What role do food giants like Kraft or Nabisco play in our current health crisis? They make a lot of the food that is bad for us, sure, but ultimately, we are the ones putting the products in our cart. Why, oh why, do we buy?
Well, food manufacturers are good at marketing, and we are often governed by our 'reptile brain' - the part of our brain that likes the hot model in the commercial and that wants quick and easy food... more, more, more. Our food corporations engineer attractively packaged, convenient, and even tasty or addictive food that lasts in our pantries. And they put it in front of us -- both in the grocery aisles and in the media -- with remarkable creativity. Yes indeed, they intentionally tempt us, and they are skilled temptresses.
Movies like Fed Up do a nice job of pointing this out. But what they fail to point out is that expecting much more from the food giants is a little naive. Given that their corporate charge is to maximize shareholder value, not improve our collective health, can we really expect change? After all, poisoning people really, really slowly with an addictive product is actually a reasonable business model.
If Big Food is doing its free-market thing and isn't going to change anytime soon, is there any hope of improvement? Why, yes. We can change the advice we give eaters and, in turn, eaters can change their behavior. Nothing will change the food industry faster than educated consumers walking away from aisles and aisles of processed crap.
So why, oh why, do we buy? We buy the current, crappy offerings, in part, because of both the advice we have been given and the advice we have not received. "Avoid fat" comes to mind as an example of bad advice. "Avoid refined carbohydrates" comes to mind as an example of advice that we have not received with enough consistency. So again, why do we buy that yogurt with 24 grams of sugar? Perhaps because we have been assured that yogurt is 'healthy.' And, perhaps because it is labeled 'low-fat', which, in the mixed-up construct that is the USDA's dietary advice, would make it even healthier, right? So, although we wouldn't dream of feeding our kids 'dessert' for breakfast, we hand them the brightly packaged nutritional equivalent without giving it much thought. The double whammy of the misinformation we have received about dietary fat and the missing 'avoid refined carbohydrates - yes, even in yogurt' advice leave us adrift in the sea of bad breakfast options, unable to find the shores of real food that await us a few aisles over.
Imagine a world where, in 1980, the USDA had just told everyone to eat more real food and less processed food, particularly sugar and starch. Would you guess that the yogurt offerings would look different? Absolutely. Because the food corporations actually do at least try to please both the USDA and consumers by meeting the demand for 'healthy' products, whatever the current definition of 'healthy' dictates.
Let's redefine healthy. Let's vote with our grocery carts. Remember, "If you are dumb enough to buy it, they will be smart enough to sell it." The best way to get the crap off the shelves is to, collectively, stop buying it.