The political logic of the junk food revolution
But the latest research not only reveals the extent that “ultra-processed” foods have come to dominate our diets in Europe – now comprising more than half of what Britons eat, for example – but raises the question of what effects the consumption of this much junk food will have on our behaviours.
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The nutritionists here are reluctant to offer even well-informed speculation, which always seems to be the case with publicly funded scientists until things have moved beyond a critical point. Think of smoking and climate change: we usually learn much later that the corporations’ own pet-scientists had done the research decades earlier proving or predicting exactly what was coming.
But there are hints from the nutritionists to the Guardian of what might be going on:
“People are missing out not only on vitamins and minerals but also bioactive compounds found in natural foods such as phytoestrogens and fibre.
“And then you get salt and starch and sugar and fat and all these additives. We are consuming every day an amount of new substances that are these flavours and colours and emulsifiers and we don’t have any idea as to what will be the problem of these items,” [Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team] said. …
Other cumulative effects of eating these industrially-made substances are not yet known. “The honest answer is we don’t know what is going on,” said Monteiro.’
Here is an educated guess, based in part on experience and in part on the economic and political logic of our current junk food revolution. (Those of us who eat these industrial substances rarely enough that they do not dominate our diets still have a sense of what happens to us on the occasions we do.)
These lab-created, nutritionally empty substances that our bodies have not evolved to digest not only make us physically sick, but emotionally and mentally sick too: addicted, depressed, lazy, sluggish, docile and anxious.
In fact, a mess of emotions that transforms us into the perfect consumers, buying more of this cheap, harmful “food”. That boosts both the profits of food and other corporations and the electoral fortunes of crowd-pleasing, money-grubbing, vacuous politicians who wish to serve those corporations.
That is how an advanced capitalist system – premised on a psychopathic drive by the strongest to maximise profits by exploiting the weakest – will naturally evolve. It needs to make us as dependent, as passive and docile, as possible.
Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001.