Chapter 14 Factory Foods

From the preceding section, you now understand that our biology was set up to make sure that we were able to eat and eat a lot, that our bodies crave foods that deliver quick energy, that our bodies store excess calories for future crises, and that our bodies don’t want to release this stored energy unless it is necessary. Mother Nature set us up this way to make sure we survive in a harsh world long enough to pass our genes on to the next generation.  And what you also learned was how our modern environment is wreaking havoc on our biology. This is where the Clash occurs.

 Remember our hunter/gatherer ancestors? They worked hard for their food. When food was available, they ate large portions, storing as much as possible for the next journey or long winter. It took a lot of energy to survive and the threat of starvation was always present.  Even when we became farmers, we still applied a tremendous amount of energy to survive. Planting, tending, and harvesting took a lot of work. And we still had the long winter to deal with. Worse, crops could easily be ruined by drought, flood, and freezes. With all this work and the relative scarcity and insecurity, our basic biology helped us out.

As time went on, we became more comfortable, and may have carried more weight around our waists, but the problem of obesity was still limited. And its impact on our society was minimal.

But when the Clash of the modern era happened, no one told our biology to just buck-up and adjust to this new radically different system. Instead, our bodies began working even harder to accommodate all the available food. Our bodies overcompensated and stored more fat. Organs could not function properly, balance was lost, and we became ill.

 You probably don’t remember a time before fast food, or when vending machines didn’t exist. But I remember my mother telling me about the thrill she had when, during the Great Depression, she was given an orange for Christmas. She lived in South Dakota, and such a luxury was rare. She was amazed to have a whole orange to eat all by herself.

 Now, our supermarkets are overflowing with food from all over the world. Not only do we have oranges year around, we have bottles and bottles of orange juice. We take those once precious oranges, squeeze the juice out of

them, and then throw away all the fiber. We later strain out all the pulp. Dozens of oranges go into a glass, and we slurp it all down with breakfast.  

I live in Southern California and we have an abundance of oranges.  A study was done with school children in which they were each given 6 oranges.  One group were told to squeeze out the juice from 6 oranges and drink the juice.  The other group was told to peel and eat the six oranges.  The “juice kids” drank the juice of the 6 oranges and were still hungry. The “peel kids” could not even eat all 6 oranges and they said they could not possibly eat any more food. 

At least oranges are “normal” foods.  Now enter foods like Pop Tarts and Fruit Loops. These processed foods deliver energy in ways our bodies could never anticipate. And thanks to chemistry, processed food can sit on the shelves for months or even years.

 Our body doesn’t realize that we may never starve. It doesn’t understand that the whole supermarket will not mysteriously disappear. An early frost won’t empty its shelves. The worse that will happen is bad weather may keep us from going to the store today, but we still have food sitting in our pantry. For most of us, it would take months before all those boxes and cans in the pantry get consumed. And it would take quite a storm to wipe out all the food in your freezers.

Our body also doesn’t realize that the type of food it’s craving, especially the sweets, are devoid of nutrients. In nature, good stuff accompanies sweet; fruits are sweet, and they are loaded with nutrients. But processed food gives us little more than calories.

And we aren’t eating just small amounts.  Take fructose for instance.  Found in the form of high fructose corn syrup, soft drinks, and fruit flavored drinks, our consumption has gone up 600 percent in the last 30 years. Just 100 years ago, this processed fructose was extremely rare in our diets.  Nowadays, for many people, sodas and fruit flavored drinks are their main source of liquids.

  Before the Industrial Revolution, we were in charge of getting our own food. Our ancestors might join with other men in the tribe to take down a woolly mammoth, or help the other women cook the results of the hunt. And the gatherers would bring back the foods that they had collected to the camp to be shared with the young and old. But for the most part, if we were not literally living hand to mouth, someone in our blood line was capturing the food and placing it in our mouths.

 When we developed agriculture, trade became more important. We didn’t have to raise all the food we needed because we could always trade our excess for what we did need. Still, most of our labor was focused on the acquisition of food.

 It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that we lost contact with our food. Instead of hunting and gathering, or growing crops and livestock, we now could work in a factory to acquire the money we needed to buy food.  As food became plentiful, some people grew concerned. During the late 1800s in Europe and North America, health reform became a trend. People worried about all the white sugar and white flour available. Scientists began to understand the importance of fiber, vitamins, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. They began to understand that poorly raised animal sources of protein could be replaced with manipulated peanuts, corn, even soy beans. We had the technology to make a corn “flakes” that could be put in a box and sold in stores. Thus began the culture of health food.

 But our lives continued to become more mechanized and computerized. Hard labor had become more and more rare. These days, most people sit when they work. This posture used to be a luxury, something you enjoyed at the end of the day. Now we sit most of our lives. We sit on the way to work, sit all day at work, sit returning home from work, and then sit all evening in front of the television.

