Industrial Agriculture in the Grocery Store

Do you ever read the ingredient list on a food label?   If so, you might have an allergy, intolerance, or maybe you are following Michael Pollan’s advice about eating food, not food “products”.  My guess is that if you’re eating anything from a box or a wrapper, it’s probably made up of subsidized industrial crops, such as corn and soybeans.  These grains don’t go directly into our food; approximately half of these crops are used to feed animals.  You can think of industrial beef, pork, poultry (even farm-raised fish) as another form of corn and soy that you eat.  We’ll dive into the topic of meat in future articles, but for now let’s talk about two of the most popular forms of grains in your grocery store.  

Corn and soy can be converted into high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and hydrogenated soybean oil, respectively.  Because costs are kept low via agricultural subsidies, it means that HFCS, hydrogenated oil and grain-fed meats are also kept at a low cost.  As human beings, we’ve evolved to have strong taste preferences for sugar, salt, and fat.  Corn sweeteners and soybean oils are two of the cheapest ways to both manipulate and preserve the flavor of a food, tuning our palates for sweeter and fattier tastes.  It’s easy to see how these affordable and delicious snacks of the western diet keep us craving and buying them.  Researchers have estimated that about half of the American diet is derived from corn and soy.  We aren’t eating these two grains in the nutrient-rich forms, like polenta and tofu, but we eat the versions which have been converted to sweeteners and fat.

So if you are looking to stop excessive amounts of sweeteners or fats from sneaking into your diet, might I suggest one simple strategy on your journey?  Hang out on the outskirts of the grocery store.  This is the outer perimeter, where the produce lives, where you usually have fresh, perishable products that need refrigeration.  Products that don’t come with labels are easily found on the outskirts, such as fresh vegetables and whole grains.  The freezer section contains flash-frozen vegetables, which often have higher nutrient content because they were frozen at the peak of the growing season.  Sure, there are exceptions to the rule (isn’t the bakery section usually on the perimeter?), but it’s a good place to start.  Try taking a walk on the perimeter and then move to the middle.  You might find that you’ve already filled your basket with everything you need (minus the sugar and fat).  

- Written by Candice Gormley

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