Reality shows are now a daily feature on TV. One of them is named ‘Secret Eaters’ and it is aired on Channel 4. The participants to the show are putting on weight, and they wonder why. Most of them claim that they eat healthy, and some even go running to burn fat. Therefore, undercover investigators are following the participants in order to discover what went wrong with their diet.
It happens that the people under scrutiny indulge in several snacks during the day and sometimes at night, alongside eating large portions at lunch and on occasions when food is plentiful. While viewing the show, I recognize myself a few years ago. What is striking is that people are unaware of eating that much.
Some participants think they eat healthy, yet they unknowingly pile up the pounds. So what’s wrong with the food we eat? The following facts shed light on our troubled relationship with food:
1 – Food Prices and Politics
In 1971, Richard Nixon wanted to be re-elected President of the United States. The big issue at that time was the rising food prices which especially affected low-income families or the majority of voters. Nixon commissioned Earl Butz, an academic who had close ties with the farming community of Indiana, to look at ways of bringing food prices down. Butz came out with the idea of producing corn on massive scale to make flour to feed cattle and to supply restaurants and households with oil for frying needs. Large scale production made food cheaper.
2 – Economic bonanza
Some U.S. farmers became millionaires, selling to supermarkets and even exporting abroad. A multi-million food-industry was born. Soon, farmers were overproducing and a solution had to be found to eliminate the surplus of corn.
Butz travelled to Japan where fructose corn syrup or glucose-fructose was developed. This new innovation was a cheap way to extend shelf-life as well as making food taste sweater. The overconsumption of fat and sweat would ultimately create another multi-million dollar industry, offering diet products. According to the show ‘Secret Eaters’, the diet industry is now worth two billion pounds in the U.K. alone.
3 – The effects of processed food on our bodies
Corn allows for the production of feed that makes cattle fatter, and fries dipped into corn oil are also fatter. So are Big Macs lunches in restaurants! Fat has been branded responsible for an increase in heart diseases and the food industry has turned to the production of “low-fat” food.
The problem is that if we take the fat off food, we also take the taste away. The solution is to inject fructose-glucose or sugar into food in order to preserve the taste. The bad news is that sugar is hedonistic and a major factor for the increase in heart diseases and diabetes. I remember buying boxes of pizzas at the supermarket and returning for more. I realised then that I was becoming addicted to their yummy flavour.
Processed food tastes nice, is plentiful and really cheap. No wonder what we tend to eat large portions and snack frequently. TV advertising even encourages snacking at the workplace and on the street.
4 – The link between obesity and industrial technology
Would we eat pizzas, French fries and cakes every week if we had to prepare them? With our busy working lives, we probably would not. The processing of food on industrial scale has drastically increased our consumption, in making food ready to eat and available around the clock. A study carried out by Harvard University has linked the possession of microwaves (80 % of the U.S. population and 66 % in the U.K.) to obesity.
In recent years, efforts have been made to display calories-count information on food packaging. The daily recommended intake is around 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men. But it is difficult to keep calories in check when food is cheap and plentiful, and we are constantly tempted.
5 – Welfare problem and how to avoid obesity
We can put on weight easily indeed, without noticing it until it becomes a health problem with high blood pressure for a start. Being overweight has also psychological consequences: our self-esteem gets lower. We find then comfort in yummy food, and the weight problem turns into a vicious circle, with attempts at sliming relapsing into more eating. People who undergo a gastric bypass surgery are likely to try diets such as WeightWatchers before.
Now obesity costs the NHS a lot, and health expenses might eventually outweigh the benefit of providing jobs in the food and diet industries. Then, we’ll see tight regulations in food production and the ban on certain processing. History repeats itself: we’ve seen cigarettes being advertised everywhere, and now sellers must keep them out of the consumer’s view.
For the time being, becoming aware of the problem is a first great step to prevent our bodies from being overweight. QUANTITY food must give way to QUALITY food.
David M.Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser and Jesse M. Shapiro, Harvard University ‘Why Have Americans Become More Obese?’ – Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 17, Number 3, Summer 2003, p. 93-118 http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/jesse.shapiro/research/obesity.pdf
Cathy Newman ‘Why Are We So Fat?’- National Geographic magazine http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-body/fat-costs/
Jacques Peretti ‘Why our food is making us fat’, The Guardian, 11 June 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jun/11/why-our-food-is-making-us-fat
(Photo credit: © 2013 MorgueFile/darkwombat – Text: © 2013 Beatrice Setze - SafariComic.com)