Can the tactics of the food industry be considered predatory with regards to their relationship with today’s consumers? I’ve never physically coerced in my adult life to purchase any food product against my will, nor have I seen such thuggery at the grocery store. Nonetheless, if a food salesman was to take advantage of an individual’s nutritional weakness, if they were to exploit a stressful situation, and if they had full knowledge that their product would do harm to their customer, then their relationship would have a predator and prey nature. The observation that predation exists in the marketplace is not meant to vilify said salesman nor is it meant to victimize the customer. It is, however, meant to illustrate reality in a way that elucidates the options available to both parties of this interaction. For if a predator does exist, it is in the prey’s best interest to prepare their defense or ultimately free themselves from the predatory dynamic altogether. With knowledge, practice, and preparation you may never again fall victim to exploition. Exploitive practices may still be there, but the weaknesses they relied upon may not.
In Michael Moss’s book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat. How the Food Giants Hooked Us” he gives evidence of a food market where the consumer is living within a ubiquitous fog of government sanctioned misinformation and million dollar marketing strategies. The lures that shine to the hungry consumer amongst the fog of ignorance are food products that are designed to create return customers by virtue of their addictive qualities and their ability to satisfy the surface level cravings we all experience. The products sacrifice healthier causes of flavor like freshness, herbs, spices, and diverse ingredients for cheap illusions of quality in order to decrease costs yet increase sales.
In Moss’s interview with the Democracy Now he discusses the weaponization of the enticing treats from the analysis of their “bliss point”(the most satisfactory levels of sugar, for example) all the way to their prominent placement in food aisles and ease of consumption that appeal to busy moms or sugar loving kids. This is a great opportunity for sellers of empty calories and trash seeing as plastic, meat industry by-products, and corn derivatives are incredibly cheap right now due to a history of government favor. The results of the modern industrial food system and its proliferation have created a fat and unhealthy populace that are ripe for the picking by the pharmaceutical industry and any other industries that sell to the groggy, lazy and distracted demographic.
The overall situation points towards a future of lumbering, brain-dead citizens clocking in hours to get their little fixes while every institution from government to banking to ag to entertainment links their limitless desire for power to the ever consuming and working cash cow that is the nutrionally and educationally deprived consumer of today.
The individual and local situation on the other hand, is quite hopeful. It is a common reaction to a movie like FOOD Inc. or a book like “Salt, Sugar, Fat” to feel fearful and overwhelmed, but thus is the burden of new knowledge. Once the anger or initial anxiety subsides only the awareness is left. And that is the first step. Upon such a realization of what certain foods do to you and where they come from, the consumer can no longer blame misinformation or lack of information for their sub-par health and diets of instant gratification and delayed consequences. Once the pandora’s box of nutrition awareness is opened it can not be closed and the consumer now has the understanding that they can take time to discern what is healthy and what is unhealthy, what is deeply fulfilling and what is a momentary rush.
I have purchased some meat products that I am fully aware come from abused animals. I have purchased sugary and starchy snacks that I am fully aware will give me a loose stool and low energy. I have purchased food products from companies that I am fully aware have no love for food and have only designed this product from food-like substances. At times I have consumed these things with reckless abandon, and at other times with shameful guilt. Awareness is only the first step, and though it will help make better eating choices, it will not liberate someone from their role as prey to the industrial food system.
In addition to knowledge, the consumer will need to arm themselves with practice on how to prepare a healthy meal. The consumer will need to discover new sources of nutrition and food whether it’s the produce section of the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or the garden. New habits are not created in a day, and therein lies to need to make diligent steps towards new ways of living. The best part is, all of these steps have their own instantly gratifying qualities. If cooking and shopping for healthy food turns out to be a horribly arduous process than the individual is free to give up knowing that they gave it a try.
Even with the excitement of a new lifestyle there will be a moment of weakness. On holidays, vacations, road trips, and empty bank accounts we become susceptible to a loss of momentum for our new habits. When those old habits are given in to the cravings of the weaponized food system once again take effect. Few have embarked on a healthy food journey without a few steps backward here and there. Learn, and move on.
This brings me to my third point: after you have attained the knowledge and the new practices – you will have to remain directly armed at all times. This is the most practical and direct advice of nutritional self-defense. Being prepared utilizes your first two new skills, knowledge and cooking, to make sure you are well fed, to make sure your belly is full of things that make you feel good, to make sure you are well equipped to experience the joys of good food as the ebbs and flows of life demand. Hunger is a weakness that is in your control, respect it as you walk the food marketplace.
Let us start with the joy of water. One of the best things to do for your diet is not drink calories. Hydration is the core of all of our health and drinking water arms you against cokes and gatorade and whatever else attracts you. Chug a glass of water at a restaurant and watch your coke craving diminish. Carry a bottle of water at all times.
And what about extended holidays, check out lanes, lunch at work, or other alleys waiting for the hungry consumer to hand out their dollars? Be well armed with a bag of nuts, carrots, hard boiled eggs, or kale chips. Be prepared and if you do decide to indulge, it will be a true celebration, not a moment of weakness.
The last point, indulgence, if you are going to go, go all out. Do not eat some shit candy bar, get the best dark chocolate out there. Bake a cake instead of buying a box of dead pastries. Enjoy the shit out of it! Who wants to spoil themselves anyways, instead learn to enjoy. To be spoiled is to be rotten, slow, degraded, to be passionate in your indulgence is to be choosy, learned, and aware.
Love Food and Stay Free.