Nutrition Scoreboard: Your Guide to Better Eating
Hearings Before the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs: Part 2, "Sugar in Diet, Diabetes, and Heart Diseases"
Hearings Before the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs: Part 3, "TV Advertising of Food to Children"
Hearings Before the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs: Part 4, "TV Advertising of Food to Children"
Diet for a Small Planet
Recipes for a Small Planet
Dr. Ben Feingold, chairman emeritus of the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center allergy division, has found convincing evidence suggesting that the artificial colors and flavors used in 95 percent of all processed foods cause hyperactivity in children.1 “We can turn these kids on and off at will simply by regulating their diets,” Feingold says. “There’s no reason not to wonder whether food additives affect adult emotional behavior as well.”2
Feingold’s research is only the latest evidence describing how the $161 billion per year food and beverage industry has perverted our diets. We’ve gotten our priorities so twisted now that food, which we eat in order to live from day to day, has become in the long run a major cause of chronic ill-health and degenerative disease. Scary stories about the risks of eating are now coming from well-known and sober university deans and government scientists. Ten of them appeared quietly before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs last spring to testify that our daily diets of processed foods, rich in refined sugar and modified carbohydrates like white flour, are probably major causes of diabetes, heart and arterial disease, and intestinal cancer—among other ailments.3 Most eaters don’t like to believe this or to connect their lunch to a disease that will kill them fifteen years from now. So the hearings didn’t make the headlines as the political scandals did, even though they have greater importance, at least as far as the nation’s physical health is concerned.
The sad history of our food supply resembles the energy crisis, and not just because food nourishes our bodies while petroleum fuels the society. We long ago surrendered control of food, a vital resource, to private corporations, just as we surrendered control of energy. The food corporations have shaped the kinds of food we eat for their greater profits, just as the energy companies have dictated the kinds of fuel we use. And although many of us have plenty to eat from day to day, and plenty of electricity to light our homes, we’re beginning to pay crippling social costs for corporate mismanagement in the long run.
The risks of the American diet started to increase after World War II, as the food industry manipulated our image of “food” away from staples and toward synthetic and highly processed items. We eat between 21 and 25 percent fewer dairy products, vegetables, and fruits than we did twenty years ago, and 70 to 80 percent more sugary snacks and soft drinks. Most Americans now eat more processed and synthetic foods than the real thing.4
For the food business—food manufacturers, drug corporations, and supermarkets—all this makes good economic sense. It’s much cheaper for a manufacturer to make bread look and taste buttery and full of eggs by adding minute amounts of artificial color and flavor rather than real butter and eggs. Coloring and flavoring make a frozen pizza seem rich in ripe tomato sauce far more cheaply than real tomatoes could.
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.