One of the most important lessons my parents ever taught was the mixed blessing of getting your own way. It was often lost on me as I grew through my formative years, getting your own way was awesome after all. But as I grew into a teenager and young adult I began to see the wisdom in the lesson. Sometimes getting your own way means getting what you need. Sometimes getting your own way means getting what you desire. Sometimes getting your own way means getting a heaping serving of unintended trouble.
With great power comes great responsibility Peter Parker.
I think we need to view how we eat with the same lesson in mind. Since the age of industrial, supermarket food began in earnest in the 1950s, we have gotten our own way in North America. We want prepackaged convenience at an affordable, if not dirt cheap, price. We want it to taste good, make us feel good, and not take very long to prepare. Only two minutes in the microwave! Mmmm . . . irradiated, processed food. Now THAT’s good eating!
It’s interesting then that we lambast corporate food companies for industrial farming and poor ingredients. As any good capitalist company they’re simply giving their customers what they want. You want cheap and convenient food full of preservatives so it won’t spoil on store shelves? Here you go. You want chocolatey / salty / sweet snacks we can mass produce fast enough for you to consume? Here you go. You don’t have time to cook a meal for your family because you barely have enough time to fly out the door at night to your overcommitted life? Here you go.
Yes, the practices a corporation uses to produce food are the responsibility of the corporation. What we all need to realize however is that they use those practices because the majority of the world DEMAND mass produced food. Now we can get into an argument about whether that demand is manufactured or not but the fact reminds that it does exist. May be if we all changed our attitudes about the food we eat and how we prepare it, big agribusiness would follow? They’re just chasing the profit after all. If enough of us demanded a shift through our purchasing and use practices I bet there would be a company willing to follow the profits. We’ve demanded a life of ease and convenience and the food companies are more than happy to give it to us as cheaply and efficiently as possible.
As with a lot of things in life then, the responsibility is shared. Big food companies are interested in profit, not your health. They won’t change until enough of their margin disappears. They need to change but they won’t do it on their own. Paleo adherents have already made, or in the process of making, the changes that disengage them from everyday commercial consumption of food. There just isn’t enough of us to make food companies notice. The rest of the responsibility lies with the general consumer. When they start demanding whole foods that are better for them, but not necessarily as convenient as a boxed meal, we will see changes in the way food is raised, handled, and produced in our world. Until then we’ll get the processed food and cheap, sugary snacks that are so easy to produce and consume.
Until then, we’ll get exactly what we ask for.
Update: This post is now part of Primal Toad’s Blog Carnival.