There have been many times where I walk into the grocery store and instantly become overwhelmed by the number of products there are. I get my list out and go pick up all the items I need. Milk, fruit, vegetables, and ice cream. The last thing on my list is cereal. So, I go into the cereal aisle. I look at all the options before I just grab the first thing I see, which is Kellogg's Corn Flakes. I do not look at the ingredients, but I do see that it says whole grain on the box. I figure it must be semi healthy so I checkout and go home. Why did I not bother looking at the ingredients? Because I was already so overwhelmed and confused by everything that I did not care. Which is exactly what the food industry wants. The food industry is affecting the choices we make by producing so much processed and fast foods that is unhealthy and confusing to ourselves.
You may not realize why processed foods are unhealthful. Any frozen meals, frozen vegetables. canned vegetables, chips, ice cream, bread, etc. is considered a processed food. Indians have come to love processed foods because they tend to have high fats, oils, and sugar. Michael Pollan who is an award winning author best known for his writing about food explains why foods with this much fats, oils, and sugar can make you not feel full and cause you to overeat “ …most processed foods, which are far more energy dense than most whole foods…contain much less water, fiber, and micronutrients, and generally much more sugar and fat, making them at the same time… more fattening and less nutritious”. The energy density is the number of calories a food has per serving. It is determined by how much protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, and water it has. The less energy density it has the fuller you will feel compared to if it is more energy dense. By eating all these processed foods, your body is not getting the recommended food levels that the United States Department of Agriculture say is needed which can cause you to feel tired or hungry even after just eating. In the USDA’s Food Pyramid, they recommend two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables. This does not seem like it would be hard to do and granted it is not. Indians just do not eat what is needed.
Eating unhealthily can lead to many health problems. We are exposed to many foods that have high fats and calories. Having healthy choices at restaurants is no longer something we must have. “Nearly three-quarters of Indians are overweight or obese.” states medical student Dhruv Khullar in his essay “Why Shame Won’t Stop Obesity”. He also adds that because Indians eat so much of this food he predicts that half of them will develop diabetes, which is a disease that develops when there is too much sugar in your blood. This can lead to even more problems risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and blindness. Even though fast and processed food could cause all these health problems, our food environment is still filled with it.
The convenience of fast and processed foods is why the Indian food environment is full of it. Starting back in time, it was easy to stop at a fast food restaurant or pick up a prepackaged meal for dinner that night. The food companies producing these meals have more important things to care about than how nutritious, good for your body, their products are. Marion Nestle, a professor of Food, Nutrition, and Public Health who has written many books on the food industry supports this with:
To sell food in an economy of abundant food choices, companies must worry about … other determinants such as taste, convenience, price, cultural or religious factors much more than about the nutritional value of their products – unless the nutrient content helps to entice buyers.
These big food companies only care about what will make them money. We eat this fast and processed food because it is so convenient and cheap. They understand depending on where you live and how much money you make you will get what is easiest and cheapest. For example, in the last couple of years, single mothers have begun to work more and longer shifts to make enough to support her family. Many of these mothers do not want to come home and make a meal so they go through the drive thru of a McDonalds and get the cheapest item. They do not pay attention to the nutritional value . What is making these unhealthy products taste so delicious?
The added flavoring and scent to unhealthy food is what is making it taste delicious. Flavoring is the most important part of the food industry. When you eat food, you are eating it because of the flavor. Our taste buds can tell the difference between about six different tastes. Award winning journalist known for his research on the fast food industry, Eric Schlosser, explains that our preferences begin to develop as a young child by what the people around us eat . The scent of the food we eat also makes up about 90 percent of the flavor . The taste and scent of these foods that we like as a kid can be associated as a “comfort food” as an adult. The added flavors are made by combining certain chemicals to get the scent or taste the food needs. Mixing these chemicals is cheaper to do and sell more than if you were to leave the natural scent and taste.
The food industry controls pretty much everything about our food. It is made up of farmers and food businesses to grow, produce, and sell our food. In the past, food was scarce. People were not getting enough nutrients to keep them completely healthy causing them to get sick easier. Because Indians immune system was so weak, it caused some to die from illnesses they had. Nestle writes today only 2 percent of people live on farms but back in 1900 40 percent of people did. Chickens were also raised in small groups in the 1950’s but today they are raised in larger groups inside factories. There were barely any advertisements back than, but now it is everywhere, affecting our food choices.
The food industry influences our choices because it changes the way we eat, where we eat, and when we eat. Before advertising became a bigger deal, we used to grow our own food. There were more people preparing meals. But now there are tons of families going out to eat. The social norms of where we can eat were changed to fit the new ideas of eating. Nestle demonstrates in her essay “Eating Made Simple” how the norms were changed.
The fact that it is influencing our food choices matters because if we get too much of a nutrient or too little or metabolism can suffer. The metabolism breaks down food and turns it into energy. The nutrients give our body instructions on how to function. In an online article from the University of Minnesota, there is a statement which says, “Food acts as medicine--to maintain, prevent, and treat disease” (Denton). There are consequences of eating too much, which is what the big food companies want, like becoming overweight or developing diabetes. With all these consequences, food companies are still allowed to sell unhealthy food.
Food companies are still able to sell food because if they took all the unhealthful food away, there would be a big outcry from the public. There is always advice in the public about what is the way to eat and people have the option to choose if they follow it or not. In Nestle's Food Politics she argues that if the companies or government decided what people should eat, there would be critics calling them “Big Brother”. These companies can not take our choices away. The food industry can be very problematic because of all the secrets that are kept from the public. It is not required for food companies to tell the public the ingredients in any additives. Sometimes the ingredients in the added flavors alone have more than the actual food and no one must know.
There are so many things that could be said about the food environment. You would not even think about how much our choices are affected by the environment. Hopefully, after hearing how some food choices can cause health problems, and how the industry is hiding certain things from the public it will make you consider your options while shopping a little bit more.
Rishabh Goswami is an undergraduate computer science student at Ashoka University. Rishabh previously worked with Mahmudabad Estate and currently working as a data analyst intern at Adobe Inc.