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The Pathology of the Processed Food Industry
The “Western Way Of Life” is an eating disorder. We are increasingly a culturally stunted, attention-deficit herd of obese individuals, the gooey interiors of mechanical beetles whose carapaces are the obese automobile-like trucks we drive in a constant tangle of frantic low-milage scrambles to fetch, carry and appear, rolling our individualized dung balls of acquisitiveness, like dung beetles as compulsive as Sisyphus and trained by televised marketing brainwash programming to consume through our world, giving our planet a fever, and eating up our lives in commercialized cycles that extract our psychic and metabolic energy to swell the flows of labor, money and adulation milked by a parasitic capitalism.
The pathology of the processed food industry is that rather than earning a reasonable living by selling healthy nourishment, they hustle for hyper maximized profits by selling taste addictions as stealth wrappers around food-like media whose consequences of consumption they externalize as our costs in obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, strokes, cancers, and an explosion of health care costs sapping the national economy.
Chemically modified foods (say, more than 5 ingredients), grain-fed meat and fish, and artificial food-like substances that are largely a media of corn or soy flour (refined carbohydrates) heavily doped with salts, trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil) and high fructose corn syrup (sugar), are ubiquitous and cheaply available in comparison to fresh natural (organic) whole foods.
The scientifically engineered taste impressions of these processed foods so easily seduce the tastebuds of an unwary public that a gargantuan torrent of it is allowed to sluice very profitably down into the nation’s stomachs, and from there its loads of hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, sugars, salts, and preservatives (which will keep your corpse from rotting as quickly as corpses used to before the 20th century) can diffuse throughout your body, accumulating as body fat and artery-clogging lipids and excess glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
If you eat, then you should read Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense Of Food. It is a magnificent presentation of the full panorama of the natural web of food and human health, and its commercial exploitation in industrialized societies. (1)
Perhaps no food-like substance is more poisonous to American health than sugar drinks (whether fizzy or “natural”) and processed carbohydrate media loaded with high fructose corn syrup (e.g., “frozen yogurt”). Broadly speaking, carbohydrates are first converted to glucose (a sugar, as are sucrose and fructose) that flows in the bloodstream as instantly available metabolic fuel. When an excess of such sugar-fuel circulates (because there is insufficient activity to burn it up) it can be withdrawn and converted to stored fat. This is accomplished by the release from the pancreas of the hormone insulin, which escorts circulatory glucose toward storage as body fat. A persistent excess of such blood sugar, which is beyond the body’s ability to reprocess, leads to the malady known as diabetes (which has several forms).
The sudden fall in insulin levels after glucose has been stored is a trigger to appetite, a signal which we all know as that craving for “more.” The consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates are particularly addicting in this way, you eat these “empty calories” and then are soon “hungry” again. In too many cases, people find themselves in a negative feedback loop of eating more and more (‘carbo-sweet’ stuff), getting fatter and fatter, and always being “hungry.” This type of counterproductive hunger-craving is absent with a proper (vegetable based) diet (more on this later). One lively presentation on sugar and human health, which expands on the points here, was posted by Louis Proyect. (2)
Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for 2009-2010, show that 69.2% of American adults over 20 years of age carry excess body weight, and among them are the 35.9% of American adults who are obese. More disturbing is that obesity occurs among 18% of American children between 6 and 19 years of age, and even 12.1% of youngsters between 2 and 5 years of age! (3) For a riveting examination of the political economy of obesity in America, and efforts to reverse it, see the documentary film Obesity And Poverty. (4) A similarly sobering report on the obesity crisis in Britain was recently televised. (5)
The terms “underweight,” “normal,” overweight,” and “obese” are defined by a quantity called the Body Mass Index (BMI). The ratio of a person’s mass in kilograms, divided by the square of their height in meters, is called their BMI (which has units of kilograms per meters squared). This quantity was first used in scientific research by Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874), before 1850. In 1972, physiologist Ancel Benjamin Keys (1904–2004) published a research paper demonstrating BMI to be the best proxy for body fat percentage among ratios of weight and height. (6)
The BMI is a convenient but not perfect gauge of a person’s amount of body fat, and by extension their probable degree of fitness. Of course, no simple physiological ratio can capture the full reality of every individual life. (7)
The upper boundary of the normal range of BMI was identified as numerically equal to 25 (in metric units). To find BMI using body weight in pounds and height in inches, divide the pounds by the square of height in inches, and multiply that result by 703.
Taking as your ideal physiological condition a body mass (“weight”) that produces a BMI equal to 25 for your height, then: you are “underweight” when below 74% of ideal weight, “normal” when between 74% and 100% of ideal weight, “overweight” when up to 120% of ideal weight, and “obese” when over 120% of ideal weight. Conditions below 64% of ideal weight and above 140% are termed severe (underweight and obesity, respectively).
The natural way to maintain a healthy body (a normal BMI) is to eat a diet composed primarily of organically grown: leafy vegetables eaten raw, steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, and supplemented with fish, beans, grains, and occasionally meat (100% pasture raised) if you are so inclined. Oil enters this diet in small quantities, such as the olive oil in salad dressing or used in the grilling of fish steaks. Salt enters as a minor ingredient in cooking, and sugar is reserved for the sweet treats one has now and then. The quantity of food consumed each day should be just enough that it supplies the calories needed to power your daily metabolism. Exercise, which is activity that increases heart rate and causes one to inhale oxygen more rapidly and deeply, will increase the daily metabolic rate (calorie burn), requiring a higher amount of food consumption above that necessary to maintain a sedentary routine. Additionally, exercise will increase endurance (aerobic exercise) and strength (anaerobic exercise).
