"The Omnivore's Dilemma" author Michael Pollan on how Wall Street has driven America's obesity epidemic, the misleading labels in Whole Foods, and why we should spend more money on food.
The above article is fascinating. Because I work in a nutrition research center and because I am a plus-sized gal, I tend to encounter and think about food issues more often than the regular American. For instance, I can tell you about studies that show that living in a suburb is generally detrimental to your physical activity level. That living in a city is more healthy for your waistline. In a suburb, you have to drive to get practically anywhere. Whereas if you lived in a city, you walk much more, climb stairs more, etc.
The above article doesn't discuss urban vs. suburban fitness levels, but rather where food comes from and the politics of how it gets there. The article notes that "On the long trip from the soil to our mouths, a trip of 1,500 miles on average, the food we eat often passes through places most of us will never see." The author thinks the annual Farm Bill should be called the Food Bill, so we'd all pay attention. We're all invested in the issue, but we let farmers and industry duke the issues out and we consumers act like we have nothing to do with it.
About 40 years ago, people on welfare battled starvation. Now people on welfare battle obesity. The cheapest food often has the highest calorie amounts and lowest nutrients. From a purely economic point of view, these cheap high calorie foods are a better deal. As the author in the article states, And a dollar will buy you a couple thousands calories' worth of potato chips, but only a few calories worth of carrots."
Industry has driven these trends. I think the following Q&A segment really says it all.
So the obesity epidemic, or at least the fact that the average American's daily caloric intake has jumped 10 percent since 1977, is not exactly an accident.
Well, the logic of the food business and the logic of human biology and ecology are fundamentally in conflict. I don't think we can get around that. The American population is growing at about 1 percent per year, and we can only eat about 1,500 pounds of food per year. So if you're in the business of selling food, your natural growth rate would be about 1 percent a year. But Wall Street will not tolerate a company that grows that slowly. They want 5 to 10 percent growth as a minimum. So how do you get those kinds of margins? One way is to get people to pay more for the same 1,500 pounds of chow, and the other is to get them to eat more. And the food corporations pursue both strategies. Coca-Cola is the perfect example. It's a penny or two in raw ingredients, mostly high-fructose corn syrup and some water. And people will pay you pretty well for that. It's very hard, on the other hand, to make money selling whole foods, the supermarket chain of that name notwithstanding.
So it often comes down to the fact it isn't profitable to encourage healthy eating. The article also talks about how nobody feels like they have the time to cook real food either. That is a factor. But it looks like industry isn't going out of its way to help for the most part. So, this is going to be an issue for a long, long time. Unless medicine comes up with a magic weight loss pill. Then everybody will be happy, at least for awhile until the food industry is back at the 1% improvement per year.