HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 1 Politics of Food: How Americans Choose What to Eat Jennifer Kitchen June 5, 2011
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 2Politics of Food In the United States there is pride in the freedom of choice. Americans can choose whatreligion to belong to. They can choose what career they want to pursue. They choose what thepurchase and when. Are they choosing on their own or are Americans persuaded to buy certainitems?How does politics play a role in the food market? Most Americans know that the government has agencies to help protect our freedoms.They are also aware that the foods, drugs, and other products that they purchase have beentested and deemed safe by one government agency or another. In the U.S. people hear, watch,and read the news. Americans know that tobacco can cause health issues because thegovernment made it so a warning is placed on all cigarettes and other tobacco products. TheUnited States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls foods and drugs that are found to beharmful and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates what kind andhow much of an emission from factories can be let into the atmosphere. So, citizens of theUnited States can purchase whatever they want from the store and feel secure that what theypurchase is safe for them to use and that whatever they consume was made in a eco-friendlyway. Yet, Americans are experiencing health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, andcancer at alarming rates. Obesity is running rampant and children are developing diseases waybefore the age of 30 when we should be seeing the onset of degenerative disease.Can thefreedom to choose play a role in these situations? The government recommends thatAmericans eat less fat, sugar, and salt but many of the favorite snacks eaten in the U.S. are
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 3salty, sweet, and fat laden. As Americans are told to eat healthier diets the food industry stocksthe shelves with more convenience foods that are not really healthy. What does the averageAmerican, busy pursuing their American Dream, know about food and food choices? Eating isan activity everyone has in common and everyone has freedom in deciding what to consumeevery day. To understand why Americans choose the foods they do and how it effects theirhealth it is important to understand the environmental factors that play a role and what ethicsand policy mean in the food industry and the government agencies that regulate them.Environmental Factors Today, there are more foods on the market than ever before. Americans get to choosefrom a whole aisle of breakfast cereals. There is a cracker of every taste and budget. The foodindustry supplies its consumers with 320,000 food products to choose from and tells them thatthere is no good or bad foods, all foods can be part of a healthy diet (Nestle, 2007). How canthis be? If certain foods contain a quarter of the sodium or fat that an average person needs ina day, how can all food be part of a healthy diet? The food industry says eat a balanced diet,eat a variety of foods, and eat certain products in moderation (Nestle, 2007). That sounds likesomething that the government said in the Dietary Guidelines. “Consumption of a balancedvariety of protein foods can contribute to improved nutrient intake and health benefits.” “Eata variety of vegetables.” “Choose a variety of fruits.” “If alcohol is consumed, it should beconsumed in moderation.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2010). The fact that the DietaryGuidelines do not reach the population as well as the advertisements of the food companies isone aspect that can make purchasing healthy food products more than a little confusing.
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 4Consumers believe that what they are purchasing is good for them and that if they follow therecommended ‘balance, variety, and moderation’ plan when shopping and eating they will be ingood health. Americans live in a special environment that is deceptively run by the television, radio,and internet. The government agencies, like the FDA, EPA, and the United States Departmentof Agriculture (USDA) may regulate certain aspects of the production and sale of products in theU.S. but what Americans buy is ultimately up to them. The FDA recommends that peopleeathealthy diets and get enough activity to help maintain a healthy weight but commercialsmake food products look so tempting and the latest movies trailers entice people to take somemore sit-down time. Americans are told all food is good and relaxation is a necessity. As Nestlestates in Food Politics, representatives of the food industry make claims that promotepurchasing by consumers (2007). Commercials are made to promote profit not health. Acommercial for a fortified cereal tells people that the product has good nutritional value andmore fiber, which the doctor said to get more of. A box of cereal promotes what thegovernment says about getting more grains in the diet. The ‘nutritional label’ says the cerealcontain 100% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of more than 7 vitamins and minerals. Itmust be good for them. Yet, if Americans had read the Dietary Guidelines, looked atMyPyramid a little closer,and then read the list of ingredients they would know that the cerealthey are buying has more sugar, sodium, and fat than should be added to a healthy diet. Theymay start to think that looking for whole grains instead of eating the cereal that is made fromenriched, white flour sounds like a better choice for health. Most Americans do not have a fully
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 5understanding of the marketing efforts made by the food industry and even less is known aboutthe food industries influence in the government.Ethics and Policy Over the past 100 years, food and government have come together. The agencieswithin the government not only regulate the food industry but help to set up guidelines andrecommendations for the population on how and what to eat. In 1916, The USDAs put out itsfirst food guide, "Food for Young Children" and classified food into five groups: cereals,vegetables and fruits, milk and meat, fatty foods, and sugary foods. By 1945, they gave us “TheBasic Seven” which by 1956 became “The Basic Four.” In 1979, “The Hassle-Free Guide to aBetter Diet” included the category of the foods to eat in moderation; fats, sweets, and alcohol.In 1984, the USDA came up with the five food groups we know today and published "FoodWheel: A Pattern for Daily Food Choices". In 1992, the wheel became the "Food GuidePyramid", which changed to “MyPyramid” in 2005. Now, they are ready to come out with anew food guide called, “MyPlate”, which will highlight fruits, grains, vegetables, protein anddairy (Stenovec, 2011). The food industry has had some pull in what has gone into theseguidelines and when they cannot get the government to convince consumers to “eat more” oftheir products they try their own convincing and tell consumers that dietary advice from thegovernment changes to often and that government intervention in dietary choice does not fitwith democracy (Nestle, 2011). So, when the USDA says, “Enjoy your food, but eat less” (USDA,2011) it is because the industry does not want to hear “eat less” but when the USDA says to
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 6enjoy the food it can mean still eat what you want to eat. Making the food industry happy alsomeans promoting economics and economics play a major role in politics. With hundreds of thousands foods on the market there are more jobs needing to befilled. The farmers grow the food,others must transport the food, then the manufacturersmake and package the food in packaging that was produced in a factory and shipped to themfrom elsewhere. There is movement of food and food products by trucks, trains, planes, andboats every day.Then the food is put on shelves or prepared behind counters to be served tothousands of hungry, paying customers. According to Nestle, this makes for a good argumenton the side of the food industry, if people “eat less” economic harm will come to foodproducers (2007). If people “eat less” meat, economic loss will be felt by producers of meat.“Eat Less” of the foods containing sugar and salt and economic harm come to not only thefarmers of sugar cane and the miners of salt but also to the companies that produce the sugarydrinks and salty snacks. So, the food industry lobbies the government agencies and tries toconvince them that people do not need to “eat less”. Instead, the food industry and thegovernment agencies decide to develop fortified and functional foods, which lets the people“eat more” (Nestle, 2007). Then the food industry spends money on marketing, from packagingto advertisement, to convince consumers to keep eating. With this structure of institution,built by the industry to sell more, how can the American population move away frompremature degenerative disease and the epidemic of obesity? How can Americans change theirdiets for a healthier tomorrow when they still look to the commercials and the packaging fortheir diet and nutrition information?
