We have come a long way in the last 100 years. My grandparents, living through two world wars, always ate organic – there was no other alternative. They never knew “functional foods” or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Fast forward to today, our supermarket foodscape has changed dramatically. What was once sold in bulk is now individually wrapped or comes in a cardboard box. Walk through a supermarket: what’s the percentage of wrapped, canned and boxed foods versus fresh produce or foods offered in bulk? Even vegetables and fruit sometimes come trayed and wrapped individually, not to mention stickers on every apple denoting the farming practice giving rise to it (e.g. conventional or organic.)
In an attempt to maximize profits, as any business does, the food industry invented additives, colorings, preservatives, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents and the likes to increase appeal and shelf life. They engineered new “foods” hardly deserving the name but being tasty nevertheless. That’s why we fall for it. Blinded by things tasting good, we march into the shop and throw boxes and packages into the trolley, oblivious to what these products actually contain. Reading labels is a good habit but is followed by too few. How else is it that we still see so many terrible “foods” on the shelves?
That said, consumer power absolutely makes a difference. According to Robyn O’Brien, Coca Cola, Kraft and Walmart, for example, employ double standards when it comes to which products they offer where. US products differ from those in Europe, for instance, due to European consumers refusing to buy products with certain ingredients.
Farming practices also play into this: how can it be that organic farmers must jump through the hoops and pay fees to certify their produce, whilst conventional farmers receive aids and pay nothing to legally poison the populace? This is completely upside down. Those who use poison should pay fees and not receive subsidies – but currently, it’s the other way around.
A lot of modern food allergies come from the very foods engineered to increase profits for the industry that created them, ironically, potentially turning customers into antagonists, once they awaken to those food ingredients as possible causes of their ailments. This happened to Robyn O’Brien.
Robin’s video below introduces some important talking points: just how much industries have changed our food supply, how these changes affect us at a population level, and what we can do to change back to a more healthful pattern. After all – and that’s the good news – we vote with our dollars, every day. Don’t like it? Leave it! Supermarkets would be broke if I were their sole customer, leaving some 95% of things on the shelf.
Apart from buying mostly fresh and bulk, my rule of thumb for packaged goods is: if it has more than one number, it stays behind. (This makes shopping rather easy!) Of course, it gets more complicated with a bigger family and more people to look after, but one can still apply this simple rule of thumb and change consumer patterns. It only requires label reading in the beginning until you learned which products contain fewest numbers (aka additives, preservatives, colors, etc).
Watch Robyn O’Brien’s enlightening talk about food adulteration practices and outcomes below. It’s a must see, especially for US-based parents! I also recommend Robon’s book, “The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation Into The Dangers of America’s Food Supply — And What Every Family Can Do To Protect Itself.”
Robyn O’Brien @ TEDxAustin
A former Wall Street food industry analyst, Robyn brings insight, compassion and detailed analysis to her research into the impact that the global food system is having on the health of our children. Described by The New York Times as “Food’s Erin Brockovich”, her mission revealed more about the food industry than she could stomach, and impelled her to share her findings with others. Informative and inspiring viewing.
By Katrin Geist
Contributing writer for Wake Up World