Friday, August 30, 2013

The High Cost of Cheap Food

"The High Cost of Cheap Food" is a new series on the hidden costs of feeding a nation---and increasingly, the world---on an unsustainable slurry of scraps and toxins.

1. A fast food diet is an unhealthy diet.

Fast food is not a healthy food choice, to say the very least. As long as we buy our food, cash, and only pay for our health care indirectly, if at all, we will continue to believe that value meals are a bargain and health care is expensive. People buy food on impulse, often when we’re hungry, from companies that indulge our tastes for salt, sugar, and fat. If people shopped for their food as carefully as they do for insurance, or even if the health of our food were as well regulated as insurance, we would all eat better.

For nearly all of us, nearly all of the time, Big Food decides what we eat. They control the market, so that even though it looks like a lot of individuals expressing their freedom to choose, in reality there are not enough differences among the choices, and high quality foods are available in far fewer places. The fast food industry sells us an abundance of food made from cheap, refined, low quality ingredients, like “pink slime” and Coca-Cola, foods that are proven killers. This irregularity of regulation in a country that licenses drivers, pet owners, and hair stylists, is explained by the “Amazing Revolving Door” among industries and the agencies that regulate them.

Fast food does not nourish, because it’s designed to be made from a minimal number of the cheapest ingredients available, by people who’ve received very little training---the better to afford the massive turnover of the fast food industry, which pays a starvation wage to its employees. And neither the government nor the marketplace forces corporations to do a better job of feeding the country.

We as consumers are not the end of the line. Everything works in circles---cycles that provide feedback at every step. The marketplace currently prioritizes cheap food over nourishment, quick meals over Slow Food. The entire model for fast food is unhealthy at every level, and getting worse. The good news is that by demanding freshness, diversity, transparency, and justice from the food systems that serve us, the benefits of healthy eating become not just personal, but social. Making better food choices improves the health of the workers, animals, and ecosystems that nourish us, by creating demand in the marketplace for products that are sustainably raised and harvested, and fairly traded.

Next week: The Leading Causes of Death

Image credit: Νick P/Flickr