By Dr. Mercola
“Fast Food, Fat Profits” gives a quick overview of what’s wrong with the US food industry, and how its inherent design virtually guarantees a sick, overweight population.
From food deserts and cheap fast food to soda that’s marketed directly to children and a revolving door between food agencies and the government, the system is very much stacked against healthy eating … and healthy people.
If your meals consist of $1 burgers and super-size drinks, your diet may be cheap, but it is also excessively high in grains, sugars, and factory-farmed meats. This is a recipe for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, just to name a few of the conditions that commonly befall those who consume “the Standard American Diet.”
Why is a Fast-Food Meal Cheaper Than Healthy Food?
Many people realize that they can get a value meal at numerous fast-food restaurants for far less money than it takes to purchase foods to make a healthy meal for their family.
Adding to the problem, many on the most limited food budgets, such as those who receive food assistance dollars, live in “food deserts” – areas without grocery stores, and perhaps only a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant where they can purchase their food.
While it’s certainly possible to eat healthy on a limited budget, this first requires that you understand what constitutes a healthy meal, and then that you have access to such foods, which is not always the case.
Meanwhile, instead of ensuring that all Americans have access to healthy foods, the US government is actively supporting a diet that consists of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), soybean oil, corn oil and grain-fed cattle, a direct result of their flawed farm subsidy system.
The junk foods are made even cheaper through the use of unhealthy filler ingredients and preservatives that prevent spoiling, with the end result being that the very worst foods for your health are often significantly cheaper to buy.
Kids are Eating Turkey Sandwiches With 100 Other Ingredients …
Perhaps nowhere are the problems with the food system more apparent than in US schools, where kids are served processed food products that only vaguely resemble actual fresh food. In “Fast Food, Fat Profits,” one chef is shocked to see that turkey sandwiches slated for the next school lunch contain 100 ingredients!
What this cocktail of chemicals is ultimately doing to our population is difficult to pin down, but food additives like preservatives, artificial flavors and colors and MSG have already been linked to behavioral problems, ADHD and cancer, among other conditions. But, again, many assume that the burger from a fast-food joint is equivalent to one they’d make in their own kitchen … a far cry from reality.
For instance, the McRib sandwich from McDonald’s, described as pork, barbecue sauce, slivered onions and tart pickles, served on a hoagie style bun, actually contains more than 70 ingredients and even the ‘pork’ allegedly consists of restructured meat product (made from all the less expensive innards and castoffs from the pig). Unfortunately, some parents are unaware that feeding their kids fast-food meals is like feeding them a chemistry experiment, or they are simply lured in by the low prices and tasty (albeit artificial and addictive) flavors.
The Revolving Door Between the Food Industry and the Government is Ever Turning
Many Americans also believe, mistakenly, that food sold on US soil must be good for them, or else the state and federal regulatory agencies would be taking action. But this ideal is laughable when those same government officials work for the very food companies they are supposed to be regulating.
Take, for instance, John Bode, a Washington attorney who served on the Senate Agriculture Committee staff and held three presidential appointments at the Agriculture Department. He became president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association in May of this year.
Then there’s Catherine Woteki, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) chief scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, who previously served as Global Director of Scientific Affairs for Mars, Inc. Michael Taylor, a former vice president of public policy and chief lobbyist at Monsanto Company, who became the deputy commissioner for foods at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet another example.
There are other close connections that most of the public isn’t aware of either. Dairy Management, which also includes the National Dairy Council, has been aggressively marketing cheese to restaurant chains in efforts to increase sales. But we’re not talking about simply promoting consumption of a piece of cheddar cheese or a block of Gouda … this includes fast-food restaurants selling junk-food products like:
- Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza
- Wendy’s dual Double Melt sandwich concept
- Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich (both of which contained three slices of cheese plus a “cheesy sauce”)
In other words, the government is not your ally here. They are working alongside fast-food giants like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Wendy’s and others to get you to eat more of their junk-food products, which happen to contain lots of (highly processed) cheese!
Should Soda Be Banned From Food Stamp Programs?
Most Americans are drinking far too much soda and other sugary drinks, a key culprit in rising rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and related conditions. Some brands, like Chubby’s from the Caribbean, are even marketed directly to children (and feature bottles designed to fit in a small child’s hand).
But, as the video highlighted, now a group of health associations, physicians and nutrition experts are calling for pilot programs that would restrict the purchase of sugary drinks by people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is already done for alcohol and tobacco, but the move to regulate what types of food and drinks a person is able to buy is new territory.
Increasing regulations like these may not be the solution, however, especially if the money spent on soda is simply put toward more heavily processed foods. While farmer’s markets do occasionally make it into the ghetto (and some do accept food stamps), the farmer’s market is an occasional institution, operating just one day a week. Fast-food franchises, on the other hand, pump out low-nutrient fare seven days a week, 365 days a year.
