America is an overfed and undernourished country.
About 80 percent of the population is considered overweight, and almost one-third is obese. According to the National Cancer Institute, serious diseases that are linked to what we eat kill an estimated three out of four Americans each year. These diseases include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, some types of cancer, and diabetes.
So food is killing more people than anything else in America.
What is going on? Who is responsible for this gruesome situation?
For years, we have inadvertently been in a collaborative mission along with food and agrochemical companies to get cheaper and bigger foods, and we all did a simply terrific job. By making “Cheap” the main virtue in our food system, we dedicated our dollars to feeding ourselves in a totally wrong way that has deteriorated our collective health but also created a monster food system. Our behavior as consumers was, in my opinion, a key success factor in creating a Frankenstein that took over the health and destiny of most Americans.
What we eat has been the problem, and I think we now have a great opportunity to transform it into the solution. The best starting point to properly solve a problem is to clearly define it; therefore we should take a look to some definitions.
Real Food: I define it as food that is free of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Food produced with integrity, using clean and fair farming practices, developed and harvested by socially and ecologically responsible farmers. Today, these transparent food systems represent less than 2 percent of total U.S. agriculture.
Frankenfood: It is an obvious metaphor in reference to Frankenstein, which means food that is engineered and processed to be more appealing and profitable. I consider Frankenfood to be any food that is not Real Food. Today, Frankenfood represents about 98 percent of the food produced and consumed in America.
Mercenaries: For the purpose of this article, I call all marketing people using their talents to create distribute and promote Frankenfoods in any way mercenaries. Many of them are highly educated, from world’s best universities; therefore, they are extremely smart about achieving their goals while disguising their real intentions. As consumers, to be engaged in the food system, we must be very aware of them.
Food: Any substance or material eaten or drunk to provide support for the body or for pleasure. Usually of plant or animal origin, it contains essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals, and is ingested and assimilated by an organism to produce energy, stimulate growth, and maintain life.
It might be a good idea to ask ourselves, what is left from the previous definition in most food available today?
The problem we face as consumers is that Frankenfood is everywhere. No matter where we go, for the most part, that is all we find. When it’s about food, America seems to be a country of huge contradictions. We use our tax dollars to subsidize food that is poisoning us and our children, also mortgaging the future of the next generations.
We go even further, taking our own money–yes, what’s in our pockets–and giving it to food companies full of mercenaries that are producing Frankenfood just to maximize their profits. They also use the cash we give them to block any kind of change in agricultural policies, perpetuating the system to simply keep making money.
In case you did not notice it, fast-food companies are the great masters of Frankenfood, engineering and processing their products to taste and look great.
These companies are mainly powered by agrochemical corporations with big pockets, and their army of effective lobbyists in Washington is devising strategies to keep our subsidies and continue promoting more of the same products that have been contaminating our health for the last 50 years.
It is good to remark that the amount of food that we buy daily in the U.S. is so significant that at the same time that our collective health keeps deteriorating, we are also polluting the air as never before, contaminating our water streams in an outrageous way, and generating a tremendous impact in the environment overall.
Frankenfood companies have always had lots of marketing resources, so they have led us to believe almost everything they wanted.
I know it is awkward to discover that as food consumers, we have not been smart at all: We have been manipulated by the food corporations and agribusiness during the last 50 years, and in fact, our food-purchasing decisions resulted in very poor choices. However, we must now face this reality if we want a different future.
The good news is that what we eat matters big-time. Americans spend around $1.6 trillion annually in food; this is about 11 percent of the GDP.
Food is who we are. Real Food cleans. Real food creates positive jobs, helps local communities, uses sustainable resources, and most importantly, Real Food incentivizes life and well-being. The most effective and peaceful way to change the industrialized agriculture system that is killing our people is to simply stop buying Frankenfood and start supporting Real food.
Consumers’ consumption is one of the greatest ways to evolve capitalism. Profits can make miracles in the corporate world. This is true change coming from within, and it is very handy, we just need to use it. If we demand food that is free of chemicals, the chemical companies devoted to agribusiness will starve and disappear in the same way rats abandon a building that is empty of all sources of food. At least they will be forced to reinvent themselves in a sector away from our food and bodies.
The revenue that we provide through our purchases is to Frankenfood corporations or to Real food farmers what blood is to the human body. Those who make it or break it depend exclusively on our food choices.
I believe that as consumers we must nurture a new generation of food producers that will eventually take care of us, in the same way a mother gives birth to a baby that at some point in life, when grown, will take care of her. Conscious food consumption is not only a great way to change our health and preserve our planet, but also a chance to generate new meaningful jobs in a very powerful industry. This is a precious opportunity to activate our economy through true, sustainable development.
Many people go to Washington to petition for change in food policies. I think that helps, however, I am inclined to believe that the current administration has some other urgent matters to deal with. Politics is the art of the possible, and in the current economic situation, what is possible for this administration seems to be very limited, so I will not have high hopes for significant food policy changes at the speed we need.
On a separate note, I know many people will argue these organic and sustainable ideas with phrases like: “How are we going to feed the world with organic agriculture?” so I say, a) organic agriculture seems to be more productive than conventional agriculture if we take into consideration all the real costs involved. And b) aside from this, shouldn’t we start focusing on doing a better job of feeding ourselves before we try to feed the world? By the way, it looks like we have not been doing a good job so far, have we?
I feel that as consumers, we have somehow co-created this Frankenstein that is living among us. We should stop Frankenfood because we all deserve Real food. It looks like we now have the responsibility to pass the baton that we once gave to Frankenfood companies to the Real Food farmers.
Thinking about this food problem, I thought of this appropriate quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” I would love to set our goal as a nation to transform together America’s food system from Frankenfood to Real Food at pace of 2 percent per year. We should all be active part of this productive change, and we will surely live healthier and happier and be able to leave a better world for the future generations.
For Maria Rodale by guest blogger Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics,gustorganics.com, theworld’s first certified-organic restaurant, and one of the greenest and most progressive restaurants on the planet