Are You Eating Fake Food?
What a wondrous time we live in! While humanity has historically endured famine (and in pockets still does), the modern world is replete with supermarket shelves lined with every conceivable food our culinary palates could wish for.
Traveling late at night when a craving hits? No problem as the nearest gas station has your belly and brain covered with an assortment of colorful and wildly flavorful snack options. How could any reasonable human being find fault in such an agricultural marvel?
If you don’t wish to have this utopian illusion shattered, I suggest you stop reading and turn on the Food Network. Settle in with a bowl of chips and a soft drink until you slump over in a food coma.
Still reading? OK, I have a secret to share: The overwhelming majority of grocery store shelves are barren.
To clarify, those shelves are not empty; there are indeed boxes and bags labeled with slick marketing slogans and colorful images. Yet what is inside those packages is very much empty. There are even nutrition labels that claim your body will receive such-and-such an amount of this or that nutrient. But a dusting of synthetic vitamins and isolated minerals on top of a processed, foodlike substance is no more nourishing to the body than a hug given over Zoom.
Blasphemy, you say! I feed my family with that food, you say! The family members’ ever-increasing waistlines are evidence that I am even nourishing them too well.
If calories were all the body needed to function optimally, that would be true. Instead, the growth, repair, and maintenance of the body requires nutrients, and there is a big difference between a genuine food that is nutrient dense and a foodlike substance that is nutrient devoid.
We call the latter term “empty calories,” and the person gaining weight from eating ultraprocessed, foodlike substances is starving on a full stomach. The calories are there and bodyweight increases, yet the human frame deteriorates and succumbs to diseases of lifestyle: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, strokes — and, in many cases, fatigue and depression.
Consider the following list of processes and additions to which raw materials entering the industrial food system are subjected:
Mono- and diglycerides
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Synthetic fats (olestra)
Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
High-fructose corn syrup
What do all these have in common? They are additives or processes that introduce additives. Except for sulfites and MSG, which can occur naturally in small amounts, every other item on the list involves chemical synthesis or genetic tweaking often followed by the addition of more chemicals.
Besides additives, there are also toxic compounds leeching into food from packaging, such as the notorious endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) lining canned goods. Even fresh produce is sprayed with bleach or chlorinated water and exposed to ethylene gas to force ripening,
Taken collectively, perhaps over 90% of what is sold as “food” in the average grocery store contains one and often more of these additives and/or is subjected to cosmetic-enhancing practices. All of this is a far cry from the freshness of harvesting straight from a garden. Those without access to a garden or farmers market suffer from the perpetual malnourishment of living in a food desert even while seemingly able to feast on an oasis of (fake) food.
Can you do better? I think you can—I believe in you. Here’s a list of ideas:
- Start a garden, even if it’s just pots or planters on a porch.
- Establish a plot in a community garden.
- Grow sprouts or microgreens.
- Patronize your local farmers market.
- When you can’t buy local, choose organic.
- Go berry picking.
- Take a class to learn organic methods for maintaining fruit trees
- Visit farm stores for meat, dairy, and produce.
In all these instances, the point is to purchase locally grown, unprocessed, and organic food as much as possible. Small changes over time yield big results, both for your health and the health of the planet.