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Diets which have processed grain products and high fructose corn syrup are some of the primary causes of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, with 2.7 million deaths caused by lack of whole or plant based foods (Unhealthy Diets & Physical Inactivity Study, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity, 2009). Processed grain products and high fructose corn syrup after digestion, immediately turn into simple sugars in your blood stream, your blood sugar levels and insulin levels go up which creates an alarming hormonal imbalance. This imbalance what is scientifically proven to be a major factor in the diseases mentioned previously and more - diabetes, heart disease, obesity and some forms of cancer. Whole and/or plant based foods in a nutshell are fruits and vegetables or anything that is not processed. Processed foods are basically anything from salting meat to dehydration to enhance certain properties of raw ingredients in order to preserve the food. Unfortunately, processed foods for the past thirty years processed foods have mutated into nutrition less, disease causing pariah that they are today occupying ____% of America's grocery store shelf space and sucking up exorbitant amounts of tax payer dollars through federal subsidies.
What do these processed foods possibly contain in order to wreak so much havoc here in American. Well, to explain it simply, let us discuss the main ingredients which make these foods or better described as "products". One of the most used ingredients are processed grains or refined white flour, which is created through a milling process which strips the wheat of its nutrition - bran and germ. The flour is then bleached - yes, bleached like you would use to remove nasty stains from your clothing, and now is virtually nutritionally barren. Now, artificial nutrients are added back in. The responsibility of this process does not lie with mother's or trained chefs, but by scientist (video). The only benefit to this entire process is the shelf life of the food product - the product can be stored longer and can be shipped longer distances. Refined white flour is in hamburger buns, wonder bread, frosted corn flakes, Pop Tarts, chewy-chocolate chip cookies, just to name a few well known products (video).
The next most used ingredient which contributes to our unhealthy diet is high fructose corn syrup. This ingredient is fabricated by milling corn, producing corn starch, then corn syrup or glucose, include enzymes which change some of the glucose into fructose and voila! You have products like Coca and Pepsi cola, ketchup, chewy chocolate chip cookies, and even ice cream. High fructose corn syrup is largely cheaper to make than sugar, easier to mass produce, therefore so many products include it (video).
Furthermore, additional reasons you should avoid an unhealthy diet and processed food is not only the lack of necessary vitamins, but the lowering of your immune system making you more susceptible to sickness, according to Tufts University researchers. Other issues that arise would be high blood pressure, high cholesterol, greater chance of having a stroke, and even stress on joints making ordinary activities more painful and less desirable. Not to mention, processed foods as part of an unhealthy diet may shorten your life span according the World Health Organization (Unhealthy Diet Problems. Jun 14, 2011. Holly Case. http://www.livestrong.com/article/318054-unhealthy-diet-problems/).
Of course, the argument against the anti-processed food issue is that preservation remains highly significant due to illness and possible death that would be the consequence of spoiled food. Also, when food products have a longer shelf life, the opposing factions argue that the public will be able to enjoy these great tastes for many months. Not to mention, the extended arm of logistical routes (TEACHING THE FOOD SYSTEM: A PROJECT OF THE JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR A LIVABLE FUTURE httpwww.jhsph.eduresearchcenters-and-institutesteaching-the-food-systemcurriculum_pdfFood_Processing-Background.pdf). On the other hand, not only are the processed products developed chemically in a lab, filling us with chemicals and artificial ingredients, the negative effect on the population far outweighs the illness caused by spoiled food and the money saved by the consumer and the food industry in huge resulting health care costs and tax loss.
What is the historical background to the problem?
First of all, let us talk about what led us to our current predicament of unhealthy processed food. The reason, historically, foods were processed was to keep them fresh for a longer period of time. Previously, salting and dehydration were mentioned as processing techniques - also included were techniques such as fermenting dairy for foods such as cheese or yogurt and even pickling - like those eggs one sees in the large jars at mini-marts but vegetables were traditionally pickled; other methods were sun drying and freezing. Most of the developments in processing were instigated for military use (History of Processed Food. Video). First, it was discovered that glass jars kept food from spoiling, but glass is susceptible to breaking which brought the next development. For example Napoleon Bonaparte in the eighteenth century, the famous military strategist made a decree a competition to any scientist that created the best method to preserve food for the French army. The result of this competition produced a sound canning method. Later Louis Pasteur, also French, discovered another method of preserving food called appropriately Pasteurization - which is a "process that uses controlled amounts of heat to extend the shelf life of milk, juice and other products" per John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (TEACHING THE FOOD SYSTEM: A PROJECT OF THE JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR A LIVABLE FUTURE httpwww.jhsph.eduresearchcenters-and-institutesteaching-the-food-systemcurriculum_pdfFood_Processing-Background.pdf). This search for better and cheaper ways to preserve foods brought us to where we are today - bleached flour and high fructose corn syrup.
