The Economics Of Food

      3 Comments on The Economics Of Food

“Apparently it’s easier, or at least a lot more profitable, to change a disease of a civilization into a lifestyle than it is to change the way that civilization eats.” Michael PollanIn Defense Of Food

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup – The arch nemesis of good health according to Michael Pollan.

More than anything else the connections between bad food, declining health and corporate profits stands out from our survey of the industrialization of food. Positioning Pollan’s “Eater’s Manifesto” in the larger context of the consumer driven mentality that pervades Western ways of living reveals yet another unmitigated intrusion of a market, ostensibly devoid of moral reasoning, into areas of life where it doesn’t belong. Profit has apparently crossed the blood brain barrier, as any addictive drug does, to instill a dependency in humanity more detrimental to humanity than any other. One needs to look no further for proof than the near sociopathic ways in which Big Food corporate executives and their savvy marketing teams have manipulated a trusting public into eating their way to poor health, or to the ensuing phenomenon of a pharmaceutical industry on steroids, that generates unconscionable profits as a result. What’s more, our democratic government has gone off the rails to such an extent that public health and welfare has become more of a commodity than a basic human right.

On a personal level, I count myself lucky to have been raised by parents who valued a close connection to their food sources although at the time I didn’t appreciate it. I remember the mild embarrassment I felt as a boy dropping off boxes of fresh surplus from our garden to neighbors, and the occasional thrill of illicit foods like Twinkies and Oreo’s or Capt’n Crunch cereal when I would visit a friend. I had it good, whether I knew it or not, and I learned early that I felt infinitely better on a diet of whole fresh foods than I did after just a few bites of any food-like product. But unfortunately, as Pollan points out, whether because of financial constraints, lack of knowledge, or lack of time, a huge segment of the population shops the dreaded middle aisles of the grocery store, opting for quick, cheap, and sweet. And the industry induced confusion about what to eat or drink fosters generations that get further and further from that simple knowledge that I was so lucky to gain as a child and closer to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.    

This morning I thought about the world food system as a system when I picked up a tangerine adorned with a sticker that read: “Product of Chile”. How a tangerine from Chile ends up on my breakfast menu is a political ecology topic of it’s own, but I wondered about the Chilean worker who picked it from the tree, and about the Chilean truck driver who delivered the boxes of tangerines to the Chilean processor who in turn had them delivered to the port docks where Chilean longshoremen loaded them onto ships bound for US markets. I then thought of the US workers who received the fruit and distributed it, and about the people working in the local market where I bought it. Then I wondered who made the most money from that piece of fruit. Surely it wasn’t the Chilean farm worker who first plucked it from the tree. History suggests that it was a corporation whose profits derive from cheap labor and questionable, if not irresponsible, environmental practices. The prevailing profit driven dynamics that enable these and other asymmetries to exist have to be addressed if real food – or a sustainable future – is to have a chance.

Image source: “The Dangers Of High Fructose Corn Syrup” Daily Infographic, website, accessed 6/28/2017, graphic.



3 thoughts on “The Economics Of Food

  1. aaa11

    That was extremely well articulated! I found myself nodding in agreement as I read your blog post. I can relate to being brought up on whole fresh foods, and quite frankly I’m extremely thankful to my parents, my mom in particular. She always taught me and still teaches me about what foods are healthy and what they do for the body. Of course I will occasionally enjoy the bad stuff, but having this knowledge really has helped make me into what I am today. Every industry is about profits and there are numerous systems that carry those profits, at the end of the day, the individual is responsible for taking actions.

  2. tmkc

    I think you brought up a number of good points, very reflective of the multifaceted discourse regarding the topic of cheap food as it relates to health, marketing, manipulation, profit, public health, the global food system, and the concept of ‘welfare’ in our economic system. Your passion was appreciated! The only thing I might add would be a deeper discussion on consumer, “financial constraints, lack of knowledge, lack of time” and desire to locate amongst the supermarket options that which is “quick, cheap, and sweet”. I can’t help but look at these consumer issues through more of a systems lens. Meaning, I want to understand specifically what is driving this consumer behavior or lifestyle and who wins from this arrangement.

  3. leahk4

    As another student who had it good growing up without knowing it, I loved your thoughts and post. Fresh eggs? Veggies from the garden? Apples fresh from the tree? I couldn’t help but think, ‘the ones in the store always look so much better!’
    Somewhere along the line, not only have marketers become better at tricking our senses but the beauty of fresh healthy foods has been lost. As Pollan suggests when we made the shift from listening to our mother, to listening to our culture we went fundamentally wrong with our consumption habits. Fake food instead of real food. Vitamin rich foods instead of foods that naturally have the vitamins we need.
    Your thought process while at the store about the tangerine from Chile is an incredible example of how we make this issue a personal problem and part of the way we live. As Pollan suggests at the start of his book, just eating real food, gives us a cheat sheet for eating right. Unlike the marketing would suggest, and I encourage anyone reading this to type ‘just eat real food’ into google, real food is natural food that we would have been able to access and eat as hunter gatherers. Food that is in season, food that can be sustainably grown, and as often as possible, is local organic food.

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