Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why should we care about processed foods?

This is a question we all should ask. On the radio and in everyday conversations we hear people talk about processed food. We hear people talking about news year’s resolution and how they plan to cut down on the amount of processed food they consume. Before you can truly make good and informed decisions about the food you eat you need to understand what processed food is.

The definition of processed food is according to http://www.foodinsight.org/ is: Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. According to this definition cooking food, chopping food and canning food is processing food.


There are different levels of processed foods. Below is a table from http://www.foodinsight.org/ that explains different levels of processed food.
Type of Food
Foods that require little processing or production (also called “minimally processed”).
Washed and packaged fruits and vegetables; bagged salads; roasted and ground nuts and coffee beans
Foods processed to help preserve and enhance nutrients and freshness of foods at their peak
Canned tuna, beans and tomatoes; frozen fruits
and vegetables; pureed and jarred baby foods
Foods that combine ingredients such as sweeteners, spices, oils, flavors, colors, and preservatives to improve safety and taste and/or add visual appeal. (Does not include “ready-to-eat” foods listed below.)
Some packaged foods, such as instant potato mix, rice, cake mix, jarred tomato sauce, spice mixes, dressings and sauces, and gelatin
“Ready-to-eat” foods needing minimal or no preparation.
Breakfast cereal, flavored oatmeal, crackers, jams and jellies, nut butters, ice cream, yogurt, garlic bread, granola bars, cookies, fruit chews, rotisserie chicken, luncheon meats, honey-baked ham, cheese spreads, fruit drinks
and carbonated beverages
Foods packaged to stay fresh and save time
Prepared deli foods and frozen meals, entrées,
pot pies and pizzas

It is not as easy as saying these types of processed foods are good and these processed foods are not. It depends on who processes them and the ingredients put into them. The major problems that processed foods impose on America have to do with the ingredients and the way they are processed. As long as you do it safely making cookies in your kitchen is fine. This is what people should be doing, processing their own food. The problems are caused by the mass produced cookies that are made in huge factories with really cheap ingredients.

 In this blog post I am going to talk about three major problems with overly processed foods:

1) Processed foods are cheap calories. For the many many Americans who live in food desserts ( areas where fresh food is not available) or don’t have the money to buy good food for their family buy the cheapest thing available. At the moment this is processed food. It is made in large quantities and uses cheap ingredients which are grown in massive amounts on huge industrial farms. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) subsidizes a certain amount of money to the production of food. 85% of this money goes to commodities which are usually grown on huge massive farms. These are the ingredients that go into processed foods. Only 1% of this money goes to fruit and vegetable farms.

Since 1980 the cost of processed food has gone down 40% and the price of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up. Therefore the many Americans lacking enough money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables buy overly processed foods that do not contain the necessary vitamins and minerals. Many people in the US are living on only processed chips, cakes etc. When your diet is composed of only overly processed foods this can lead to many health problems including obesity. More than 1/3 of the adults in the US are obese.  According to the CDC obesity it can lead to many more issues including: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. It is estimated that 147 billion dollars are spent in the US each year because of obesity. For more about obesity in America:

 This is not necessarily the peoples fault. As a country we need educate the public more and make healthier food available to the public at affordable prices. Think about what all that money could do to change our food system and instead it is being used to pay for the consequences of eating like we do.

2) Overly Processed food is often made in big factories and then transported across the country.  This uses lots of fuel and admits many pollutants into the air. The actual processing of the food does the same. 

We can thank the food we eat for a lot of the global warming our country is experiencing. Michael Pollan has a great video on eating local and the effects it has on the environment. If we ate local a lot of the energy used to make and transport process food would be saved.
Below is the link to the video:

3) So far we have talked about the health effect and the environmental effect but have neglected one more important reason. Families share recipes and have a connection around certain foods. In some families food is a big deal. As people have started to eat more and more processed foods people are starting to stop cooking as much and they don’t have the same knowledge of where their food comes from. They don’t have the same connection with food that people have had since the cavemen were on earth. Michael Pollan talks a lot about his in his book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One thing he mentions is that many Americans no longer eat around the table but eat fats food on their way to work or on their way home. We are losing our connection with food.     


As you can see processed food is a huge problem in America. The problem is many Americans cannot afford anything but processed foods. Our nation needs to make other food more available and accessible to more people. I watched a great movie recently that talked about this that I highly recommend called: A Place at our Table. Below is the link to the trailer:

This is a movie everybody needs to see that addresses all the problems above as well as many other flaws in America’s food system. 

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