A Food Pandemic Infects America

A food pandemic means the abundance of disease-causing foods (pathogenic foods) people consume regularly and consequently develop life-threatening morbidities. The U.S. has been infected with a food pandemic for many years, now spreading to other countries.

In 2020, the U.S. life expectancy dropped by 1.5 years from 78.8 to 77.3 years, which is facially attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the backstory points to a previously bursting food pandemic that covertly joined forces with the invading virus. For example, the Covid-19 patients with type-2 diabetes, a food disease, have been much more vulnerable to severe effects of the virus. With the number of deaths exceeding 616,000, the food plus virus pandemics have hit the U.S. hard. Even if the virus goes away, the food pandemic will continue to exact harm in the foreseeable future. Sadly, the pandemics deniers remain bountifully ignorant.

Public health is much more complicated than the mere availability of low-cost food. Food pandemics hit nations where food scarcity is infrequent, food production is high, distributions systems are efficient, but a massive amount of affordable food is pathogenic. Nutritional ignorance, overeating, Information perplexity, and food industry-sponsored smokescreens extend the reach and duration of the pandemic.

One may argue that even unhealthy food is better than prolonged starvation. The recent famines in history killed millions of people worldwide. In the 18th century, due to drought, crop failure, and poverty, Mughal India faced two famines that killed 21 million people, nearly ten percent of the population. In the 20th century, China faced two major famines, one in 1907 due to high rains that prevented crop production, another during 1959-61 primarily due to flawed government policy. These two famines wiped out at least 70 million people, mostly in rural areas. In 1921, amid a civil war and railroad disruptions, Russia suffered from a catastrophic famine that killed nearly 10 million people, breeding episodic cannibalism.

Ironically, in their effect on human life, food famines and food pandemics are distressingly similar. A famine emaciates the human body, causing mental distress, poor mobility, vulnerability to pathogens, multiple diseases, and premature death. A food pandemic fattens up the human body, causing the same morbidities as famine, including mental distress, compromised mobility, susceptibility to pathogens, numerous diseases, and early death. Sorrowfully, food pandemics are deadlier as they persist for decades, way longer than famines. Famine deaths are swift and dramatic. By contrast, food pandemics cause slow grinding but lethal diseases.

This study analyzes the four intertwined elements that precipitate a food pandemic: (1) a significant range of foods contain pathogenic ingredients; (2) pathogenic foods are readily available and affordable; (3) food consumption stimulates quantitative overloading (overeating) by altering biochemistry and generating food addiction; (4) foods cause life-threatening morbidities, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, vision loss, and cancer.

Pathogenic Ingredients

Research singles out two primary pathogenic ingredients found in most packaged foods, restaurant foods, and home-cooked foods: seed oils (corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and others) and added sugars (fructose, corn syrup, maple syrup, and others). Of these two ingredients, added sugars come out on top as the main villain in producing type 2 diabetes and the associated cardiovascular disease, pancreatic malfunction, and kidney failure. “The people of the U.S. consume more sugar than any other country in the world. On average, Americans consume 126.4 grams of sugar daily.” The recommended dose varies from a lower limit of 11 grams to a higher limit of 25 grams. No nutrition expert contends that added sugars benefit human health.

Seed oils (vegetable oils) offer an alternative to animal fats, such as butter and lard. However, the debate over seed oils is confusing and controversial. The critics of seed oils contend that these oils disturb the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Excessive ingestion of omega-6 fats through seed oils produces chronic inflammation in the human body, leading to numerous diseases. Animal fats, too, remain controversial, but influential experts recommend “cutting back” on these fats.

On the factual level, the use of seed oils has dramatically increased in the past fifty years (1970-2020). According to the data that the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture collects, American consumers are ingesting more than 400 average daily calories per capita from vegetable oils in recent years. In contrast, in 1970, they drew 115 average daily calories per capita from salad and cooking oils. This increase is nearly four-fold. (see graph) Over these fifty years, the average daily calories from butter, lard, and dairy fats have varied small amounts. However, as good news, the average daily calories from margarine (trans fats) have plummeted from 58 to less than 15 per capita.

