The Food Industry: Staying Healthy in a Market of Charlatans – February 1, 2015
By Darrin LR Fiddler
I want you to be healthy. This seemingly simple topic is one of the most complex concepts that you face. You must go beyond counting calories, because much is hidden in the count. It goes beyond cutting salt, sugar and fat from your diet, as the source of these components determines many of the benefits and harms. It goes beyond balancing your body chemistry with pharmaceuticals when that industry is more focused on marketing a new illness than finding a needed cure. Most of the things that we purchase, from the grocery store shelves to the pharmacy counters, are bathed in political maneuvers that clear the way to our cupboards.
I have an activist streak. I’ve studied topics like politics, economics, history and narcotics because they all follow an intertwining path. My understanding has taken ten years to cover, and it’s still just the bare essentials. Our information-driven society delivers an infinite amount of data. It appears intricate and beyond anyone’s scope, and indeed it is. Yet there is a skeletal foundation on which it acts, and understanding this can put the concepts in their sensible place.
But why do I focus on health? It is the basis of life. It affects how my body functions, how I perceive the world, and how I react. When those get knocked out of balance, how much focus is on the remaining worldly problems? My body requires a firm foundation before I can focus on repairing the landscape. I need a health body and mind to build a healthy world, but knowing what’s truly healthy is no simple feat.
I grew up on the belief that everything sold to me was safe and somewhat healthy. I was following my parents’ guidance. I didn’t have a lot of junk food, and was fortunate enough to be raised on home cooked meals. Everything changed upon leaving the nest, where I turned to the simplest preparation as a guide to my health. Take out, delivery and microwaveable foods all saved the day. Fortunately, I have a very high metabolism, allowing such gluttony. I felt immune to the hazards I was exposed to through processed foods. Then I started to read.
Prevention provides your best medicine, and food is your most effective barrier from illness and disease. That barrier needs constant upkeep with the proper materials. We’ve been sold a load of materials that are incompatible, causing our systems to crash. Our diets have been the culprit in many of our immunity, neurological, and heart diseases, obesity, and a host of others. We have the ability to reduce the chance of illness, so what’s holding us back?
Behold, the Food Industry!
For a start, errors were made when food switched from being the enabler of a nation to a mere commodity. Its value changed, and squeezing money from a crop overrode the importance of its healthiness. The agriculture industry sidled up next to the chemical industry, and together they produced abundant crops that lacked adequate nutrition.
That same chemical industry then nudged its way in with the food processors, injecting molecular equivalents of those nutrients back in and calling the food ‘fortified’. Voila, we had vitamin-enriched food that could last much longer on the shelves. Louis Pasteur would have been proud, yet many costs were incurred.
Randall Fitzgerald provided plenty of alarming insight in his book, The Hundred-Year Lie. My view of society’s diseases was altered. Food additives’ link with children’s behavioural problems had been known for years, but the gravity of the situation was never fully aired. Food affects our brains in ways that we have no control over. Our circuitry is being rewired. The issue goes far beyond the obesity concerns, though that remains a valid push for stronger scientific certainties about what we are ingesting.
The Revolving Door
I believed that either the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ensured our foods’ safety. I discovered that there’s one word they place above ‘public health’ and it’s ‘cronyism.’ The FDA believes that the ex-food industry executives are the best choice to certify food as safe for public consumption. In return, the food industry always has a place for FDA executives once they step down. The ill effects of the approved food and drugs are not their chief concern. Profits are much more important.
Aspartame’s a good example. This chemical took sixteen years to be approved for public consumption, trying to overcome the brain tumors developing in the test rats[i]. That might have something to do with its three main components: methanol, phenylalanine, and aspartic acid. All are known to stimulate brain cells to death.
Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., the commissioner of the FDA back in 1980, was responsible for certifying aspartame for food. He left that post in 1983 to work for G. D. Searle & Company, the ones owning aspartame’s patent. Interestingly, he now works for Monsanto.
