Without thoroughly examining the vast implications of food, it is very easy to disregard food as having far reaching impacts in our lives. Before taking this class (interestingly titled “Food Porn”) I never thought of food beyond how it appears on the surface. I understood the very basics – food is required to survive, and eating healthier aids your mental and physical state. Beyond this however, I never truly considered the grand scale implications of the food we eat.
As I reflect on the several essays I have written over the past two quarters, I am astonished by the sheer variety of topics. I have covered matters such as: technology’s relationship with the way we eat meals, the environmental impacts of increased meat demand, the stimulation we receive through caffeinated beverages (and the intense withdrawal symptoms from attempting to quit), and food addiction in correlation with nutritionists on the payroll from companies who primarily vend unhealthy products.
We read two novels throughout the past two quarters, both of which brought significant context into the course content and our essay topics. The first novel we read, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, primarily discussed the atrocities consistently being committed by the major meat venders in the United States. The novel we read during the second quarter, “The (honest) Truth About Dishonesty” by Dan Ariely, examines the human inclination to lie.
The underlying current which both Foer and Ariely grapple with is morality. After extensive class discussions, I had one recurring thought – every issue we discuss, whether the topic is the food or simply dishonesty, money is nearly always a leading factor with regards to the immoral choices we make as humans. Through exploring major problems in the food industry, I found that money not only has an incredible effect on the food industry specifically, but nearly every aspect of our society. Obviously, it is not a ground-breaking claim to say, “money affects the way we behave”, but it has become brutally apparent to me how truly harmful it can be for a society, such as the United States, to place incredibly high rewards on financial gains.
I initially encountered this realization while conducting research for my first major paper. The paper stemmed from my infatuation with the immense availability of low cost meat in America (specifically chicken), and furthermore, I wanted to examine the environmental impact of this situation. The first crucial stat I found on the matter was, overall the global food and agricultural sector contribute close to one third of global greenhouse gas emissions (Gilbert). Several growing industries, such as the American poultry industry, are contributing heavily to that astronomical statistic. With such high demand (nearly eight billion chickens are consumed in the U.S. each year (Cosier)) several major chicken producers are putting their concerns about the environment (if any) into the background, all in the name of meeting demand. While per capita energy consumption fell in the between 2002 and 2007 in the United States, food related energy use grew close to eight percent (Shwartz). The United States should be leading the fight against the crisis of global warming; however, I found that the United States would much rather supply more meat than should ever be consumed by any nation, and reap the profits that correlate with this high demand.
One could argue that, although many businesses are not respecting the environment, the main objective of businesses is to make profit. In that sense, the American poultry industry is thriving. However, we need to proceed with caution, as a profit based mind set can perpetuate ethical issues.
On that note, I came across a fascinating moral conundrum while conducting research on food addiction for a paper during second quarter. My findings can essentially be summarized into two points:
- Yes, food (primarily processed food) is highly addicting.
- A staggering amount of nutritionists in the United States are on the pay-roll from major unhealthy food companies, like Coca-Cola and Kraft, who are producing the highly addicting junk food that America is continually becoming more obese from consuming.
It is becoming well known amongst the scientific community that hyperpalatable foods (meaning foods that have high amounts of fat, sugar, and salt) are highly addictive, as they “light up” the dopamine (ie pleasure based) reward pathways in the brain. The American fast food industry is clearly capitalising on this, which can be seen as a massive public health problem. Just by examining these two graphs, we see that obesity is rising nearly in direct correlation with the increase in fast food restaurant locations:
Based on this information, you would think nutritionists would tell everyone to “stay away from fast food at all costs”, but that is where you would be wrong. As part of my research, I examined what highly regarded nutritionists in the U.S. thought about “cheat meals” while dieting. If you search “are cheat meals okay?” into google, you would be hard pressed to find one website or article that says they are not okay – I encourage you to try this. Most pro cheat meal arguments go along the lines of, as long as you plan out exactly what your cheat meal is going to be, and you don’t over eat, overall, that’s not going to damage your health. (Jim White R.D.– who was quoted in the article “16 Cheat Meal Strategies For Weight Loss”)
As we learned from reading Ariely’s “The (honest) Truth About Dishonesty”, cheating a little only leads to far more cheating. This is explained through the “What the Hell Effect” – after you cheat once, your self-control quickly slips away, and you will begin cheating uncontrollably. So why do American nutritionists continually mislead the public? Well, here is the answer:
In an interview, Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of popular book “Appetite for Profit”, who has been very active in determining the causes behind rising obesity in the United States for nearly twenty years, goes into detail about the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association, which she attended. She was surprised to find that most of the major food conglomerates (such as the ones I mentioned above, Coca-Cola, Kraft etc.) had a significant presence at this nutrition exposé, and through paying the highest prices for sponsorship, these companies had the biggest booths. However, arguably the most worrisome aspect of this conference, which Simon points out, is that the American Dietetic Association represents 74,000 of the nations health professionals, which is the vast majority of all registered dieticians in America. Upon further examining this situation I found that, Jim White, the nutritionist I cited above who claims “cheat meals” are perfectly okay, is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (Gerard).
Due to heavy influence by major corporations, the health professionals who are supposed to be guiding American towards a healthier future are largely doing the opposite. With the current obesity crisis in America, this is extremely dangerous. Who can we trust?
When there is such a high priority on profit, these are the types of ethical dilemmas you encounter. If we step outside of the food industry we could examine other harmful multi-billion dollar industries and associations in America, such as: private jailing, the NRA (who hold way more power than they should, and perpetuate gun violence in America), no free public health care (even thought the United States is the wealthiest country in the world), doctors prescribing highly addictive prescription drugs that many people do not need (from 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids (CDC.gov)), and that is just a glimpse. In the words of Sixto Rodriguez, one of the greatest song writers of the twentieth century, “I opened the window to listen to the news, but all I heard was the Establishment’s Blues”. Rodriguez is indicating that societal issues are unavoidable. This is why we have to consistently remind ourselves to proceed with intense caution, and above all, behave ethically, before situations begin to snowball.
- “Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Dec. 2016. Web. 11 June 2017.
- Cosier, Susan. “How Much Meat We Eat.” NRDC. N.p., 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
- Mercola interviews Michele Simon. Dir. Mercola. Perf. Dr. Mercola and Michele Simon. Youtube.com. N.p., 23 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2017.
- Gerard, Jim. “A Diet Fit for a Caveman.” ACE Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2017.
- Gilbert, Natasha. “One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- “Number of Enterprises in The United States Fast Food Industry from 2004 to 2018*.” Statista – The Statistics Portal, Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/196623/total-number-of-fast-food-restaurant-enterprises-in-the-us-since-2002/, Accessed 2 May 2017.
- Schwartz, Shelly K. “Food for thought: How energy is squandered in food industry.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
- Smith, Cecelia, and Grant Stoddardd. “16 Cheat Meal Strategies For Weight Loss.” Eat This Not That. N.p., 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 May 2017.