Friday, November 28, 2014

Monoculture of Food



Author: Geoffrey J. Janke

Contact: gjanke@pdx.edu

In recent history it has become apparent that this country is facing a health problem.  Though several issues plague the health of our nation some are more prevalent, and will have a greater over-all affect on The United States.  Today we can see that obesity, ability or willingness to access good preventative care, and a lack of diverse diet each affect the health of all communities.  As each of these issues have been on a steady rise we can only anticipate that trends will continue as this nation becomes less healthy.  Continuing on this path assures all of us of burdens to healthcare and potentially becoming a greater burden to ourselves.  These problems will only continue to grow unless solutions are found.
Obesity

In the last few years obesity has been referred to as an epidemic.  An epidemic:

epidemic |ˌepiˈdemik|
noun
a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time: a flu epidemic.
• a disease occurring in such a way.
a sudden, widespread occurrence of a particular undesirable phenomenon: an epidemic of violent crime.
(iMac Dictionary)

Whether one refers to obesity as being a disease, infectious or otherwise, research undoubtedly suggests that obesity is on the rise.  Starting in 1995, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been tracking percentages of obese Americans.  The CDC defines obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater then 30.
BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height.
BMI provides a fairly reliable indicator of fatness for most people and is used for weight categories that may lead to health problems.
(Adult BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator, n.d.)

In 1995 the CDC recorded 15.9% of Americans as being obese (Center for Disease Control {CDC}, 2010), and fifteen years later in 2010 27.6% (CDC, 2010).  Nearly a 100% increase in the number of obese Americans.  What does this mean?  These numbers show a steady increase in the number of obese Americans.  This is of great concern when considering the number of medical conditions that are associated with obesity.

The American Heart Association tells us that “being obese puts you at a higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and more” (American Heart Association, 2011).  Each condition is as bad as the other, and seldom does anyone obese have just one or the other.  In the case of Syndrome X (National Institute of Health, 2011) one condition cannot exist without the other.  This metabolic condition is directly related to obesity, and is expressed by signs of hypertension, diabetes, and poor cholesterol levels.  One sign does not exist without the other, and the greatest visible sign is being obese. Lack of access to a diverse group of food
 
“You are what you eat.  You are what you eat eats too.”  (Pollan, 2008)

It is an indisputable fact that we are a makeup of what goes into our bodies.  We physically are, because of the food we eat.  As you cruise the super market shelves, pick over the produce at the local farmer’s market, or perhaps make a dinner selection based on the latest promoted special McDonald’s has to offer, does it ever cross your mind that what you are about to consume will eventually be digested into and become part of your body?  A part of you.  Today we can see Americans making food choices based on a level of convenience, food availability, and the latest food trends directed by some form of food pop-culture.  So many of our choices are determined on a lifestyle choice of being overworked and overindulged, seeking a “quick” “ready to eat” alternative to making a meal.  Marketers and food producers are aware of our choices and make foods that appeal to us in this way.  Food often comes prepackaged in some form of wrapper, other then natures wrapper of a peel, or perhaps skin (this statement is intended to appeal to vegetarians and  non-vegetarians alike).  Wrapped for easy access and a longer shelf life.  How many banana’s have you seen in nature wrapped in plastic and packaged in an airtight environment rather then a simple yellow peel?  Perhaps consider the fact that food that is processed is easier to package and can more easily be manipulated to fight off spoilage. 

Most processed foods today comes from only a few select sources.  These sources are supplied by American farmers that are incentivized to grow as many calories per acer as possible (Food and Agriculture Act of 1977).  Seeing as the American farmer is asked to grow as many calories as possible they will do so with the highest calorie-yielding crops.  Most likely corn or soybeans.

Corn and soybeans are calorie dense and are easily manipulated by food producers in a lab.  What begins as corn becomes the chocolate in your candy bar, the breading on your chicken nuggets, sweetener in your cola, ketchup, instant coffee, and yes, even corn-flakes.  Corn becomes may different products, far too many to be listed here.  Each product seemingly different than the other as it is reshaped and repackaged into a new food, perhaps even different food based on cultural diversity (e.g. spaghetti vs. tortilla).  As is the case with corn so is the case with soybeans.  Soybeans are also calorie dense and easily manipulated.  Soybeans become butter alternatives, dough for bread, candy, soy milk, etc..  Even though these foods appear vastly different we can see that they come from the same food derivatives.  Corn and soybeans.  (Pollan, 2007).

What does this mean for Americans?  As markets have changed and we make food choices based on convenience rather then a true conscious health decision we are limited in our choices.  While one tells themselves that they are eating a diverse diet one is really limited by the market concerning what one can eat.  No food that is processed is truly unlike the other.  This is why Americans are unconsciously making poor dietary choices.  Poor dietary choices have always lead to a decrease in health and increase in prolonged disease.

Contact: gjanke@pdx.edu

References

Adult BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator. n.d.  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/widgets/#adultBMI

American Heart Association. (May 5, 2011).  Obesity Information.  Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/Obesity/Obesity-Information_UCM_307908_Article.jsp

Andersen, R., Newman, J. F. (Nov. 18, 2005).  Societal and Individual Determinants of Medical Care Utilization in the United States.  Milbank Quarterly.  83, No. 4 (1-25).  DOI: 10.111/j. 1468-0009.2005.00428.x

Center for Disease Control. (Jun. 18, 2010).  Prevalence and Trends Data. [Overweigh and Obesity (BMI) - 1995].  Retrieved from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/brfss/list.asp?cat=OB&yr=1995&qkey=4409&state=All

Center for Disease Control. (Jun. 18, 2010).  Prevalence and Trends Data. [Overweigh and Obesity (BMI) - 2010].  Retrieved from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/brfss/list.asp?cat=OB&yr=2010&qkey=4409&state=All

Food and Agriculture Act of 1977. [As Amended Through P.L. 106–580, Dec. 29, 2000].  Retrieved by http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/rules/Legislation/history/PL_95-113.htm

iMac Dictionary, Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2

Kullgren, J.T., McLaughlin, C. G., Mitra, N., Armstrong, K. (Aug. 22, 2011). Nonfinancial Barriers and Access to Care for U.S. Adults.  Health Services Research.  Early View (Online Version of Record published before inclusion in an issue).  1-24.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6773.2011.01308.x


National Institute of Health.  (Jun. 28, 2011).  Metabolic Syndrome.  Insulin resistance syndrome; Syndrome X.  Received from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004546/

Pollan, M. (2007). The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

Pollan, M. (2008).  In Defense of Food.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

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