The safety tests required for FDA certification are all performed by the food producers. The FDA doesn’t have the funds to test the thousands of products entering the market each year. They trust the food industry to provide unbiased test results, which studies show is not always the case. In effect, the public has become the guinea pig, with recalls as the control mechanism. Of course, recalls aren’t issued until a certain threshold of harm is proven. I feel much safer now, thanks for the service.
Inflating this black box of health safety is the FDA’s link to the pharmaceutical companies. Their products are vastly different from Spaghetti-Os, but the testing requirements remain the same. Dr. Marcia Angell illuminates how the industry uses its loopholes with her book, The Truth about the Drug Companies.
The impact goes beyond our health, echoing into our economy’s health spending and needs. The political pariah of the health care dilemma stays aloft with the hot air and large donations from Big Pharma and their lobbyists. Profits are the goal, so they must assure their stockholders that the government will have no say in how much they charge to keep us from Death’s door. In fact, the sicker we are, the better off it is for them. Our health, too, has become commoditized.
The reverberations of these costs are felt in the treatment and needs of the mental health patients, the elderly, and the impoverished. Having less money to spend, their needs are shelved in place of serving the diseases of affluence. Go where the money flows, right? And it gushes. In 2002, the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 had a combined profit of $35.8 billion. The combined total of the remaining 490 companies was $33.7 billion[ii].
Adding a little more pain to the prick, there is no profit in our wellbeing. Any witness to infomercials can attest to the side effects of the new pharmaceutical wonders. In truth, they’re selling a new ‘sickness’ which they’ve just found the cure for. As an added bonus, if you get sick from taking them, they have the treatment. Miracle of miracles.
My trust of the medical profession has lost some of its backbone. They were the trusted source supporting the placement of these chemical concoctions onto our grocery lists and prescription pads. Frighteningly, much of their post-grad education comes from the mouths of drug reps. Where could I turn to when such a faithful anchor is let loose? I thought whole foods would be the simplest avenue. Wrong again.
I grew up understanding that the four basic food groups are meat, produce, grain and dairy. My research revealed that the food industry has already put their dirty hands on them. Our meat is raised on a life of cruelty and a diet of disease treatment. Our produce and grain are bastardized genetically modified organisms. And our dairy is contaminated with chemicals and antibiotics from the cow’s diet. Real food is hard to come by.
The most obvious answer came from the hippies and the Amish: local, whole produce and grass-fed meat. I found myself in a landscape reminiscent of life before to the Green Revolution. Imagine a diet without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. My studies on whole food proved Hippocrates words, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
I found more than expected in Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side. She reported on the essential vitamins and minerals provided by our heritage produce. She also accounts for the loss of many fruit and vegetable breeds, pointing out the nutritional differences our food has lost. We are eating more whole foods, but global market demands expose us to the sweetest, though not necessarily the most nutritious, varieties.
A great companion book is Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal’s Healing Spices. Our spice selection, storage, and preparation are all noted, but their powerful effects over illness and disease have only recently come to light.
After having had a peek at this tangled web, how are you to remain healthy? It’s not so much about being told what to eat or not. Once you understand the decisions that bring your food products from factory to fork, I hope you will be able to make healthier decisions. That first step is yours alone; I just want to provide a clearer path.
You can no longer afford to play Russian roulette with your health. Your body demands the proper energy at the right proportions, and our industrial diet has thrown that off. Your health reflects in each interaction with your environment; in what you eat and how you move, to how the land and soil are enhanced or destroyed. My inner activist can only make true change when everybody thinks clearly, and our diets are a huge barrier to that.
I want you to be healthy. It’s no straightforward path, and I can only show what I’ve discovered. Most weren’t obvious until I read it. Thankfully the Web is here to inform and pass this info along. This too, takes a measure of scepticism, so tread carefully and always follow up on the facts before spreading them. I’ve touched lightly on many topics here, and hope that you’ll follow along as I provide more in-depth analysis on the issues. I have a lot left to say.
[i] Fitzgerald, Randall, The Hundred-Year Lie (New York, Dutton, 2006)107
[ii] Angell, Marcia, M. D., The Truth About the Drug Companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it (New York, Random House, 2005) 11