Monday, October 13, 2003
posted by Julie |
Markets of our own making
We are trusting souls. We are. We trust our various agencies to insure that anything we can buy in a package at the grocers won't hurt us. Barring some failing of our own, some allergy, some sensitivity, food is safe. We think.
We really want to believe that if you can buy it over the counter in the U.S., it must be okay.
And what's the alternative? Baking a fresh potato rather than processed, trans-fat-laced frozen potato dumplings? Rinsing and steaming fresh asparagus rather than snipping open a micro-waved plastic package that already contains a butter/cheese sauce that may or may not contain butter? Or cheese?
What is worse than the specter of packing our children off to school with snacks that are less cool than those of their peers? We just can't expose them to that kind of social hell.
I know. You're busy. And if it can live in the freezer or on a shelf until your family needs to eat it, it's a bonus. A big bonus.
Also, you don't have time to get a degree in nutritional science. Me either, and neither of us can afford the further confusion brought on by studying the opinions of warring nutritional experts.
But you can't afford to be a thoughtless, mindless consumer, either. None of us can afford complete and blissful ignorance these days. We have to make informed choices. We need information.
Here's a piece of important information: Food companies are businesses.
Food companies are not primarily in the business of nourishing your family, no matter how kindly twinkles the eyes of the animated characters on the packages. They are primarily in the profit-making business. They like money. And they are very, very good at getting us to give it to them.
To get our money from us, they make products as cheaply as possible and sell them for as much as possible. Right now that means they package up food that is laced with manufactured fats, trans-fats, corn-based sugars, tropical oils - cheap and abundant ingredients - and sell them to us in all manner of compelling ways. Count the corn chip and corn snack brands the next time you're in your grocery store. Corn snacks are a great business to be in because corn is cheaper than air, and the fats can be picked up inexpensively too. The packaging probably costs more than the contents of the product, but the markup more than makes up for all of that.
Never mind that you're doing very little for your body with those calories and either adding the calories to the nutritious food you already eat, thereby overeating, or under-nourishing yourself by substituting these calories for the rich nutrient blend in those fresh broccoli spears you might have eaten instead.
Companies make these products not because companies are bad. They make these products because we demand them. They're not trying to hurt us, but fulfilling our willingness to hurt ourselves. Now, it's true that they do help to create the demand, to fan the flames of desire through their advertising. And it's true that they are outrageously slow to change the formulations of their food and invest in better food science in the face of irrefutable evidence that their products are harming us and our children.
But they keep pointing back to us, to consumer demand. They crouch, lurk, duck proudly behind our right to choose.
And they have a point there. We are free to choose. We are not lemmings.
We are free to choose fresh, whole ingredients that take no more time to cook than a frozen package of acrylamide-laced, trans-fat bound, processed potatoes.
We are free to pick whole grains over processed ones.
We are free to both read labels and demand that they are accurate and complete.
We are free to pick up a cookbook and learn to cook rather than nuke our dinners.
We can buy our meats from sources that raise their animals using veterinary practices and environments that make sense to us. That would make our meat a lot more expensive, but maybe that's okay, because it will force us to get more of our protein from nuts and beans to keep our grocery bills in check. And then maybe some of the corn growers will grow beans instead. Food we can use.
We can choose to pay attention to our food policy, both domestically and abroad, and tell our leaders that we want a policy that's healthy for our children and our grandchildren, who may be the first generation in remembered history with a life expectancy shorter than their parents.
We don't have to eat this stuff just because it's there. By leaving unhealthy food on the shelves, we force change. We create the markets through our own spending. Every time we buy the junk food, the junk food market expands. When we buy fresh produce, fresh produce becomes plentiful.
If you haven't yet read Michael Pollan's October 12 NY Times piece on U.S. Agricultural policy and its influence on our obesity epidemic, please take a few minutes.
And then go spend your own conscience,
New York Times and Michael Pollan's The (Agri)Cultural Contradictions of Obesity
Even lemmings don't behave like lemmings
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