Cutting Up the Income Pie

A century ago, in the wealthy countries of the world, a significant proportion of people went to bed hungry every night.

There are still many hungry “First World” people. But decades after the Green Revolution and with heavy agricultural subsidies in North America, the EU and many other countries, the main problem we now have with food is that too many of us are over-nourished.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents could never have imagined such a situation. Decades of government focus on increasing the food supply see us living in societies with copious quantities of low-grade food. The upshot of this is the many problems we are now battling: an epidemic of obesity in both Western and developing countries, adult lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease being seen in younger and younger ages and an increasing incidence of cancers.

It’s estimated that one third of the increase in health care costs in the United States in the last 20 years is attributable to obesity.

There are also concerns about chemical residues in our foods, farm runoff polluting fragile waterways, and animal protein factories that force us to ignore high levels of cruelty. Farmers who force their land to produce monocrops year after year are also partially responsible for dryland salinity and moribund river systems. Overfishing and polluted runoff increasingly threaten the already fragile state of the world’s oceans.

What’s going on?

Producing high volumes of low-grade food may once have seemed a worthy goal. Now the disadvantages are increasingly obvious and it’s time for a change of focus in methods of food production. We need to emphasise the importance of our health and the health of the environment in which we live when deciding what to eat and how to produce it.

Think back to 1988, Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations … There was no internet. You didn’t have an email address. You didn’t have to decide whether to upgrade to ADSL and include cable TV in the price. There were no mobile phones, so no need to figure in an upgrade every couple of years and you almost certainly didn’t know anyone with air-conditioning in their home. There were fewer “must-haves” to buy and so more of people’s budget was available for food.

Decades of cheap, poor-quality food and decades of advertising has led to many people giving food buying a lower priority.

Large companies which provide much of our food are always aware of their operating environment and always able to provide “solutions”. The highlighting of nutritional benefits on labelling has soared: low carb, low GI, cholesterol-free, heart-friendly, all natural, white high-fibre … The promises scream loudly from labelling. Other companies provide solutions in the form of drive-thru lanes and fast take-away service. Evening family meals around the table, prepared by Mum, seem almost quaint.

Manufacturers and suppliers are global corporate players in competition with each other. Getting food to you at the cheapest price is a priority. If something has to give, it is likely to be quality.

This leads to increasingly lower-grade inputs, packaging with less content, replacing ingredients with inferior alternatives, and advertising that claims the opposite of the truth.

Around the world, even organic food is increasingly being compromised by this dollar-driven paradigm. With growth in organics, larger corporate players are muscling in, cutting standards and compromising quality in order to drive their returns. That said, organic food is still a better choice though small-scale, local food is the best choice of all.

Organic farms focus on quality soils which grow food proven to be nutritionally superior. UK studies show that the regular, conventionally-grown vegetables of today are significantly lower in many of the measured nutrients than their otherwise identical counterparts of fifty years ago. In other words, for every 100g of the “same” thing, you’re now getting less. Poorer soils are the culprit.

What to do?

Don’t compromise on your diet. Break the paradigm of shopping for value. Shop instead for quality. Buy less of more: less processed and more fresh produce, fewer snacks and more dried fruits and nuts, fewer bottled drinks and more whole fruit and tap water. Give food the healthy attention it deserves: prepare your food, cook it, share it with family and friends. Take your time and enjoy it.

Food and the sharing of it is one of life’s grand pleasures. Life is too short not to truly enjoy food: for the flavours, for what good it does for us and our families and for what it can do for the world around us. Skip the cable TV, put up with last year’s mobile phone – and eat for a healthy future.

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