In addition to seed oils and sugars, pathogenic foods also contain pesticides, growth hormones, and heavy metals. Furthermore, regardless of antibiotics and steroid injections, all meat contains sex steroid hormones, and all chicken contains drug-resistant bacteria. (A more health-conscious European Union (E.U.) permits only hormone-free U.S. beef. The U.S. exports poultry products (chicken and turkey) to more than 120 countries around the world. The E.U. refuses to accept U.S. poultry washed with chlorine and antimicrobial chemicals.) In recent years, chemicals in agriculture increased from below 3 billion in 1970 to over 15 billion. (see graph).

The distinction between organic and inorganic foods has created a new pricey market for organic foods beyond the pocketbook reach of most Americans. Non-organic foods–whether fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat–are produced with synthetic chemicals to boost growth. By contrast, organic foods face less exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. Yet, cross-contamination between organic and non-organic foods weakens the distinction.

According to ERS, in 2018, on average, people in the U.S. consumed more meat, eggs, nuts, grains, and refined sugars than the recommended amounts. Chicken consumption has doubled since 1970. The consumption of vegetables and fruits falls short of 2020-2025 dietary guidelines. For the most part, Americans are eating a nutritionally deficient diet infected with pesticides, hormones, and numerous chemicals used in preservation, processing, packaging, coloring, and canning. It is no relief that the food is affordable.

Affordability

The food pandemic sets in motion when the pathogenic food is readily available and affordable. Affordable food consists of grains, sugars, vegetables, fruits, and meat, mainly carrying pathogenic ingredients. In most states, the lowest average food cost per month for one person ranges from $200 to $233.

From time immemorial, the food available to the rich has been of much higher quality than the food available to the poor. This dichotomy continues to bedevil many nations worldwide, including the U.S. The disadvantaged communities invariably have insufficient food of lower grade, not conducive to good health. There are historical examples of famine when food was available, but it was too expensive for poor people to buy. While food affordability is a desirable social objective, the question remains whether affordable food is healthy.

Food available to most U.S. inhabitants is affordable, though some families struggle with meager incomes. In 2019, around 34 million people, 10.5 percent of the U.S. population, lived in poverty. However, the poverty rate for Black communities stood at nearly 19%, for Hispanics at 16%, exceeding the national poverty rate. The poverty rate for minors under the age of 18 was over 14%.

In sum, Black communities, Hispanics, and children face food insecurity. In addition to the 34 million under the poverty level, millions of Americans above the poverty line have little choice but to consume affordable foods of questionable quality. Whether these numbers and communities have improved or worsened in the past two Covid-19 years remains to be seen.

The invasion of Covid-19 has complicated social dynamics and food ingestion. For decades, people are eating pathogenic foods far too much and far too often for many reasons, including physical immobility, mental distress, and loneliness. Unfortunately, quantitative overloading of the body breeds numerous diseases.

Quantitative Overloading

“Eat as much as your heart desires” is the siren song of American Argonautica.

Under evolutionary constraints, the human body has evolved to bear periods of starvation. For centuries, humans did not eat every day, certainly not three or more times a day. Food was scarce. Animals were challenging to hunt. Seasons, mainly winters, complicated the availability of fruits and plants. Food preservation was elementary. Consequently, early humans mostly remained in a fasted rather than fed state.

The 21st-century humans face a different challenge: quantitative overloading of the digestive system with unhealthy foods.  Americans are in a fed state for nearly 16 to 18 hours a day and do not allow the pancreas to take a break from releasing insulin and digestive enzymes. The stomach carries a Sisyphean boulder. Obesity is the inevitable consequence of quantitative overloading. In 2017-2018, U.S. obesity hit 42.4%. This figure is a nearly four-fold increase from 1970 (see graph). Furthermore, millions more are overweight. This increase in obesity varies little across income, gender, and racial groups

For decades, the U.S. has been at the cutting edge of accelerating the plentiful availability of food. Thanks to scientific agriculture, farming, food processing, food preservation, refrigeration, storage, packaging, canning, faster transportation, the U.S. has solved almost all problems related to food availability. Furthermore, the ready-to-eat food, fast food, restaurant food, and the food available at grocery stores in cities, towns, and gas stations on highways have revolutionized the convenience at which food is available any time of any day, 24/7. Some urban communities are “food deserts” where the food is available only at convenience stores.

