HISTORY OF FOOD IN AMERICA AND WHY YOUR HEALTH WAS NEVER ON THE GOVERNMENT’S AGENDA. (AND WHY IT IS NEVER GOING TO CHANGE. UNLESS……)
By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
Probably like many professionals who
work in the field of nutrition and health I was impatiently awaiting the
release of the much talked about movie "Fed Up". And, as it
oftentimes happens, I was pleasantly surprised by some important and critical
points that the movie brought up, but that had never been talked about before
(at least not in the main media), while at the same time disappointed by so
many issues that didn't even get mentioned or got somewhat twisted around.
In simpler terms, when subjected to the same 300 calories coming from a very different source (for example, processed and therefore very easily digestible food like a soda drink versus a whole food like vegetable or fruit containing fiber) the body behaves completely differently than we previously thought. That's why a person who eats the same amount of calories from a diet of processed foods will have a much higher chance of becoming overweight or obese over time than a person eating a diet of whole foods. The 300 calories from processed food not only get almost completely absorbed since the body doesn't have to do any work to break it down, but they also cause an entirely different hormonal cascade than whole food. [The hormonal responses to food (a very broad subject) are far beyond the scope of this article due to their complexity.] But apart from the varied hormonal response between processed and whole foods, an important, and rather simple, fact to mention is the law of thermogenesis. It takes the body more calories and effort to deal with whole foods than something highly processed, simply because it has to do all the job of breaking it down to smaller particles, digesting it and then assimilating and absorbing nutrients. So while all 100 calories in Coke will get straight into your system (and your hips), only a part of 100 calories from protein like chicken breast or a vegetable like broccoli will, simply due to the calories it takes your body to "deal with" it. Protein has the highest thermogenesis effect of all foods since about 30% gets "lost" in the process of digestion. Taking the above chicken breast as an example, only about 70 of the 100 total calories would actually get absorbed. (I would highly recommend not taking this fact as an incentive to eat more protein just because you are not absorbing all of it. That's the way scientific facts usually get misunderstood when humans want to interpret them to fit their own needs.) J So, CALORIE IS NOT A CALORIE - we finally got that.
2. THE ISSUE OF CALORIE BALANCE.
And although it is not really true that you will gain 100 pounds over 5 years eating one 200-calorie cookie every day, (that's what a simple arithmetic would have you believe) simply because your body just doesn't work this way and has many different mechanisms to keep itself in check, how many calories we eat in total still matters and that will never change. Can I eat more vegetables and fruit than chips and soda without gaining weight? Probably. A lot more? Not really, if you're looking strictly at equal amounts of calories (most people simply wouldn't be able to do so anyway because of the volume created by extra fiber). So, an important point here that was missed by the movie, in my opinion, is that TOTAL CALORIES STILL DO MATTER. The so called "energy balance" is difficult for many people to understand and implement in their daily life, but it is not impossible. It requires knowledge, consistency, a strong resolve and patience. And that's where the movie gets it wrong.
4. THE QUESTION OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
And this brings me to an important point and closer to what I wanted to talk about in the first place - the movie seems to absolve us all of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. This is something I have a real issue with. When it comes to food, like many other things in life, we almost always have a choice. Sometimes it might not be the best choice, but it is still a choice between better or worse. And trust me, I am far from talking about perfection here. The movie seems to convey an overwhelming message that we are powerless; powerless against the food industry, big corporations, and fast food manufacturers in particular. So my question to you is this: When did you ever lose that power? Who took it away from you? Who told you to buy junk food when you can go to the farmers market and get healthier food instead? Yes, I know cost* is an issue, but I think a bigger issue is that you want convenience, you don't want to cook, you don't want to be bothered and want a quick solution and it's just too much effort to be healthy. And yes, I am talking to YOU! I always loved the saying that "if you don't spend time and money on your health now, you will spend it later on illness". There is so much truth to this. How often do you ever think about it this way? Why are humans so short-sighted? When I talk to my clients about their goals I always remind them that they have a choice. What they do every day, how they plan their day, when and what they eat, who they keep as their role models and who they socialize with, all those factors are entirely in their control. I often get strange looks when I say this as if it was some huge surprise. But the truth is, you do have a choice. The question is: how important is that choice for you? And what are you willing to do to make that choice and reach your goals? So, if you care about health at all, maybe that's where the whole discussion needs to start. YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE AND YOUR HEALTH IS YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY - the movie misses this point entirely. Worse, it makes us think we have no say in what we buy and what we eat.
