junk food -- 8/4/21
Today's selection -- from Animal, Vegetable, Junk by Mark Bittman. Over the last century, the agricultural industry has developed the capability to engineer edible substances, “barely recognizable as products of the earth” -- commonly called "junk":
"[Agricultural capability] began to develop around ten thousand years ago, when humans started to intentionally grow plants and raise animals. With the development of agriculture -- a mashup of two Latin words meaning 'field' and 'growing' -- came the birth of societies and the invention of knives, axes, canoes, wheels, and more, each with profound effects on history. Humans built entire industries -- entire civilizations -- around their ability to bend the land and its fruits to their will. Land became the foundation of wealth.
"But agriculture has had a dark side: It's sparked disputes over landownership, water use, and the extraction of resources. It's driven exploitation and injustice, slavery and war. It's even, paradoxically enough, created disease and famine.
|Junk food aisle at Walmart by Thayne Tuason|
"Simply put: Agriculture has, over the course of human history, gotten away with murder. With each passing century, it's gotten better at it, until it became a justification for imperialism and genocide.
"Until recently, almost all humans were engaged in growing food. It's likely that you, dear reader, have no daily relationship to soil -- that you take food for granted. It just shows up in your store or restaurant, often ready to eat. Few of us actually witness the steps required to produce, process, move, and prepare that food.
"These events require land, water, energy, a variety of resources, and lots of labor. The net result, we're told, is 'feeding the seven billion.' Yet the stranglehold Big Agriculture maintains over food production in much of the world fails to provide even the minimal necessary calories for many, and its most recent products sicken billions of people.
"A dictionary definition of 'food' reads something like 'a substance that provides nourishment.' And until a century ago, we had two types of food: plants and animals. But as agriculture and food processing became industries, they developed a third type of 'food,' more akin to poison -- 'a substance that is capable of causing illness or death.' These engineered edible substances, barely recognizable as products of the earth, are commonly called 'junk.'
"Junk has hijacked our diets and created a public health crisis that diminishes the lives of perhaps half of all humans. And junk is more than a dietary issue: The industrialized agriculture that has spawned junk -- an agriculture that, along with its related industries, concentrates on maximizing the yield of the most profitable crops -- has done more damage to the earth than strip mining, urbanization, even fossil fuel extraction. Yet it remains not only underregulated but subsidized by the governments of most countries.
"For decades, Americans believed that we had the world's healthiest and safest diet. We didn't worry about its effects on our health, on the environment, on resources, or on the lives of the animals or even the workers it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure -- that is, its sustainability. We have been encouraged, even forced, to remain ignorant of both the costs of industrial agriculture and the non-environment-wrecking, healthier alternatives.
"Yet if terrorists stole or poisoned a large share of our land, water, and other natural resources, underfed as much as a quarter of the population and seeded disease among half, threatened our ability to feed ourselves in the future, deceived, lied to, and poisoned our children, tortured our animals, and ruthlessly exploited many of our citizens -- we'd consider that a threat to national security and respond accordingly.
"Contemporary agriculture, food production, and marketing have done all of that, with government support and without penalty. That must end."