How is this issue one of the social or economic justice? Why is this issue a "justice" issue?
One of the favorite examples of healthy food advocates in revealing the ingredients of the ever popular Twinkie, a food market product leader. What the ingredients actually are, generally elude the public and to support this point, here they are:
Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Flour, Reduced Iron, B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid)], Corn Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable and/or Animal Shortening (Soybean, Cottonseed and/or Canola Oil, Beef Fat), Whole Eggs, Dextrose. Contains 2% or Less of: Modified Corn Starch, Glucose, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Sweet Dairy Whey, Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium Sulfate and Sodium Caseinate, Salt, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour, Cornstarch, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness), Yellow 5, Red 40.
Yes, the Twinkie is a product leader, but seems to miss being a food. To further prove this, the following will provide somewhat of an idea of what the consumer may be ingesting when enjoying a tasty Twinkie (these ingredients are in bold above):
Sorbic acid: an ingredient seen on many packages and is actually derived from natural gas.
Cellulose gum, Polysorbate 60, & calcium sulfate, and diglycerides: these ingredients are also used in sheet rock, shampoo, and rocket fuel.
Notice the High Fructose Corn syrup and "Enriched" bleached flour, which we discussed previously, which you also find in food pyramid "staples" such as Wonder Bread.
The health epidemics caused by unhealthy foods, such as the popular Twinkie, are not class specific and are unconcerned with what your educational level is or what type of community in which you live. This health epidemic affects a whopping 67% of the United States population! Furthermore, unhealthy food intake is not necessarily based on weak self-control as the puritanical philosophy likes to declare. The truth is poor eating habits are actually a result of a social and economic world that does not encourage healthy food selections. Why are unhealthy foods promoted in the first place? Why is something so destructive to this country not taken as seriously as it should? Our first clue is the small number of food companies that control most of the production and distribution of most foods on the grocery store shelf. Here is a list of what is known as the "Big Ten" multinational food and beverage companies: Coca Cola, Pepsico, Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, P&G and Nestles (http://www.convergencealimentaire.info/). Therefore, our choices are much more limited than a consumer would expect when walking up and down the store aisles seeing the multitude of products lined on either side. Another example of our limited choices is the six media companies that control 90% of what we read, watch and listen to (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner & CBS).
Included in the injustice, is an enormous $18.2 billion in subsidies, taxpayer dollars, have gone to common unhealthy food ingredients including high-fructose corn syrup since 1995. These subsidies are bordering ridiculous when 1 child out of every 3 is considered obese or overweight with a possibility of becoming diabetic. Lobbyists, with the backing of $200 million of the big business money, make sure that these subsidies do not expire. In contrast, only $637 million has gone to subsidies for apples since 1995. That's enough to buy 77 million apples per year on average - just half of one apple per taxpayer (http://www.nmpirg.org/issues/nmp/stop-subsidizing-obesity). Between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 billion in agricultural subsidies. Most subsidies went to the country's largest farming operations, mainly to grow just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans (http://www.nmpirg.org/issues/nmp/stop-subsidizing-obesity). And corn is mostly used to feed livestock or create high fructose corn syrup.
What is the scope of the problem? Who is affected? How many people are affected?
As previously mentioned, this health epidemic touches 67% of Americans and is non-class specific. More affluent consumers are bombarded by the huge bank rolls of the Big 10 food companies and media, and although healthier food is available, it remains difficult for us to fight billions of dollars of psychologically researched advertisement. But, at least the more affluent have a choice, because the less affluent from middle class to the poverty stricken have even less choice plus the same advertising bombardment and generally choose convenience. The biggest losers are the lower classes and the impoverished, who rarely even enjoy the convenience of a minor grocery store chain as will be discussed later.
What biblical/theological principles address this issue?
