Food, It’s Complicated

By Cheryl Fagras

According to the Oxford dictionary the definition of food is “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” It seems that the word “food” has been completely hijacked. So what is food to most people in this modern world?

Are people living to eat or eating to live? Is it taste, cost, ease of access or preparation, a current fad, a craving, a cultural event, the caloric content, the protein content or desire for good health, that entices a person to eat something? As it turns out, people and their relationship to food is a very complex and complicated issue.

To a large extent, attitudes and feelings towards food have been socially or culturally engineered. Sometimes these unhealthy attachments to foods have been passed down, unwittingly, from generation to generation. There was a time in America where people were very connected to their food. If they did not grow it, their neighbor did. They grew feed for their animals, farmed their animals, grew their apples on a tree and harvested their corn from the fields. Fast forward to now and most Americans get their food from a supermarket and have no idea what global food corporation it came from. Supermarkets appear abundant with shelves full of packaged, canned, boxed, highly processed and manufactured food. Finding food that is nutritious, from a local source, not sprayed or treated with synthetic chemicals, not loaded with artificial flavors and colors, not genetically modified, free of exorbitant amounts of added sugars, not given growth hormones, or not created in a lab has become a real challenge.

Traditions, holidays and outings create reasons to eat certain things at specific times. Thanksgiving , Christmas, Easter, St. Patricks Day and July 4th all have a set menu for most. These traditional meals can be prepared to be nutritious and delicious, but many times they are prepared with heavily processed foods full of additives. Most holidays, to include birthdays, are associated with lots and lots of sugar in the form or highly processed candies, cakes and cookies.  Grocery stores fill their shelves with bright and festive colored sweets, packaged to entice people to buy them. Going to a movie theater goes hand in hand with buckets of heavily coated popcorn, large cups of chemically and sugar laden sodas and enormous boxes of candy. Carnivals, fairs and amusement parks are dotted with booths selling items that are full of unhealthy fried foods, dyed sugar melted into cotton, sugary drinks and snow cones. Do these things taste good, yes of course, but nutritious they are not. These tasty options are definitely not food. This is not to say that nutritious foods can’t be prepared in delicious and beautiful ways; that should be the goal. The problem is that junky processed food tastes good, satisfies hunger and can be easily purchased at a fast food drive thru, or convenience market, but its not food and eating it has consequences.

Social engineering or influencing peoples eating behaviors via marketing, media and advertising is a serious reality.  Eating manufactured, nutritionally devoid food had to be sold to the public in convincing and deceptive ways. Advertising, by the food industry, is a clever tool to program people’s brains with catchy jingles and imagery while preying on their emotions, taste buds and the subconscious need to be part of the group. Using actors with clever scripts to convince people that their soda is the “real thing” or hiring paid social media influencers to coerce their followers into eating a candy bar for a quick snack are very effective schemes. Billions of dollars are spent by the food and snack food industries trying to manipulate consumers into buying and eating their products. None of this has anything to do with the definition of food. So what is the intention and motivation of these “food” giants? Worldwide, trillions of dollars are generated annually by the food and snack industries selling unhealthy and chemical laden products to consumers. Bringing healthy, nutritious food to the masses is not their concern. In fact, they play a huge role in creating illness, disease and obesity by selling manufactured food to their devoted customers.

Obviously, no government agencies or heads of food corporations have the intention of creating a healthy population. So how does society get back to the fundamentals of nutritious eating? People need to think about their relationship and connections to food and consider the definition, “something nutritious in order to maintain life and growth”. It should be a goal for everyone to select the most nutritious foods that they can grow, buy, prepare or afford. Collectively, the question should be asked, why is it so hard to eat healthy? No doubt, it’s complicated.