 We don’t even toil in the kitchen anymore. Most of our food comes in wrappers that are popped into the

 In 30 Short Years

Breakdown of Money Spent on Groceries

microwave, or we drive past a window where our food is handed to us. Knives sit in the rack and pots stay in drawers. Even washing dishes is a relatively easy process.  And while we aren’t burning calories like we used to, we are also taking in a tremendous amount of them. The thing about processed food is it is designed to place as much energy as possible in as small of a package as possible. Think of the concentration of sugar, fat, even salt and caffeine, you can grab in a matter of seconds at a drive-through. It’s delivered to you in a paper bag. And you can eat all those calories in your car in less than fifteen minutes.

 Mother Nature could not have anticipated an environment where it is so easy to get calories. And she certainly couldn’t have anticipated how rich these foods would be in calories, nor the type of calories they’d be—mostly sugars and starches devoid of fiber, healthy fats, and nutrients.  Worse, she doesn’t have a defense against the market manipulation that food and restaurant companies use to get people to buy their products. When you look at a deer, you might recognize it as a good food source, but you don’t salivate as it moves across the field. Similarly, a cow doesn’t smell appetizing. And while the smell of ripe oranges does draw us toward the orchard, we are able to resist the compulsion to eat a tree’s worth of oranges in the next 15 minutes.

 But now everything from the pictures we see in ads, to the smells we smell, is designed to make us want THIS food right NOW. And not only that, companies want us to come back and again and again. By making their food addictive, companies are improving their bottom line and giving their shareholders a great return on investments.

 More interestingly, food production has become a commodity. No longer is it about trading wages for food; now we speculate. Investors can bet on future prices for everything from pork bellies to orange juice. This is because food rarely leaves the farm for a customer’s table. Instead, food heads to a factory where it is processed and then sold wholesale, and distributed through large retail chains.

 And food manufacturing companies are so large that they are now publicly traded. In an effort to compete and to turn a profit every quarter, large companies must drive down their production costs and increase the desirability of their product. In other words, their focus is not your health, but the success of their business. By law, publicly traded companies must do everything they can to turn a profit for their shareholders. Their fiduciary responsibility is to shareholders, not the health of their customers.

 Of course, with so much food being pushed into the supply chain, margins will be based on how long the food can remain on the shelf. This means manufacturers need to create foods that can last weeks, months, even years on the shelf. In the natural world, food does not last very long. Even drying meat or fruit will only extend the viability of the food a couple months. So manufacturers must move food into a state that can last as long as possible, and they must add chemical preservatives that extend the availability of the food for sale.

 Food manufacturing companies also must find ways to get you to come back to their products after you’ve consumed your last purchase. Later, we’ll talk about the addictive nature of sugar, but for now, understand that to be successful, food manufacturing companies must find ways to hook you on their products. If you are satisfied too easily, and for too long, and there is nothing in the product that gets you to come back for more, a company’s success will be limited in a fickle and competitive marketplace.

 And so, with all this available food that is designed to attract us, hook us, and keep us coming back for more, is it any wonder we have a problem? What would happen if one fast food outlet or food manufacturer suddenly decided to care more about your health than their bottom line? Yes, there are examples of companies that have carved out a market niche by offering healthier food, but even these companies need to watch their margins. If they do indeed offer higher quality food, food with a shorter shelf life, they must raise their prices to cover losses from spoilage. The healthier their offerings, the more they must charge to create margins that will sustain their business. Average Americans probably can’t afford these healthy alternatives. And even if they could, what would cause them to choose this restaurant over another, this product over that one?

 Which brings us to my next point. In the new food economy, the worst quality food is what is available to our poorest citizens. Our distressed neighborhoods do not have supermarkets. And those that do exist have a limited amount of fresh foods available. For the cost of the vegetables needed for a nutritious salad, a poor family can purchase several meals in the processed food section. A hamburger, fries, and a soda costs less than a filet of salmon or a tofu salad.

 When money is limited, people have to make tough choices. Our bodies don’t understand economies. They simply want energy. Given a choice between a bunch of carrots and a calorie-rich “Happy Meal,” the body will choose the Happy Meal every time.

 I’m not saying that only poor people eat poor quality food; we all do. In an environment where companies are producing low-cost, long-lasting, and delicious products that are supported by expensive and successful advertising, we are bound to take the easiest path. What I do want to stress is that market forces are working against your best interest in their pursuit of their own best interests. 

You will notice that in Chapter 27, we will be talking about another form of “manufactured foods”. These are medical level foods that are specifically used as a therapeutic tool to accommodate our heavy biology problems.  They are intended to be used intermittently “forever”.  In between the weight loss periods, most patients will follow the tenants of this book closely with whole foods.  But there will come times when meal replacements are needed to again bring the “hind brain” biology of obesity back into control.