The first word that comes to mind regarding this health epidemic is greed and the Bible has many verses dealing with this subject. But other lessons come to mind, for example, "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food' (Genesis 1:29). The fruit of the Earth is not sorbic acid or high fructose corn syrup from a literal stand point, and in this case, we should likely take this literally when our thoughts touch upon unhealthy as opposed to healthy foods. Plant-based foods remain the healthiest food available to us. The next verse comes from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." This verse tells us that our physical beings are meant to be treated as the gifts they are to us, and in this case, limit your destructive in-take, your body is not meant to consume these things (Bible).
The first of the final two Bible verses which seem appropriate for this subject is Matthew 6:24,
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." This is a lesson for the greed of the big company interest in profit over the collective health of human beings. We can also look at Psalm 10:3 in relationship to the greed of big business, "For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord." Christian ethics veers us away from the accepted practices of our current economic principles of continued growth and big business' embrace of increasing profits no matter the cost (Bible).
What are the economic implications of this issue?
Healthy eating costs more. The University of Washington discovered in a study that 370 foods sold in grocery stores in a major metropolitan area cost less than fruits and vegetables. Processed food may not be affected by inflation either the study determined. This may explain why according to the Journal of American Dietetic Association the highest rate of obesity rests with lower-income Americans. This study showed that low-calorie foods are more likely to increase in price over time as opposed to high-calorie foods which seem to remain inexpensive during the same period. The study explained that people generally do not search for higher calorized products but the data shows that it is less complicated for poorer American to maintain their energy on high-calorized foods (not to mention they are easier to obtain). One example of the study is that a 2,000-calorie diet would cost only $3.52 a day if it were high-calorie foods, where as a low-calorie dense food diet would cost approximately $36.32 a day. (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/a-high-price-for-healthy-food/) - Why? Ingredients are cheaper to make and a wide distribution and logistics plan has been in the works for years. On the other hand, plant-based foods are not offered the same subsidies that crops like wheat or corn have, and the distribution logistics are fairly new and limited. Also, there is more demand for 'junk' food, which drives prices downâ€¦
What strategies are best used to address the problem? Be sure to consider the issue on a micro and macro level.
Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
â€¢ Removing sales taxes on healthy foods
â€¢ Subsidizing healthy foods (also called the "thin subsidy")
â€¢ Subsidizing transportation of healthy foods in remote regions
Subsidizing sport and recreation activities: Providing tax credits to encourage physical activity (gym membership, fitness classes, etc.)
(PRB 06-34E: Parliamentary Information and Research Service: Library of Parliament. 1/6/2007.
The Impact of Economic Instruments That Promote Healthy Eating, Encourage Physical Activity and Combat Obesity. http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/LOP/ResearchPublications/prb0634-e.htm)
Paper in England suggests that unhealthy foods and drinks need a 20% fat tax.
There are several ways this issue could be resolved, of course, they will not be easy. Firstly, sales tax could be removed from healthy foods to reduce consumer cost and increase interest. Secondly, subsidies for buying healthy foods can also be introduced. Thirdly, to compensate for the loss in tax revenues on the healthy foods, an increase in tax on unhealthy foods would be a viable source of government income plus it would discourage the consumer from purchasing the products. 30 international studies regarding this idea of instating a 'health tax' on disease causing food products were examined by a British consortium to determine whether it was a viable idea or not and the effect it had on the creation of better health. The conclusion was that taxes can help, but only if the public feels the pressure on their incomes. The question in the United States that would arise would be that government intervention would be an infringement on our rights as free citizens, but, economists seem to agree that government intervention based on taxation is justified when the free-market has failed to "provide the optimum amount of good for society's well-being" as written by the authors of the Consortium. This includes industry that ignores a scientific declaration that diet can create disease. Taxation on unhealthy foods in both Denmark and Hungary have been implemented and France has placed a tax on sweetened drinks which have the best chance to create better health per the same study. With this said, this idea has become a reality and is not just some idealist pipe dream (http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/16/study-a-20-fat-tax-would-improve-public-health/).
To take this argument further, let us look at a U.S. study that calculated a 35% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, which only amounts to .45 cents additional per drink, led to an approximately 26% decline in sales. Based on this analysis of similar modeling studies, it was concluded that a 20% tax on sugary drinks in this country would reduce obesity levels by 3.5%, which would take 33.5% down to 30% among adults which is a start to reducing the health epidemic. This reduction could save up to 2,700 heart disease patients from dying each year (http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/16/study-a-20-fat-tax-would-improve-public-health/).
