Food is sustenance. Without it we cannot live, we cannot grow, we cannot exist. But in our world today, food is often harmful. It is toxic, full of pesticides and preservatives, genetically engineered. We are misled to believe often that certain foods are healthier for us. This breakfast bar has less sugar, this can of Pepsi has less calories, and that bag of kettle-cooked potato chips has less sodium. Our perception is controlled by propaganda and marketing.
And, unfortunately, like many others, I often fall prey to these ploys. Like many others, I often succumb to the temptations of the bag of marshmallows and the bowl of Cheetos sitting in front of me.
In today’s world, while theoretically I want to be healthy and eat all-natural, not only is it difficult to resist unhealthy food, but it is increasingly difficult to figure out which foods are genuinely good for me. Though some are quite obviously better than others, I have a difficult time figuring out what is particularly good and will benefit me.
I would love to say that I do the research, and that I eat organic, fair-trade, preservative-free, actually healthy food. When I think about it, I know that I should know where my food is coming from (the country or origin, what the process of making or cultivating the food is, etc.). It’s much easier to say all of this theoretically than to actually implement it into my daily life. It would require tremendous amounts of time and discipline. I know it’s possible, but it’s also difficult.
Every few months, I do go through a phase where I decide I’m going to be healthy. I say that I won’t drink any soda or eat any junk food. I have generally followed through with the soda, but not so much with the junk food. Sometimes I track my calories and dietary intake, sometimes I do have the self-control to substitute fruits for snacks and eat more vegetable-based meals. I read the labels and I see what ingredients foods contain to decide which option is healthier for me.
But that’s not most of the time. Most of the time, I’m one of the ignorant many. The more I think about it, the more I realize how little I know. But I do know that if the food industry was more straightforward about their process and contents, many people would eat more healthily. And if not, it would be their explicit, understood choice.
What surprises me more is that while snacks and foods that come in a package are at least labeled at all, my fruits and vegetables are often left open. I sort through the options and pick which apple looks the ripest and which avocado looks the biggest. But none of these are labeled. How am I supposed to know if my fruit or vegetable was contaminated with pesticides? How am I supposed to figure out if it was genetically engineered to grow larger or faster? It seems unfair and unjust to mislead people to believe that this orange is as healthy as oranges can get.
I recently learned that the term “natural” holds little to no meaning in the United States. All it means is that there is no food coloring, hormones, and additives that were not originally in the food. The food can be “minimally” processed though, and the terms are so ambiguous that often the label “natural” indicates a food that isn’t natural at all.
I previously was under the impression that organic food was considered better than all-natural food. I learned, however, that organic food only focuses on the farming of food production. This website distinguishes organic food from all-natural food and describes that organic food implies that the crops and livestock cannot be raised or cultivated with any pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or synthetic fertilizer, pest management, etc.
The process stops after farming though, and the all-natural responsibility lies in the hands of those who are processing the food. All-natural food crops must generally follow the same guidelines for crops as organic foods, but while organic foods cover a 5-7 year growth cycle, all-natural foods are only concerned with the present moment. As the above article indicates, this means that the soil can have trace amounts of synthetic fertilizer in it, but it is often miniscule and insignificant.
All-natural food focuses primarily on the processing and packaging of food. The equipment and standard set by the USDA are stricter than for other labeling, especially in terms of freezing the food, what materials are used to package the food, and what cleaning products are used the machines that the food is put through.
Unfortunately, many foods that are labeled “all-natural” still are not, as the USDA does not account for the fact that many people will put “natural” additives in the food, such as salt and water.
Similarly, GMOs, or genetically manufactured organisms, in the United States have no regulation or labeling. The controversy with GMOs is that they are vaguely defined and can sometimes be used productively. They are not always harmful as some people say, but they may also have unintended consequences, such as not being suited to humans, animals, or plants, depending on what purpose they are being used for. There is always the possibility that they can cause immune system problems, heart, liver, or kidney problems, among others.
Primarily for the possible side effects, the United States, like Europe and much of South America, should have regulations to mandate the labeling of GMOs. At the very least, people will be able to make an informed decision about the products they are purchasing.
Similarly, mutagens also are often harmful, containing carcinogens and even being cancerous. Though some mutagens are naturally occurring, other modify the DNA (or other biological elements). Fortunately, the effects of mutagens and the creation of mutagenic compounds can be significantly reduced by antioxidants and a change in diet. Fruits and vegetables especially, which are rich in antioxidants and lower in mutagens than certain foods such as meat which has been cooked at high temperatures.
Unfortunately, however, in this consumer society, there are so many different ways we are led to believe that a particular food or product in general is of high quality. Even things so “healthy” as tofu and soy milk can contain endocrine disruptors, which could potentially be associated with hindering cognitive and brain development, leading to problems like attention deficit disorder.
Endocrine disruptors exist in so many household objects, and yet we don’t even hear about them or the possible effects they can have on our health. Like GMOs and processed food, they are not usually labeled to indicate the negative health effects.
This problem of a lack of labeling on food products especially is prevalent in our society, particularly in the United States. The USDA’s guidelines are virtually non-existent and way too lax to be reliable. Not only this, but proposals like the DARK Act (“Denying Americans the Right-to-Know Act,” technically the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014”), which fortunately was not approved, would have allowed manufacturers to exercise even more freedom than they already have in labeling GMOs and natural foods.
All I can say is that this problem will persist until the mass public, the FDA, and Congress come together to create stricter regulations. It will persist until the United States, and the rest of the world, stop allowing consumerism and corporations to control them. We are in a profit-driven market, but it is ruining us slowly. As a public, it is our responsibility to become informed and demand change. Hopefully, that day will come, and hopefully it will be soon. Our health and livelihoods depend on it.
Refer to links in the article for more information on each topic.