While it’s possible to make the healthy choice, under these conditions, it’s not easy.
There’s no denying, of course, that processed foods, whether soda or potato chips, will eat up your grocery budget in the blink of an eye, and will cause disease in the long-term. In reality, any money spent on junk food is a waste, and purging these items from your grocery list is the first step to eating right on a budget. Some of the healthiest foods are incredibly affordable, even under $1 a serving, such as:
- Raw organic milk
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Two cage-free organic eggs
- Avocado, berries and broccoli
- Home-grown sunflower sprouts
- Fermented foods you make at home
What’s the Real Cost of Eating Cheap Food?
“Fast Food, Fat Profits” highlights what is arguably one of the most disturbing health trends of the 21st century – the fact that today’s generation may be the first to live a shorter lifespan than their parents, and this is a direct result of too much cheap (nutrient-deficient and toxin-laden) food. Avoiding processed food requires a change in mindset, which is not always an easy task. It CAN be done, however. Rather than looking at processed foods as a convenience that tastes good or saves money, try thinking of it as:
- Extra calories that will harm your body
- A toxic concoction of foreign chemicals and artificial flavors that will lead to disease
- A waste of your money
- Likely to lead to increased health care bills for you and your family
- Not something to give to children, whose bodies are still developing and therefore are both much more susceptible to cancer and in greater need of nutrients
Your goal should be to strive for 90 percent non-processed, whole food. Not only will you enjoy the health benefits—especially if you buy mostly organic—but you’ll also get the satisfaction of knowing exactly what you’re putting into your body, and that in and of itself can be a great feeling. It may cost more to eat this way, but then again it might not. (And in the long run the amount it will save you in the long run is immeasurable.)
Are You Trying to Eat Healthy on a Budget?
While it may not be immediately obvious for people who have grown up relying on ready-made, pre-packaged foods and snacks, you can replace those foods with something equally satisfying that will support, rather than wreck, your health. This requires some strategy, especially if you’re working with a tight budget, but it can be done:
- Identify a Person to Prepare Meals. Someone has to invest some time in the kitchen. It will be necessary for either you, your spouse, or perhaps someone in your family prepare the meals from locally grown healthful foods. This includes packing lunches for your kids to take to school.
- Become resourceful: This is an area where your grandmother can be a wealth of information, as how to use up every morsel of food and stretch out a good meal was common knowledge to generations past. Seek to get back to the basics of cooking – using the bones from a roast chicken to make stock for a pot of soup, extending a Sunday roast to use for weekday dinners, learning how to make hearty stews from inexpensive cuts of meat, using up leftovers and so on.
- Plan your meals: If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. This is essential, as you will need to be prepared for mealtimes in advance to be successful. Ideally this will involve scouting out your local farmer’s markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales.
You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, make sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you’re short on time in the evenings.
It is no mystery that you will be eating lunch around noon every day so rather than rely on fast food at work, before you go to bed make a plan as to what you are going to take to work the next day. This is a marvelous simple strategy that will let you eat healthier, especially if you take healthy food from home in to work.
- Avoid food waste: According to a study published in the journal PloS One,1 Americans waste an estimated 1,400 calories of food per person, each and every day. The two steps above will help you to mitigate food waste in your home. You may also have seen my article titled 14 Ways to Save Money on Groceries. Among those tips are suggestions for keeping your groceries fresher, longer, and I suggest reviewing those tips now.
- Buy organic animal foods. The most important foods to buy organic are animal, not vegetable, products (meat, eggs, butter, etc.), because animal foods tend to concentrate pesticides in higher amounts. If you cannot afford to buy all of your food organic, opt for organic animal foods first.
- Keep costs down on grass-fed beef. Pasture-finished beef is far healthier than grain-fed beef (which I don’t recommend consuming). To keep cost down, look for inexpensive roasts or ground meat. You may also save money by buying an entire side of beef (or splitting one with two or three other families), if you have enough freezer space to store it.
- Buy in bulk when non-perishable items go on sale. If you are fortunate to live near a buyer’s club or a co-op, you may also be able to take advantage of buying by the pound from bins, saving both you and the supplier the cost of expensive packaging.
- Frequent farmer’s markets or grow your own produce. You may be surprised to find out that by going directly to the source you can get amazingly healthy, locally grown, organic food for less than you can find at your supermarket. This gives you the best of both worlds: food that is grown near to you, cutting down on its carbon footprint and giving you optimal freshness, as well as grown without chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and other potential toxins.
Just as restaurants are able to keep their costs down by getting food directly from a supplier, you, too, can take advantage of a direct farm-to-consumer relationship, either on an individual basis or by joining a food coop in your area. Many farmer’s markets are now accepting food stamps, so this is an opportunity most everyone can join in on.