Probably the most difficult strategy would be to reduce subsidies to the Big 10 food conglomerates and award the reduced dollars to the whole foods or plant-based foods industries. The difficulty arises from the political power these organizations possess here in the United States. Regardless, this tactic could very well succeed in reducing the number of sick American's, thereby reducing healthcare costs and all other related adverse effects. Unfortunately, only awarding subsidies would not be as effective as awarding subsidies to individual farmers also, and not just the corporate owned mega-farms which dominate much of the agriculture market today. If this was successful, it would add the bonus of returning some power back to the people in the form of a reinstated "American Dream".
The battle is a difficult and long endeavor, because the food companies are powerful enough to influence government policies in their favor - and this is a big reason why we have "preventable" health and social justice issues. (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/). Also, these corporations and the government agencies have a huge influence on what we eat and how we are informed about what we eat. This is because of their vast monetary fortunes, huge advertising budgets, and political resources have enabled them into all facets of our lives including our schools. The big food corporations have used these advantages to embed themselves into our very culture, changing what we put in our mouths. Their government resources have causes regulators to be more concerned with the company profits than the public's well-being. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acts as an advocate of the meat and dairy industries but also specifies us with our nutritional standards which are obviously a "conflict of interest". Take the "food pyramid" for instance, originally the milk group and meat group sat squat in the middle, although, recently there have been studies which rate American meats as hormone and anti-biotic cesspools which some countries even refuse to import. Also, there is now rumblings about the difficulty human beings have in digesting animal milks and calcium, the main component in recommending milk as a dietary supplement, can be found in multiple whole foods (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
A very effective was the food industry counter acts this "negative publicity" the current health epidemic is to simply place blame back on the individual. This is a common tactic used to for oppressing alternate views. An example of this is placing the blame on the under-privileged by saying they created their negative circumstances at no fault of the establishment, and have all the chances in the world to pull themselves out. This debate is generally described in black and white terms for simplicity sake - but clearly, as anyone who thinks knows, these issues are deeply complicated (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
It was previously mentioned that the big food companies have large marketing budgets - the approximation of what these companies spend is over $35 billion dollars to ensure you know you need their products. This money is not spent without a return, the competition is stiff even among sister companies and based on the current American economic strategy of never-ending growth and the interests of investors, advertising dollars tend to determine sales. The small government budgets set aside for healthy eating promotions are weak and go almost unnoticed - or political figures dependent on corporate donations distort these messages negatively to lessen public support. A good example of this is when so-called "conservative" advocates blasted the first Lady Michelle Obama's healthy diet program for children, by declaring it another example of the government's attempt to control the choices of the people. The reality of these attacks are two-fold, the first being that a "president's child health campaign" has been in the works in various forms for the last 50 years - and the second being, advocating child health is bi-partisan and whether the political party of the promoter is irrelevant when we show concern for our children's future. Anyway, anyone facing 5 billion dollars a year of child marketing would practically have to almost be God-like to brush it all aside and never find themselves and their children at a fast-food restaurant (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
Another argument used by the food company advocates is that they simply sell what the public wants. Yes, the consumer asks for these unheawlthy foods and they look for price, taste and convenience. Lucky for the consumer, the logistics for these unhealthy foods have been set in place over the last 30 years - why? Because these foods are much cheaper to produce and bring in higher profits, therefore the food industry along with federal assistance have continuously laid their claim to this unhealthy food philosophy and pushed the whole food/plant based industry to the side. Maybe the original idea was not solely based on greed as the researchers searched for better methods of food preservation and methods to drive costs down - but, this push created the well embedded system of today and the profits outweigh to motivation to dismantle the entire structure for the welfare of the people (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
Many American's eat unhealthy food on a regular basis regardless of the number of studies available to them. One should never assume someone else understands what is truly healthy and what is not just because you do. Many people are generally under the assumption that these are conspiracy theories based on the fact that they are simply nice people. In their minds, they cannot fathom that a company would knowingly make them sick based on profits. Also, although these studies exist, the normal American does not search for it (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