It is a given that the maintenance of health requires forsaking all pernicious habits, like: smoking (all smoke inhalation diminishes oxygen intake, and introduces aerosols into the bronchia), excesses with alcohol, self “medication” or the many forms of willful intoxication; and good health also requires a restful sleep of at least 8 hours each night (or, within every 24 hour period).
So, given a basis of healthy behavior, time for proper rest (8-9 continuous hours) and exercise (20-30 minutes) every day, the availability of fresh wholesome (organic) foods, and the time to prepare, cook and eat them (for a family), one should easily be able to maintain an ideal state of health, both physically and mentally.
Our problem as people in industrialized societies (subjects of capitalism) is that the compulsions driving our Western Way Of Life are entirely hostile to granting individuals the time for proper rest, exercise and feeding (“slow food”), and they deluge us with sweet, salty, creamy, fast and cheap hyper-tensing diabetes-izing food-like media whose mass consumption sustains an industrial profitability beyond the dreams of a Croesus possessing a golden egg-laying goose.
A fundamental act of rebellion against capitalism is to expel it, in its form as processed food and your excess fat, circulatory lipids and glucose, from your body. This is not a trivial act, but a strenuous discipline for self-directed and life-long management of one’s own metabolism. In becoming more aware of my body’s metabolic management, I gain in health, which is to say I am more in control of my own destiny as it is influenced by my vitality and physicality, and I untangle myself a bit more from ensnarement in a political economy that is sick unto soullessness.
From our own daily experience, my family has learned that getting, preparing and eating healthy food is both time consuming and expensive. While processed, chemically modified (additives, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides), and corn-based, -fed or -loaded foods are marketed everywhere, one has fewer locations or occasions for getting real foods, as in weekend farmer’s markets. “Eating healthy” is today entirely a matter of being wealthy enough to indulge in that luxury. This is criminal, but the logical result of our industrialized food system (see 4 and 7). There is always some would-be boss or would-be owner who sees your time as their potential money. Hence, people pressed for time and money by the exigencies of their economic struggles will have a harder time resisting the lure of “convenience” and “fast” food, which besides making them fat, diabetic and hypertensive, adds to pollution because of all the plastic packaging.
Most of our healthcare costs, like the “war on cancer” (which is also a socialized externality of the tobacco industry), the epidemics of coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes, are simply the result of the population swallowing the pernicious externalities required to produce the profitability of the processed food industry. The “market solution” to our financial crisis of healthcare would be to tax all processed foods sufficiently to fund full universal nationalized healthcare. (Processed food could be defined leniently as any individually marketed item with more than 5 ingredients, or rigorously as any food that is not certified organic).
Such a scheme would undoubtedly cause the food industry to revamp its product lines so we the people could eat real foods bought conveniently at our local supermarkets, and not get sick: obese, diabetic, hypertensive, arteriosclerotic, cancerous, and prematurely dead. This would consequently lower the costs of our healthcare. When the healthiest foods are both widely available in all their varieties, and are also the lowest priced foods, while the processed stealthily toxic stuff is the most expensive ($50 McDonald’s “Happy Meals,” $15 Coca Colas) then many (most?) Americans will regain their health.
Your body is the physical center of your consciousness, the mother-ship of your imagination, and it marks out the path of your world-line in the four dimensional space-time continuum. Purging the residues of capitalist processes from your body is the regaining of awareness, health and self-control, it is both a political rebellion and a personal return-to-nature.
Now, with every thoughtful forkful consumed and every sip, with every bead of sweat and pant of catch-my-breath from self-directed exertion, and with every considered moment of selecting food at markets and then preparing it for family meals, I bring the operations of my metabolism into closer harmony with the natural cycles of energy flow on our planet. This type of awareness is as described in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. (8)
What is important about this personal rebellion is not its degree of completeness, but its enduring persistence.
Manuel García, Jr. is a retired engineering-physicist and has long been interested in energy, both natural and technological. He blogs at http://manuelgarciajr.com, and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Michael Pollan, In Defense Of Food, Penguin Books, 2008
2. Louis Proyect, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,”
3. Obesity and Overweight (Data for the U.S.)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CDC data (2009-2010) on obesity and overweight in the U.S.
35.9% of adults age 20 years and over are obese.
33.3% of adults age 20 years and over are overweight, and not obese.
18.4% of adolescents age 12-19 years are obese.
18% of children age 6-11 years are obese.
12.1% of children age 2-5 years are obese.
4. Poverty and Obesity (HBO: The Weight Of The Nation)
HBO Documentary Films, 14 May 2012
5. Britain’s Obesity Crisis
Channel4News, 18 February 2013
6. Body Mass Index (BMI)
very severely underweight BMI: under 15
severely underweight BMI: 15 to 16
underweight BMI: 16 to 18.5
normal BMI: 18.5 to 25
overweight BMI: 25 to 30
moderately obese BMI: 30 to 35
severely obese BMI: 35 to 40
very severely obese BMI: over 40.
7. Faith Simon, “When The BMI Is Not Enough,”
8. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Penguin Books, 2006