The global food system has drastically changed since the 1950s. Nowadays, producers approach food production and distribution from a highly capitalist lens, where convenience is valued over quality. We must address the overprocessing of food, as well as hidden hunger and social justice issues within the food industry, to combat harmful trends that disempower consumers.
First, inadequate food systems are abundant in “pseudo food,” which refers to highly processed edible commodities high in sweeteners, carbohydrates, salt and oils that lack life-sustaining nutrients, fiber and vitamins.
When it is easier and more lucrative to provide a plethora of different variations of ultra-processed, aesthetically packaged and sugary food, producers are not incentivized to provide healthy options. The marketing, branding and the creation of these “pseudo food” varieties drives the economics of food production for the worse.
In addition to capitalism’s uncanny ability to use market forces to deter consumers from making nutritious choices, the nutritional composition of our food has substantially decreased since the 1950s and ’60s. Fruits, veggies and grains are showing declining levels in essential nutrients responsible for nerve function, bone density, oxygen circulation, metabolism and brain function. Our grandparents’ fruits and veggies were superfoods compared to what we are eating right now.
The phenomenon of diminishing nutrient value also exists in agriculture since livestock are consuming less nutritious grass and grains. This decreases the nutritional value of meat products on top of the excessive use of hormones and antibiotics given to animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) to genetically increase growth rates and muscle volume.
Farmers are paid based on the weight of their yield, encouraging them to prioritize quantity over nutritional value. According to researchers, agricultural practices that focus on growing plants bigger and faster don’t allow plants to adequately absorb nutrients from the soil or synthesize them internally, increasing nutrient dilution issues in the global food market.
These agriculture problems lead to “wellness” becoming unattainable for the average consumer. As food researcher and author Warren J. Belasco says, “only the richest twentieth percent regularly buy the ecologically righteous wares of Smith and Hawken, Ecover, and Whole Foods.” Additionally, the U.S. government has subsidized sugar, wheat, corn and soy production for years, the main drivers of chronic disease. There’s something wrong with the food system when consumers are funding their own demise.
Ecologically righteous is an adept term to describe the “green marketing” trend driven by hyperbole and high prices on healthy foods that prevails in modern food advertising. The modern wellness industry’s elitist marketing is an amplified version of the “brown marketing” trend of the 1970s organic food movement.
This historical shift in food production has created food insecurity and nutritional insecurity. Nearly two billion people are affected by “hidden hunger,” undernourishment resulting from a lack of key micronutrients, while another 2 billion people are overweight due to chronic conditions like obesity. Even as agricultural technology advances, the nutritional deficit persists because of distribution issues and the fact that much of our global arable land is dedicated to producing oils for highly processed foods.
These issues are prevalent in our local community as well. Certain wards in Washington, D.C., cite numbers as high as 85% of residents living in food deserts.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an estimated 34 million Americans are food insecure. The American Geographical Society, who collects data on localized food deserts, clearly states that understanding food insecurity and nutritional accessibility must be done using a critical race lens.
Food insecurity is not only an economic and scientific issue, but clearly a sociological and human rights problem as well. Therefore, confronting issues like this requires systemic overhaul and policy change.
When you consider the roots of your food, aiming for a diet abundant in vegetables and sustainably farmed and caught protein is revolutionary in-and-of itself. While caring for your own body and mind are very important, true sustainable food systems are bolstered by community equity. Student groups like FarmLink, Georgetown Students Advancing Food Equality (SAFE), and volunteer initiatives at the National Children’s Center (NCC) are good places to get involved, as outreach is key in boosting these efforts.
Considering the impact of food insecurity on physiological and cognitive function, there is a dire need for collective action and policy change in this realm.