Unfortunately, another reason why people do not choose healthier foods is the fact they are not always available or difficult to get hold of. For example, specialty produce markets do not exist in the less privileged areas for the reason that it is more costly and therefore makes poor business sense to locate stores in those areas. Also, even if a large grocery store exists in the poor areas, the produce is lower quality than in the suburbs or more affluent areas (The Grocery Gap: Who has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters. Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink - Oakland, CA, Allison Karpyn of The Food Trust-Philadelphia, PA, www.policylink.org, www.thefoodtrust.org. , 2010). For example, Roswell, Georgia is one of the most affluent of the Atlanta suburbs and shares a highway with a more rural area called Woodstock. Roswell has a large grocery store chain on that highway and 5 miles down the road there is another store of the same chain in the less affluent rural town. The produce department in Roswell is not only larger, but the vegetables and fruit are fresh looking with a larger variety as opposed to the same store down the street. Back to the poorer neighborhood - since there is no grocery store in their area, the community must buy food from the "quickie marts" and liquor stores which usually only carry fast, processed food like soft drinks and potato chips - their food options are extremely limited (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
What about the American's with lower incomes? You may ask. With certainty they are an important part of this epidemic that cannot be overlooked. As a matter of fact, some studies have shown lower income families struggle more than their middle and upper class contemporaries in the form of weight gain. These added food taxes would influence their eating habits greatly, but the "catch-22" here would be unfair burden the fact that healthy foods are much less available to the lower income communities. The backfire would come in the form of hunger and possible starvation! The plan would be that subsidies and zero taxes placed on the healthy food industry would reduce costs in creating the ever so important logistics framework to get their products from the distributers to the stores. This would enable the grocery store chains to open stores more cheaply, in turn increasing the availability of healthier foods to the lower income facilities. The bottom line is, though, that these strategies must include all classes of Americans in order to reverse an epidemic that does not discriminate. (http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/16/study-a-20-fat-tax-would-improve-public-health/).
The next question that would come to mind is what would the reality of the American public's view be when faced with an additional tax? The response of the opinion polls produced a 37% to 72% support of a tax on sugary drinks, therefore, if the additional tax can be associated positively with the health benefits it would provide, and then resistance would be very little. This tells us that the marketing campaign must be massive in order to take attention away from the advertising bombardment we receive from private interest. A supporting fact is the tax hike on cigarettes in 2009 which led to a significant decrease in U.S. smokers. The challenge would be to relate the evils of smoking already part of the popular culture to a similar view of dangers of processed foods - convincing the public that excessive eating of Pop Tarts can lead to death (http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/16/study-a-20-fat-tax-would-improve-public-health/).
Food companies have been savvy enough to jump on the health bandwagon and introduced their versions of what is healthy - a big example of this is low-calorie or sugar free products. Some of these changes are positive but make very little impact such as apple slices being available to children at one major fast food chain, where as other "healthy" products hide their true face. These disguised unhealthy foods may be low-calorie if you eat the serving size, which often times is much less than one supposes - also, a product may be low-calorie but extremely high in sugar and even salt; or, the biggest fallacy of a low-calorie product is the lack of nutrients. It is no healthier to count calories and eat foods that are devoid of nutrients than it is to eat products that are high in unhealthy fats - one may weigh less than the other, but both are unhealthy (we are not talking weight here, we are talking health). Anyway, even if your cookies are low fat, they are still full of the same chemicals and additives that have caused these health epidemics; therefore, your best choice is to avoid them entirely (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).
Back to the argument that government will be too involved - guess what, government is already heavily involved as it is. Truthfully, government advices us on nutrition, subsidizes farming, sets food standards, and government agencies influence our world in an extreme manner regarding what we consume and the information given to us about it. It is "important to distinguish between government controls over individual rights versus reasonable regulation of corporate behavior." For example, "requiring fast food chains to provide nutritional information is not an infringement on our freedom or rights but it is a reasonable way to get corporations to be more truthful about their products. Knowledge is power after all. Also, again, this argument is not anti-corporate or anti-capitalism - there is absolutely nothing wrong with these companies making a profit - the issue here is our never-ending growth economic philosophy as mentioned previously. If continuous growth is your objective, then you will work to increase profits no matter the circumstances. But, common sense dictates that nothing grows forever, as we have recently encountered with the crash of the "impenetrable" big banks. Therefore, should we not look at changing a flawed economic philosophy instead of bickering about what is "patriotic" and what is not (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/)?
One may ask what we can do about this - as mentioned previously, we can tax unhealthy foods - but, tougher regulation, education and safety measures would work. In order to accomplish this, we must unite as a people and look at this as a health epidemic and not a political power-grab. We must dismantle the current system's structure and institute a new strategy which places the health of our future generations over short-term profits (http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/faqs/food-politics/).