The food industry stimulates quantitative overloading with aggressive marketing, deceptive labeling, and faulty research. Kids and teens are susceptible to food advertising. For example, Black-targeted TV shows overwhelmingly advertise “fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks.” The food labeling confuses rather than informs the consumers as food manufacturers hide pathogenic ingredients with unfamiliar technical names. For example, dextrose and treacle are sugars. Even organic sugar is sugar.

The most controversial feature of the food pandemic is the industry-sponsored research that promotes dairy, eggs, meat, cereals, and seed oils. For example, because of conflicting research findings, the consumers do not know how many eggs they should consume per week. Keto and carnivore diets promote animal sources of protein as weight loss strategies. Even some internet physicians enter the scene with podcasts promoting their books and supplements to further confuse the consumers about healthy foods.

Research controversies are a godsend for advertising all sorts of foods, as confusion benefits the food industry rather than the public. Frustrated with conflicting mantras, “fat is bad,” “fat is good,” most consumers give up on guidance and decide to eat what they like without regard to health consequences. This eating crisis mired in utter uncertainty obliterates the distinction between good food and bad food.

Furthermore, the food industry engages in manipulative research to find chemicals that promote the overeating of products, a concept like an addiction. Select chemicals included in processed foods release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that furnishes pleasure and yearning for more. Studies demonstrate that foods with added sweeteners and fats have “the greatest addictive potential.  Much like the tobacco industry, the food industry emphasizes “personal responsibility” in craving pathogenic foods.

Food Pathologies

Contaminating consumer products with pathogenic ingredients is dishonorable. Willfully doing so is a crime. The pathogenic seed oils, sugars, and foods infected with pesticides, hormones, and chemicals kneaded into food introduce the invisible, even delicious, poisons in mainstream staples. Sodas, donuts, chips, cookies, and ice creams (rightfully) get the bad rap. However, even relatively healthier foods contain overt and covert pathogenic ingredients.

There is a near consensus among nutrition experts that refined carbohydrates and sugar consumption leads to type 2 diabetes. This mother disease gives birth to obesity, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, vision loss, and other systems pathologies. Once considered morbidity of mature age, diabetes is now penetrating children and adolescents younger than age 20. Diabetes begins to weaken the immune systems long before it surfaces in blood tests.

The nutrition debate over dietary fat is confusing and controversial, benefitting the food industry. Keto diets emphasizing the replacement of carbohydrates with fats complicate the discussion. However, the critics assert that “Dietary fat induces overconsumption and weight gain through its low satiety properties and high caloric density.” Since ingested fats must first pass through the lymphatic vascular system, quantitative overloading of fats can overwhelm the lymph nodes.

Food processing chemicals aggravate the villainy of foods derived from sugars and seed oils. For example, nitrates and nitrites, extensively used to process food, correlate with various forms of cancer. Bisphenols used in soda cans and food lining interferes with puberty and fertility. Perchlorate, a chemical released from defense and military operations and found in drinking water and surface waters, attacks thyroid function. Artificial food coloring to attract children worsens the symptoms of attention deficit disorder.

Most Americans live in a monster Skinner Box in which no matter which lever you press, the food you get is pathogenic.

Conclusion

The food pandemic has been slowly gaining momentum in the past few decades and will continue to spawn lethal pathologies in the years to come. Humans engage in quantitative overloading of pathogenic foods derived from sugars and seed oils for various personal, social, and economic reasons. The preservatives introduce a toxic chemical load to healthy and unhealthy foods. Obesity and the consequent morbidities are strongly correlated to the food pandemic. The affordability of food is a legitimate social goal. But affordable food must not be toxic. Unfortunately, nutrition research, some sponsored by the food industry, confuses consumers with conflicting findings. Frustrated consumers, not knowing what is good for their health, fall back on what taste buds crave, thus ingesting pleasurable poison. Jack Lalanne (1914-2011), the legendary nutrition maharishi, cautioned people about processed food in a provocative warning: “If it tastes good, spit it out.” Even if the food is entirely healthy, eating less is evolutionary more protective of the human body.

L. Ali Khan is the founder of Legal Scholar Academy and an Emeritus Professor of Law at the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. He welcomes comments at legal.scholar.academy@gmail.com.

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