Food Makes the World Go Round

Investigative reporter Michael Moss has an excellent (and long) article this week in the New York Times Magazine that takes an inside look at the processed food industry.

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.

Kelly Brownell
(Yale University professor of psychology and public health)

If you enjoy interrelated business, psychology and biology issues, then you'll find it particularly interesting. Given how food is so intimately related to people's health, not to mention the crucial role that it played in our social and biological evolution, I firmly believe that the food industry as a whole requires special attention. These issues have worldwide impacts, not only because a lot of the major players in the food industry have a global reach, but also because many other developed and developing countries are essentially following along the same trajectory of cooking less and consuming increasingly processed foods that are prepared by others.
The public and the food companies have known for decades now ? or at the very least since this meeting ? that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It?s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort ? taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles ? to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.

Michael Moss

In these debates a question that frequently arises is who we should ultimately hold responsible for negative effects. Do we blame the consumer, who often may not have taken the time to adequately educate themselves? Or is it the person doing the selling who is at fault, with an arsenal of powerful psychological influencers? If you prefer government regulation, you might blame public officials for not putting enough controls in place. Perhaps all are collectively to blame.
People could point to these things and say, ?They?ve got too much sugar, they?ve got too much salt?. Well, that?s what the consumer wants, and we?re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That?s what they want. If we give them less, they?ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you?re sort of trapped.

Geoffrey Bible
(Former C.E.O. of Philip Morris)

Most food companies want to make their products as tasty as possible - to sell more. That's common sense. But at what point should such a company step back and say "You know, perhaps making this particular food tastier isn't worth the negative health consequences." How would a food company even determine when such a threshold has been breached?
one of the cardinal rules in processed food: When in doubt, add sugar.

Michael Moss

Even if morals and ethics don't come into play, there's a good chance that brands would want to avoid being negatively labelled as "unhealthy". Would that still stop those that end up hooked on the food though? After all, pleasure and addiction usually have a habit of overriding rationality - how else to explain so many people worldwide that continue to smoke cigarettes. Learn To Grow Your Own FoodPlacing all of the blame on the companies that manufacture these products is often conveniently easy to do, but it rarely tells the whole story.

Either way, when we find horse meat and all sorts of other questionable chemicals in our foods and drinks, it's time that everyone starts paying closer attention to where their food comes from and the journey that it takes into its packaging. There are serious global health, social, environmental, geopolitical and economic consequences at stake here which go far beyond the mere interests of a few businesses and individuals.

Photo: Remidoobi / Guide: PJ Chmiel

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