3.03.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite For Profit, Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Appetite for Profit, Chapter 1 -
Anatomy of a Food Corporation: Why We Can't Trust Them

Summary:

The food industry has contributed to creating a toxic food environment in the US.  Food corporations cannot be persuaded to become "guardians of public health," as their singular concern is profit.  It's also not their job.  "[D]espite operating under the legal fiction of personhood, corporations do not bear the same responsibilities as people."  For this reason, we cannot trust them to be honest.

Corporations are legally required to view all decisions through a lens of profitability, and are held accountable by shareholders.  Growth is imperative - yet potential for selling more food is seemingly limited by population and caloric need.  This makes competition among food corporations especially fierce.  It also fuels the development of gimmick foods.

Food companies produce ever-more-processed foods, pillaging natural resources in the process.  This is just one of the many externalized costs of the food industry; others include pollution and the health of both workers and consumers.  When a corporation claims to be changing its ways for the public good, it's likely a positive PR spin on a financial decision.

Given that corporations can't be trusted, it is obvious that they cannot be allowed to self-regulate.  It  becomes too easy for measures taken in the public interest to become non-cost-effective - meaning that they won't be taken by profit-driven corporations unless forced to do so by government.  Nutrition labeling on restaurant menus is a good example: very few corporate chain restaurants will provide the information unless required to do so, even though it is paramount to public health.

Discussion:

In this introductory chapter, Simon lays out the basic premise of the book: that corporations are not trustworthy and will not appropriately self-regulate, and therefore must be strictly controlled by government.  It is, simply put, a Libertarian's worst nightmare.  I also personally believe that it's true.

Market to KIDS?  Never!
(Photos taken last weekend at the Metairie Target)
Why?  Because of the realities I see around me every day.  The food industry is extremely powerful, and is only loosely regulated by the ever more anemic FDA and USDA.  The result is plan in every grocery store: sugary cereals boasting how healthy they are since they're made with "whole grains."  Coca-Cola Life touting its health on a green (healthy!) label, when an individual serving still contains 40 grams of sugar.  Uber-processed, sodium- and nitrate-filled corn dogs proclaiming their protein content in blue ribbon logos.  And that's not to mention profound labor abuses happening behind closed doors.

And all the while, these food companies are fighting regulation that will actually benefit public health tooth and nail, as is being seen in the current backlash against newly proposed nutritional guidelines.

This industry has been given ample opportunity since the deregulation of the 1980s to prove that it can and will do what is in the public good.  The result?  It can't or it won't.  It doesn't matter which.  I am assuming / hoping that in future chapters, Simon will lay out the ways in which government can take back the reins and force these corporations to detoxify the food environment that is currently tainting so many of our lives.

(Just in case you're afraid I've lost my sense of humor.) 

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