A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Author: Maria Armillei

Real Bad FAD’s: Obesity, Food Insecurity, and Our Food System

Supermarket Shelves

Doesn’t it feel as though every time we walk into a grocery store, we are susceptible to purchasing the myriad concoctions the food industry develops that line the shelves, such as Coca Cola Zero and Twinkies? Isn’t it also the case that these types of food may be somewhat less expensive than the healthier options we seek? Does that mean that we should be buying white bread instead of wheat bread and soda in place of water?

In this way, my goal here is to discuss some of the most prominent and visible effects of our food system–namely, obesity and food insecurity, which are two concepts that undeniably have widespread impacts across the country. I will attempt to underscore the important conversation surrounding this complex, dynamic relationship and attempt to unravel the somewhat antithetical interconnectedness that the two possess, in order to assess and compare the two concepts within the parameters of our food system.

Why do some regions in the United States have incredibly high rates of obesity at the same time that there is a growing number of food-insecure people in those regions? How does obesity, defined by the CDC as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher,relate to food insecurity, which is defined by the USDA to be “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life?” Some suggestthat food insecurity is a consequence of insufficient financial resources in the household, thus inhibiting those without adequate financial means from purchasing substantial, nutritious, and healthful foods to sustain their lives. In this way, the relationship between obesity and food insecurity is ultimately complex.

These maps illustrate obesity as a percent prevalence among males in 2001 (top) versus in 2011 (bottom). These data provide an example on just how drastically obesity rates have increased within the last several decades (IHME).

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Industrial Eating and the Problem of Too Much of the Same Thing

Food for Thought: Tracing Our Food

Sometimes I think it’s important for us to sit back for a moment and think about where our food comes from. For instance, it’s interesting when we think about how we always have the same variety of produce, and all the same types of snack food, meat, and dairy products at each corner you turn in the supermarket, regardless of what time of the year it is. Besides seasonal produce and holiday food items, most everything we buy always looks the same and is grown or manufactured in the same place.

We are Industrial Eaters

With this in mind, most of us usually tend to disregard how our burger at McDonald’s got from “farm” to plate, and we don’t pause to think about how that same burger could have once, in its raw beginnings, shared a corn field in Iowa with the cup of soda we’re drinking, or with the soft-serve ice cream we’re about to have for dessert, or even with the bowl of cereal we had for breakfast. But are we okay with that? Are we okay with being unknowing, susceptible, industrial eaters?

On my flight to San Diego last December, I remember flying for a long time over seemingly endless acres of land perfectly square sections of land. Here’s a view out of the window of the plane as we flew over acres of farmland, somewhere in the Midwest.

In this way, I argue that we should, in the least, be observant of what we eat, in order to contribute to a healthy society. My intent is to thus illustrate that much of the food available to us is industrially made, manufactured, and processed. By exploring the effects of the Green Revolution, in terms of industrialized agriculture, I will use the concept of “industrial eaters” introduced in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to extend my argument to an assessment of the current food culture here in the United States.

Are we okay with being unknowing, susceptible, industrial eaters?

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