/eggs)
Every other aisle would be empty.
It shouldn’t surprise me that Food Inc is out for the full maximization of profits by engineering, packaging and marketing “food” to the utmost of their innovative abilities, backed by huge R&D and marketing budgets. It really shouldn’t. But this NY Times Magazine insider look into the industry still managed to catch me by surprise and made me want to carry a pitchfork and run into the streets after I finished reading it.
I refrained, however, and instead I’ll share some key quotes and passages that highlight how the food industry does not care about your health. At. All.
Here are the Top 11 quotes from the article that jumped out at me:
1. On the food industry’s awareness of the toxicity of the foods it engineers:
“Food-science experts were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still…their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns”
Did you get that?
The people who make the foods were fully aware of the addictive, empty-caloried, long-term health destroying effects of the “foods” they were making. They also knew that the synthetic ingredients used to make the foods were calibrated in a way to make people feel unsatiated and keep eating more and more.
2. On the food industry co-opting wholesome natural food and transforming it to sugary, processed crap:
“General Mill’s Yoplait brand had transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert. It now had twice as much sugar per serving as General Mills’ marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms. And yet, because of yogurt’s well-tended image as a wholesome snack, sales of Yoplait were soaring, with annual revenue topping $500 million.”
3. On the food industry co-opting wholesome natural food, transforming into sugary processed crap and then marketing it to kids:
“Emboldened by the success, (General Mills’s) development wing pushed even harder, inventing a Yoplait variation that came in a squeezable tube — perfect for kids. They called it Go-Gurt and…by year’s end, it would hit $100 million in sales.”
4. On drawing a damning, yet clear, analogy between the food and tobacco industries:
“Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell: “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”
5. On the food industry’s reliance on its drug of choice: sugar
“The food industry already knew some things about making people happy — and it started with sugar. Many of the Prego sauces — whether cheesy, chunky or light — have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar.A mere half-cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as two-plus Oreo cookies.”
6. On the food industry’s basic principle in extending product lines:
“One of the cardinal rules in processed food (when expanding product lines) is when in doubt, add sugar.” (emphasis mine)
A little elaboration on points 5 and 6 above.
When the low-fat era started in the 1980s, due to data from bad science and implemented by public policy, food companies responded by lowering fat intake in their products. At the same time sugar became cheap thanks to the subsidization of corn by the govt. However, lowering fat content lead to food tasting awful so Food Inc responded by increasing the amount of sugar in these same products, sugar that was processed from corn and thus became high fructose corn syrup. Essentially high fructose corn syrup enabled the major lowering of the price of processed/junk food. This is why high fructose corn syrup is prevalent in everything that comes in a package or box, and is usually one of the top 3 to 4 ingredients. Food Inc also spends billions in dollars to lobby govt to keep high fructose corn syrup cheap. The subsidy structure favours processed and junk food and penalizes natural and healthy food and hard changes are needed to address this imbalance.
7. On the nutritional value of kids’ packaged food, Lunchables, by the CEO of the company that made it:
“If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.”
8. On the food experts’ eating habits (they don’t eat the stuff they make for the rest of us):
“Monica Drane (daughter of the maker of Lunchables and as a child starred in the commercials for the packaged food): “I don’t think my kids have ever eaten a Lunchable. They know they exist and that Grandpa Bob invented them. But we eat very healthfully.”
9. On why Cheetos is one of the “most marvelously constructed foods on the planet in terms of pure pleasure” according to an expert food scientist:
“Why? Several reasons but one that stands out is Cheetos puffs engineered ability to melt in one’s mouth. If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there are no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”
10. On Food Inc’s deliberate targeting of vulnerable and poor markets:
“In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day.”
My Aside: The above quote illustrates one of the reasons there is a correlation between obesity and poverty in the United States.
11. On Food Inc’s deliberate targeting of vulnerable and poor markets internationally:
“Coke had recently begun a push to increase consumption of Coke among the many Brazilians living in favelas. Nestlé began deploying battalions of women to travel poor neighborhoods, hawking American-style processed foods door to door.”
There you have it folks. Food Inc does not care about your health so do not place your bodies at their mercy.
I understand that it is supremely difficult to unplug oneself from the processed food matrix in North America, due to the overwhelming fire hose of aggressive marketing aimed at consumers, not to mention the fast-paced lifestyle that discourages people from cooking for themselves at home. It is difficult initially to learn to cook for yourself, read and discern ingredients and not reach for the chips, or the commercial yogurt (if you think you’re being healthy). But in order to unplug from the matrix you must focus on eating natural, unprocessed foods that we evolved on, because your health, longevity and quality of life depend on it.
Myself, I used to be a major Coca-Cola addict. Three to four cans a day was average for me. Loved the stuff, especially with burgers and fries, or chicken, or pizza or chips, or…hell…it went well with everything else. I gradually weaned myself off it and in addition to my energy levels improving, so did my skin texture.
What is your processed food or junk food of your choice? And how did you wean yourself off it?.