There is only one way to make a killing selling food, and it takes more than just harvesting it and delivering it fresh and whole to your dining room table. No, the only way you will ever make a fortune on food is if you can turn what nature provides into something that will last at least three months as it makes its way through the system from the field, to the factory, to the warehouse, grocery store, and finally to your plate.
Nature’s products don’t fare so well in that supply chain. They must be harvested before their prime, treated with enzymes to ‘ripen’ them almost to the point of ripeness at the grocery and then put out for you to purchase. This system, while not ideal for the food, is pretty convenient for us, and not too bad for the grocer. We never get to taste what this food was meant to taste like. If you have ever lived where you could pick an orange off your own tree, you will never be tricked into thinking the one at the Hy Vee in Kansas City is a ‘real’ orange. The grocer doesn’t lose too much of his merchandise to spoilage before it can be sold. We still get real nutrients in the proper proportions, not too much sugar and no artificial things that may be a problem for a small percentage of us. Fresh foods are still the way to go.
Your average, garden-variety food conglomerate does not care to sell you fresh foods. They want you to think that their attempts at delivering food are getting better and better at approximating the real thing, or that their Franken-foods are almost like taking medicine, with all the added vitamins and nutrients that they have so thoughtfully provided. I predict that you will pay more in the future for foods that will promise not to destroy your liver by scarring it with fat deposits. Maybe the new drug that is being invented right now to combat the newest man-made disease of NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) can be added right into our breakfast cereals, the same way that pesticides today are engineered right into the seeds that farmers plant (never mind the poor honeybee).
Your government has proven to be absolutely powerless to assist us in this problem with our foods. I don’t know if the problem is campaign contributions, Senate filibusters, conservative politicians, ignorance, or what. It doesn’t matter to me in the least that my government refuses to help everyone all at once by passing a new law or strengthening an old one. At 53, I have come to learn that laws can be changed, in fact will be changed, so anything done to help now could be ignored, underfunded, or repealed at some point in the future, so any help that our government gives us can’t be counted on to continue, or be supported properly once enacted. The only power that can stop our food system from injuring me is me. I must not believe that any food I might find in a box is finally pure enough, or healthy enough, or enough like ‘good medicine’ for me to eat it. I know that there is NOBODY that is testing the man made ingredients that it contains for their efficacy or safety to me personally. Compared to the billions of years of testing and refining that nature has put into delivering her products to my table, the contest is over before it begins. Nature wins, and has my best interests in her heart. Convenience be damned, I can’t feed my family from the bowels of a system that is concerned with quarterly profits, first, foremost, and only.
Today in the Times, my old buddy Bittman once again calls for government intervention.
If the most profitable scenario means that most food choices are essentially toxic — in the sense that overconsumption will cause illness — that’s a failure of the market, not of individual choice. And government’s rightful role is not to form partnerships with industry so that the latter can voluntarily “solve” the problem, but to oversee and regulate industry. Its mandate is to protect public health, and one good step toward fulfilling that right now would be to regulate the marketing of junk to children. Anything short of that is a failure.
While I think that government has a proper role, the debate about that is hot and heavy. Some quarters of the government think it should be ‘every man for himself’ in the US, and that it is up to you to protect you and yours from the depredations of the market. Well, I have to agree with them that you CAN do that. Somehow we got industry to put seat belts in all of the cars, despite industry fighting it tooth and nail. You can’t buy heroin in the grocery store to cure your ‘headaches’ for some reason. Nothing can be done, however, about the poisons in our foods. Well, that is fodder for a debate in the future, I guess, because no one is debating this topic in the halls of Congress now, that I know of.
Industry is busy trying to capture the few organizations that might be able to wise us up about our real options, and their real effects on our health. Groups of nutritionists that convene are bombarded with booths manned by industry representatives, touting the great strides that they are making for our benefit. ‘Don’t turn people away from sugar,” they say, “Sugar is just a calorie, indifferent from any other calorie, no better or worse”. Is the message they want your dietitian to learn and pass on to you.
What would I change in our food system if I could? I would charge a toll on food travelling on our nations railroads and highways that goes up exponentially the farther the food must travel. If it costs fifty dollars per pound to eat foods from a factory on the opposite coast from you, then it would be worth producing foods close to home. The extra income could be used to turn unused highways and neighborhoods into productive cropland again. Never gonna happen, but I can dream.