Thursday, March 11, 2010

You are what you eat (or something like that)

A few weeks ago, I saw a commercial on TV for high fructose corn syrup. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP! Apparently the Corn Refiners Association felt that the product (or is it an ingredient?) needed a bit of a makeover in order to counteract its bad reputation. Personally, I don't think high fructose corn syrup needs any good publicity.

My reaction to the commercial was partially due to the fact that I had recently watched Food Inc. and read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which both provide excellent critiques of the American food system. The basic premise is simple: our food system is irresponsibly produced and ineffectively regulated. The film and book mainly focus on corn, cow, and chicken production, but these three things basically comprise the average American diet (especially corn). I think one of the strengths of the theory found in both the film and the book is that they don’t demonize meat. Neither endorses vegetarianism, but they did point out some facts that sort of made me want to be. For example, most of American hamburgers contain a BLEACH filler in order to kill any remnants of E. coli, which I found particularly disturbing.

After my mini-food crusade (I watched Food Inc. and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma within a week of each other and then constantly pestered my roommates about their diets), I started thinking about the overall health of America. Why is it that Italians eat tons of pasta, but don’t seem to have the health concerns of our Atkins-crazed public? Why are the French able to enjoy so much butter, sugar, and bread? And why does it feel like people are more health conscious, but less healthy? I think most of it boils down to what we eat. We live in a world where Ronald Reagan can attempt to have ketchup reclassified as a fruit in children’s lunches, and it’s cheaper to feed your family McDonald’s than vegetables. There’s a lot of debate about creating a universal health care system, but our politicians aren’t discussing how to make good food more affordable to the public. The government needs to address this issue, or else they will find itself, as Michael Pollan puts it, “in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.”

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