By Kevin Stoda
I don't know why USA insurance and other insurance companies around the globe aren't supporting the film, FOOD INC. Bad nutrition and bad food offerings in supermarkets around the globe are causing more costs in health care than the nicotine industry causes annually. Concerning the film, FOOD INC. Maria Garcia of the Film Journal International, "A cleverly written and well produced documentary. Kenner crafts an intelligent, visually compelling argument grounded in old-fashioned investigative research and journalism." The documentary is up for an Oscar this 2010.
On my way back from the Philippines to Germany this last month, I had time to watch the well-made documentary, FOOD INC. It was such a good summary of the issues linking run-amok governmental and private food industry alliances that dominate farmers and our nutrition world-wide (although the story in the documentary takes place primarily in North America). The documentary's website is entitled: "Hungry for Change".
The website promotes the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act with the improvements needed to significantly improve the status quo in school lunches in America. The site even allows you to sign a petition on behalf of this REAUTHORIZATION which states: "We believe that federally funded nutrition programs should provide all children with the healthy food they deserve. This includes low fat and safe dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Schools should be soda and junk-food-free zones and serve food that complements and furthers parents' efforts to feed their children healthfully."
THE AMERICAN NUTRITIONAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
For many years, I have known a Son of (what FOOD, INC. calls) the "Nutritional Industrial Complex". This man was a lifelong farmer and graduate from Kansas State University (originally an agricultural and technical college), who had majored in biology and who had worked for years with the chemical and agricultural firms around the state of Kansas. Despite all of this Kansan's background in the farming industry and his hatred of what he had seen around him for decades, including his own losing of his father's farm during the many 1980s/1990s farm bankruptcies that swept the USA, this Son of "Nutritional Industrial Complex" in America could and would not critique his own education and the KSU extension agencies that had promoted mono-cultural agriculture and a humongous dependence by farmers on petrochemicals since WWII.
Michael Pollan, who appears in FOOD, INC., was asked recently what the "Nutritional Industrial Complex" is. Pollan explained, "Well, there is a very kind of cozy relationship between nutritional science, as it's practiced in the universities and in the government, and the kinds of advice that emerges from that research, and the food industry, which does a very good job of taking any shred of new information like, oh, maybe fiber prevents colon cancer, and then go to town with really dubious health claims about it. A lot of the research is very tentative and it's changing. I mean, the great open secret about nutritional science is it's a very young science, to put it charitably. They really don't know a lot. They still haven't gotten straight whether we should worry more about fats or carbohydrates with regard to heart disease. So, but whenever they come out with a new finding, the industry uses that to sell more food to people."
Pollan doesn't say that this alliance that works against
good nutrition was not always intentionally so, i.e. created on Madison Avenue or at
"And so, the great example in our own time is the low-fat campaign, a big public health campaign, really begun by the government in the 1970s under Senator George McGovern's leadership at - he was chair of the Select Committee on Nutrition. And they thought they were doing something really good, which was telling people to eat less meat and cut down on saturated fat. But this was seized on by the industry, which took what had been a critique of what they were doing and turned it into a very clever new way to sell new food. So they reengineered the whole food supply to have less fat, but more carbohydrates. And so, people binged on low-fat foods, like Snackwells was the great example. Remember that line of--you know, it was basically no-fat junk food that Nabisco came out with, and it was all over the supermarket for a few years there in the '80s. And people felt, well, if one of these is better for me, a whole box is even better! And so, people binged on low-fat food. And since the low-fat campaign started, we have gotten an average of eighteen pounds heavier. So it hasn't worked. And the reason it didn't work was--well, there are two theories. One is, maybe the science about fat was wrong, which is increasingly becoming clear, not certain, but clearer. Or, maybe whenever you demonize one nutrient, you're giving a free pass to another, and you're allowing the industry to come up with what it always wants to do, which is another "eat more" message. And they did. They're really clever."
Pollan goes on to make clear that nutritional science and nutritional governance in America are often well-beyond the curve in terms of health--e.g. unable to state whether fat or carbohydrates are enemy number one. [or how do we help consumers understand which products are helpful or not?]
HEALTH INDUSTRY HAS BENEFITED FROM SICK PEOPLE
Pollan notes, "[Y]ou know, the healthcare industry profits mightily from the sickness of the population. You know, the food industry is producing lots of patients for the healthcare industry. It's a very convenient relationship. The health insurers, you would think, would have an interest in your health, but in fact their business model up 'til now is based on keeping you out of the pool if you are likely to get chronic disease. If you have a preexisting condition, for one, you can't get in. And then, if you develop one, they raise your rates and do everything they can to get you out, or they have a lifetime cap or whatever it is.
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