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 7Making a Change Nestle lists in Food Politics, there are several “modifications of public policies” thatcould help promote better dietary choices and more active lifestyle, such as discontinuing salesof sodas and candy bars and requiring more physical education and sports in schoolsandrequiring all food packaging and print advertisements to include nutritional data andprohibit misleading claims (2007). This may help but requires the government to changepolicies on foods and combat the lobbying of the companies that do not desire change.Already, most packaged foods on the store shelves are required by law to carry nutritionlabeling but with raw foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and fish labeling is by choice (FDA, 2011).Some stores do put up information for consumers regarding the nutritional content of theseraw foods but the information is not available everywhere.According to the FDA Americans doread labels, though, and the labels are helping people make better health choices when buyingfoods. Over half of consumers in the United States when buying a product for the first timeoften read the food label (FDA, 2010). People are getting wise to their nutritional needs andthe links between food choices and early degenerative diseases like heart disease and diabetes.They are becoming aware that the saying, “you are what you eat” is not far from truth. With this in mind, Americans have started movements that promote health and hope tochange policy. Although, there are many organizations that a person can join that promoteawareness amongst consumers and push for change in the policy making of food rules andregulation, some of the biggest change can be made by the personal purchasing power of thepeople. In the section ‘Taking Action: Voting with Forks’ of Food Politics Nestle states;
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 8 “Our overabundant food system, a result as well as a cause of our flourishing economy, gives most of us the opportunity to make a political statement every time we eat – and to make a difference.”The U.S. has a great food market. We can shop at a variety of stores and buy a variety ofproducts. With the American people educating themselves and purchasing foods that are truly“healthier for you” the politics of food may be modified for the better. People can learn aboutthe effects of food on health when they speak with their doctors, nurses, or nutritionists. Theycan gather information from books, magazines, television programs, and the internet but it isimportant to research the source of information as well as the legitimacy of the claims beingmade. With the knowledge of nutrition and purchasing power a difference can be made. Each day people make choices on what to eat, but they do not often think about whythey make the decision to purchase certain products and not others. People do not think aboutthe policies that put an item on the shelf or the ethics of the company that made the productfor them to purchase. They only see what is shown to them in advertising and the package thatthey hold as they contemplate their purchase. This is how common everyday people can makea difference. Even people on a budget can learn how to eat healthier and it is simpler thanmany would think. Taking one step to cutting junk food out of a family’s diet and learning tomake new healthy fast foods can help cut much of the over-consuming of salt, fats, and sugarsdown (Paul, Segal,& Smith, 2011). Some rather easy lifestyle changes can make a World ofdifference. As Americans learn to buy healthier foods and leave the fat-saturated, blood-pressure raising, and kid-hyper-making foods on the shelf, the food industry must change. If
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 9people say they will no longer consume these unhealthy foods, the industry must come up withfoods that will satisfy the people, or else, they lose the bottom line, profit.
HW220-01 CONTEMPORARY DIET AND NUTRITIONKAPLAN UNIVERSITY 10ReferencesUnited States Food and Drug Administration, (2010). Survey Shows Gains in Food-Label Use,Health/Diet Awareness. Retrieved fromhttp://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm202611.htmUnited States Food and Drug Administration, (2011). Food Label Helps Consumers MakeHealthier Choices. Retrieved fromhttp://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094536.htmU.S. Department of Agriculture, (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdfU.S. Department of Agriculture, (2011). Choose My Plate. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/Stenovec, T., (2011). USDA Food Pyramid Gone: A History of Food Guides. Retrieved fromhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/02/usda-food-pyramid_n_870457.html#s286384&title=1916_Food_ForNestle, M., (2007). Food Politics:how the food industry influences nutrition and health. CA;University of California Press.Paul, M. W., Segal, R., and Smith, M., (2011).Eating Well on the Cheap: saving money on healthyfood. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_eating_on_budget.htm