Let’s face it: we have been divided and conquered by the food and beverage industry. It’s not pretty. In fact, they have been running circles around us, more or less unopposed on their way to almost gaining 100% control of what we eat and obviously making mega profits along the way. Most people probably never realized there was a match on. Sometime in the future, I am sure we will ask ourselves how we could let them get away with so much, just like we today are asking ourselves how we failed to control Big Tobacco.
Here are some of the things they have been getting away with:
– loading our food with toxins, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics and steroids
– adding sugar, salt and fat to pretty much everything to make it more palatable and cover up any bad tastes
– specifically targeting children in their advertising
– increasingly producing “food” in factories without any natural ingredients or nutrients
– saying they want to be part of the solution, for example by reducing calories, but then doing the complete opposite
All of these changes have been very gradual so that no one would notice. Historically, we have been suckers for these slow changes. As an example of just how toxic our food environment has become, picture yourself time-travelling from the 1950:s, just before the rise of the junk/fast food industry, to today. You would be stunned at the amount of junk food on offer, and the brash and cynical marketing that accompanies it (think toys to children from the latest children’s movie, for example).
Now, thankfully, the tide appears to be turning. More and more people are waking up and not liking what they are being served or how mega food companies operate, and are starting to find more healthy and sustainable food sources or even growing their own. Crucially, consumers are also getting more and more connected and organized in fighting back, particularly in the US. This is where the fighting appears to be at its most fierce, since this is also where the food environment is worst.
We have to be mindful, however, of not falling for more of their classic divide and conquer tactics. One such example is when we as researchers try to link a particular junk food or beverage to a particular health outcome, such as obesity or depression. By just focusing on one adverse health outcome, and endlessly debating this, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and not getting anywhere. What we have to do is to analyze the total cost of junk food, including all known health problems and the negative effects on the environment (which are massive).
I doubt that we can count on politicians to solve this for us, this needs to come from the bottom up, i.e. consumer power. And once enough people get fired up and organized, then we will start to see real change happening, i.e. real food, packed with nutrition and grown in a truly sustainable way, available to everyone.