5. THE FOOD INDUSTRY'S MISGUIDED AGENDA
Now let's get back to the title of my article and talk about the history of food in America. It is only since the industrial revolution that food supply has slowly become so adulterated, but much more so in the last 30-40 years. Due to post-war shortages the emphasis was on producing cheap food in large quantities. The fifties and sixties were all about convenience and cutting cost, not about quality, and advertising stressed how easy your days and meals would be if only you "dined" at McDonald's and ate canned and frozen food at home on a daily basis. But many families still cooked meals at home and what manufacturers put into food was actually food to a big degree (strange as it may sound). But with time and growth of food corporations, which were quickly becoming financial giants, (as well as advancements in technology), there was an ALL-OUT DRIVE FOR PROFIT. And the best way to increase it was to decrease the quality of food, put more junk, preservatives and chemicals into it, and process it more, so the shelf life would be extended forever and ever. No loss, all gain. Or was it? It was loss for American citizens, gain for corporations and their ridiculously high compensated CEOs. But long-term loss for citizens unfortunately most often becomes a loss for governments. We are paying dearly as a country for what we have done to our health: the sky- rocketing cost of healthcare, the ever increasing epidemic of obesity and other serious diseases, the future of our kids and our nation.
So......is it really a loss? Wait......it's another gain! Now with the above problems we have created.......
"I again recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party. (....) Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly."
It is no secret that the all-powerful food and drug industry lobbyists have huge influence on government (and not only) policies and guidelines. The movie gives many examples of how far and deep reaching this influence really is; how much good research gets silenced, including that of seemingly independent organizations like WHO (World Health Organization). This particular example should have everyone roaring in disbelief and outrage. Their conclusion on the necessity to limit sugar consumption worldwide to 6-9 teaspoons per day never got published in their new guidelines due to the threat from the US representative (Bush administration) of withholding over 400 million dollars of financial support to the above organization. Hmmm.....Surprised? Don't be. This is how policies, at least in this country, (but not only) are made. MONEY CONTROLS EVERYTHING (politicians, more than anything, want to get re-elected and people in powerful positions want to hold on to them).
Organizations like A.N.D. (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - previously ADA) are hugely influenced by the biggest food corporations. Those actually provide continuing education courses for the A.N.D. members. (This is one of the reasons why I never wanted to become a Registered Dietitian or have anything to do with this organization.)
Dubious scientific technologies are used to adulterate our food even more. When you have to involve scientists and chemists to figure out how to modify natural foods to make them more palatable, and ADDICTIVE to humans, and what chemical substances need to be used to accomplish this, we have a problem. A huge problem.
I am a huge fan of modern technology, but I have always believed that when it comes to food it's not so smart to fool with Mother Nature. And why would we? Seems we always get it wrong in this regard. We can't outsmart her, as much as we try. When it comes to our food supply, there is something about the inherent wisdom of nature that no inventions will probably ever be able to improve upon. At least without the negative effect on human health. (And this is coming from a daughter of a scientist whose research gave the beginning to stem cells and cloning, and which I whole-heartedly support. So you know I am not against progress done right, as long as it is done with due respect to human health).
We, as a nation, have let others take over our food supply. We have let food giants control our taste buds and our brains. We have been putting money in the pockets of food corporations and their profit-hungry executives by eating out all the time, and eating cheap, bad quality food. We have given up buying fresh food and supporting our farmers, cooking family meals made from real whole foods, and helping the earth do what it does best - feeding us with its natural bounty.
So instead of blaming everybody else (and I am NOT defending food companies here - far from it!) maybe we should finally look at what part WE ourselves actually play in this whole scenario? What is OUR role in this? How much are WE contributing to the problem?
To learn what you can do to help, please visit the "Fed Up" movie Take Action page at: