Friday, June 21, 2013

"FOOD" by Mary Brenner

Comments on “How Junk Food.....” from Atlantic Monthly July 2013

• Reducing calories in junk food will not decrease obesity; people will simply eat more of their favorites..

• Re-engineering junk food to be more addictive is heinous and unforgivable, as is the purposefully addition of addictive elements to cigarettes. 

• Based on our experience with cigarette smoking, raising prices or taxing (sin tax) unhealthy foods would not be as effective in reducing consumption as education would be.     

• We cannot engineer our way out of the mess our last engineering brainstorm of the industrialization of agriculture got us in.  Beware unintentional consequences!  We will simply enable more international conglomerates to bio-engineer unhealthy (less caloric) non-foods to entice consumers and hoard profits.

• Labeling doesn’t work well.  We all know what foods are good for us anyway.  It is easier to just assume that anything in a can, a box or a package has a chemical supply that is dangerous or that uses corn, corn syrup, soy, refined sugars and GMO products.  The dairy case is likewise suspect. 

• Removing massive subsidies to industrial agriculture conglomerates would reduce the incentives to develop new and different ways to infuse consumer products in such fillers as corn, corn syrup, soy, refined sugars and GMO products.

• Whoever said Trader Joe’s or Whole foods are the models of good places to buy wholesome foods?  They supply industrial, mega-farm produced ‘organic’ which has a high carbon footprint due to extensive transportation, is overpackaged, and just as full of additives, such as fats, sugars, etc. as anything from General Mills.   Cutsy ‘natural’ snack items are still junk food, no matter how many organic ingredients.  

• Buy local.  Support CSAs (community Supported Agriculture) and farmer’s markets.  Enable local food coops.  

• The difference in the buying habits between low income and high middle income shoppers is the most significant point made in the article.  This is another way the centralization and industrialization of our food supply exploits our poor.   ‘Food deserts’ in poor areas is another outcome of leaving our population’s food to reliance on giant corporations and to the profit of a few.  This is an area deserving more research.  Do the poor not know the effects of poor eating habits?  Do they not have easy access to good foods?  Are they lazy? Overworked? Depressed? Self-destructive?  Have they forgotten how to prepare good food? Do they need withdrawal clinics for changing from high-satisfaction junk foods?  Do they need support groups?  What role does food have in the lifestyle and coping with poverty?  Is transportation an issue (after all, walking more than seven blocks with bags of groceries is not possible for everyone)? Cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and junk food all ride together; is this because the near-term satisfaction and denial of long-term poverty the most practical approach to life for many?  The choice is not between a vacation in the Bahamas or being too fat for a bathing suit.  

• Vegetarian foods are not meant to be low-cal.  In fact many of may favorite vegetarian cook books include lots of cheese, nuts, fruits.  Selecting wholesome foods is one choice; developing a diet of lower fat and lower calory foods is another choice.  

• One of my anti-elitism rants is against the trend towards menus and recipes that utilize rare, trendy, esoteric ingredients that make little difference nutritionally, but cost a lot and are not likely to be in my cupboard or in my grocery store: kumquats?  Pine nuts?  Capers?  Shitaki mushrooms?  Eating wholesome foods is not a fad.  It is a lifestyle choice.  Stocking your cupboards with the right ingredients is the first step.  

• Education doesn’t really work but is worth a try.  Telling someone to change a habit is and to develop a whole new lifestyle of food consumption is a little too patronizing and pedantic.  Easy for you to say!  However, the subtle education and sophisticated marketing used by junk food purveyors is a hint of how to re-engineer food consumption.  We may not go far with a Super Bowl commercial on the joys of eating fresh tomatoes as opposed to hot-house, out-of-season, industrialized tomatoes, but we could try.  Negative education will not work.  Change is hard.  Change that bucks the whole environment in which we eat is harder yet.  I remember that my pre-schoolers were happy to sprinkle wheat germ on their cereal until they went to school and discovered others sprinkling sugar!  And now we simply skip the cereal aisle in the grocery store.... In fact I would prefer to skip the grocery store altogether.  Talk about a food desert!

• And that brings me to the school lunch rant.  Thank you for finally removing the soda and candy vending machines from schools.  Help reform school lunch.  Support reform programs and Fresh Networks, Farm to School programs, Community Gardens, eating local movement.

• Eat seasonal foods.  Although I refuse to buy foods out of season and prefer to wait for broccoli until it is ripe in my local farm stand, my girl friend responds that broccoli is ripe somewhere!  Yes, but it cost so much in pesticides, preservatives and transportation fuel.   And who would evere eat a hot house, chemical-soaked tomato in winter!

• Re-examine our centralized food distribution system.  The supermarket came about at the same time as the demise of the weekly farmer’s market, or truck market.  There are not many small farmers driving their food-laden trucks through suburban neighborhoods and there is no one at home to take the time to prepare traditional foods, to can, preserve or make foods from scratch.  

• Remember what the USDA policies of the 50's brought us: sliced white bread; canned soups; frozen foods; guidelines that promoted meat potatoes and vegetables; fast foods; prepared foods and the loss of a whole culture of slow foods.  In the USDA’s panic to make the US the ‘bread basket’ of the world, we have now exported our poor diet world-wide.  We have destroyed the very foundation of agriculture by destroying the soil, poisoning the crops, changing prime farmland to industrial monoculture, producing ever more pesticides and pesticide-resistant pests, fertilizers and nutrient poor soil and foods, engineered crops and non-resilient agriculture, loss of genetic diversity.  

Mary Brenner
June 21, 2013

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