Exit the Matrix

I remembered what I was going to write about. I was reading Marion Nestle‘s excellent book Food Politics on the train ride home today. It is such an amazing book. I can hardly get more than two pages before I have to stop and really think about what I’ve just read before I’ll let myself read any further. The introduction chapter alone is an eye-opener.It’s not that the content of the book is all that shocking or terrifying (at least, it hasn’t been so far). It’s just that I’ve never really thought too much about all of the things that happen behind the scenes to put a can of Spaghetti-O’s on the shelf at the local grocery store… and to convince the nation that it’s healthy enough to consume (ergo, buy). The scariest part about reading it is that I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person and can’t believe that I’ve gone this long without really knowing up until this point just how much my reality has been manipulated by the food industry. I feel like I may have just taken the red pill.Just as scary is how many other people continue to live their lives oblivious to who and what is shaping their world. I consider my friends to be fairly intelligent, too. Do they know what’s going on? Do they care? Are they ignorant, apathetic or in denial? Should I be? Is life too short to worry?I still have quite a bit left to read in the book. To date I’ve only completed the first section, which talks about how the various sub-industries (meat, dairy, etc.) have influenced the government’s nutrition recommendations over the years. Did you realize or stop to wonder why the ubiquitous Food Guide Pyramid was developed by the USDA – the US Department of Agriculture, not the National Institute of Health? Could it be that the pyramid was developed for the benefit of the food industry rather than your health? Hmmm… The author also goes into detail describing how nit-picky the industry representatives are over the exact wording of all publicly released “government approved” food recommendations.Ever wonder why you see so many advertisements for products like Mountain Dew, Fruit Roll-Ups or Oreos but never for natural, unprocessed foods like green peppers, pears, or eggs? Surprisingly enough, the food industry can make much more money off of “value added” foods produced from the raw materials than the natural ingredients themselves, even after spending millions on research, production and advertising.I’ve now started into the second section that explains exactly how the food industries influence governmental policy decisions, the most visible tactic being lobbying. Maybe it was because I was more of a math/science student, but I only vaguely remember reading about lobbyists in my American Government class in school. I never really understood exactly how it fit into the whole judicial/executive/legislative branch checks-and-balances concept. The example groups the text books listed made it sound like lobbying was a completely honorable cause. Now I realize that’s not always the case. Lobbying basically a form of legalized bribery. Individuals are paid big bucks by organizations large and small to “influence” representatives of the legislative branch into making policy decisions in their favor. Early government officials decided that it was next to impossible to stop monetary influence from occuring so rather than forbidding it, they made it legal with the requirement that it be done in the open and recorded for all to see (though there are always loop holes, of course, and you can bet that a fair amount of compensation passes “under the table”). It doesn’t take much to realize that the organizations with the deepest pockets often get their way which then leads to more profits, therefore deeper pockets, therefore their way, ad nauseum (thank you, capitalism). And people wonder how many corporations today have become more rich, powerful and influential than many governments worldwide.One of the things I like most about the book is that it’s highly accessible. Terminology is explained rather than leaving it as an excercise to the reader or assuming the reader already knows. Nestle makes her points clearly and concisely. Much of the information is presented as first hand knowledge since she participated in the decision making for a number of the food guide recommendations.Though I’m only a third of the way through the book, I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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