Fat profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity

The Guardian – Wednesday 7th August

If you didn’t already have your suspicions about the food industry, this story will certainly generate a few. This extensive piece describes how the food industry, having profited from making people fat, is now profiting from making them thin. Or actually, not necessarily making them thin, but making them want to be thin. When the BMI indicator for being overweight dropped by two points, from 27 to 25, a whole new group of people who used to be classed as normal became fat; and when these once normal people began to worry about being overweight, the diet industry was born. Supermarkets are now laden heavily with processed food that makes us fat in one aisle and processed food that allegedly helps us lose weight in another. The writer points out that it is now possible to buy a ‘diet’ black forest gateau.

The story gets more disturbing with a look at the rise of diet drugs in the 70s and 80s, which were supposed to provide a cure-all drug to slim us down. One of the most significant, Redux, had dangerous side effects – a fact suppressed for as long as possible by strong-arm tactics of the drug companies. There is still no magic pill to take the weight off. In lieu of this, the diet industry is a ‘limitless pot of gold.’

Children ‘more likely to have a can of pop than eat enough fruit and vegetables’

The Guardian – Monday 12th August

Yet another study, this one by the British Heart Association, documenting the poor health of our children and warning of a lifetime of ill health. Eating and exercising habits continue to decline, evidenced by some deeply worrying statistics – 39% of girls and 43% of boys have a fizzy drink every day; 80% of children are not eating recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables; and a significant majority of children do not get an hour a day of exercise.

We’re passing our poor health onto another generation – that’s both sad and irresponsible. The food we eat lies at the heart of this. We need to learn to enjoy and eat fresh food again, cooked by our own hands. As a society, we have been largely involved in forgetting this for the last half century and the impact has been devastating.

Foods where price is more important than quality

The Telegraph – Sunday 11th August

The battle for cheap has been reignited by Sainsbury’s with a twist. It’s going up against Tesco and ASDA not just on price, but on quality, raising the issue of value for money. With the tag line, ‘same price, different values,’ Sainsbury is aiming to offer better value in the sourcing and ethics of its food, for the same price as the other two supermarkets.

It’s refreshing to see quality enter into the cheap food challenge that the supermarkets are endlessly involved in. It’s really important to get people to think beyond price to what it is they are paying for. It’s the first step down the road to sustainability. Though the recession has made cost a significant consideration again for consumers, it’s nice to see that consumers are beginning to evaluate what they are paying for. The piece also notes that consumers are shopping at more supermarkets in order to find the best value, up to four and a half supermarkets per week from two and a half. Now, if we could just get them down to their local butchers, we’d be making progress.

The richer you are, the more you eat fast food! Wait, what?

Grist – Wednesday 7th August

Really not what you’d expect, eh? We all tend to think that the wealthier we are, the better we eat. While this does remain generally true, at least in nutritional terms, apparently the propensity for fast food doesn’t wane as we move up the social ladder and we’ve got more cash to indulge our bad habits.

This piece is full of interesting statistics from a recent Gallup poll in the US. While most people know (76%) that fast food is bad for you, nearly half of Americans (47%) eat it at least once a week. Only 4% of Americans claim never to eat fast food. It highlights that no one really cares about either the health or environmental side effects of the fast food industry, even as awareness of its impacts has risen over the past decade. Makes it hard not to use the word ‘addiction’ in connection with its consumption, doesn’t it?

Genetically modified seed research: What’s locked and what isn’t

Grist – Monday 5th August

Nathanael Johnson, writing for The Grist, continues to interrogate the breadth of social, scientific and ethical issues associated with GM. In this column, he starts to pull apart the question of owning organisms, perhaps one of the most contentious issues to be considered – how do bio-tech firms’ ownership of GM organisms control our understanding of them and their use? It’s a multi-faceted issue and Johnson starts by looking at the relationship that biotech firms have with scientists and the universities that support them. The biggest problem is that there is so little funding for independent scientific research that isn’t compromised by potential conflicts of interest because the funding has come from the company that owns the seed being researched. Such independent research is vital to creating a robust and unbiased research base on GM food.

Surge of investment in farming threatens £5trn catastrophe

The Independent – Friday 9th August

A new report warns of the significant threat to farming on a global level from a variety of environmental impacts including climate change, ecosystem collapse and water scarcity. These impacts could reduce the productivity of land so significantly that it ceases to be viable for farming. The resultant loss of food security on a global level is terrifying – a worst case scenario projection, we can only hope. It threatens an economic as well as social breakdown as the value of agricultural land has soared over the past few decades and benefitted from wide-ranging investment. The collapse of its value would hit far and wide.

All this brings home how desperately important it is to take care of our dirt. The soil gives us everything and allows us our civilisation. As agricultural land is pressed harder as our planet changes, the onus is on us to care for it, more carefully.

Photograph by UGA College of Ag

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