Editor's Plate: The Real Cure for Obesity

Oct. 29, 2013
You're the solution, not the problem.

In case you missed it, there was a fantastic article in the July/August issue of the magazine The Atlantic titled How Junk Food Can End Obesity. (Interestingly, Reader's Digest repurposed the article with some new content under the headline "Have the Elite Hijacked Healthy Eating?" I like that title, too.)

Atlantic author David Freedman argued it is the high-volume food industry – both quick-service restaurants and food processing – that is best suited to turn the tide on obesity and nutrition, not Whole Foods, organics or raw food advocates.

Freedman starts with a visit to Café Sprouts in Oberlin, Ohio, for "what may have been the most wholesome beverage of my life": an apple-blueberry-kale-carrot smoothie-juice combination. The server took several minutes to prepare it, he notes, it weighed in at 300 calories and it cost $9.

A few weeks later, at a McDonald's restaurant, he paid $3 for a "delicious" blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that was made in seconds and came in at 220 calories.

"If only the McDonald's smoothie weren't, unlike the first … so fattening and unhealthy. Or at least that's what the most-prominent voices in our food culture today would have you believe," he wrote.

His point: $9 slow-go smoothies of questionable taste and high calories will not improve the healthy eating of those who need it most, the poor. But McDonald's can … and is.

An equally important point he makes: "If the most influential voices in our food culture today get their way, they will achieve a genuine food revolution. Too bad it would be one tailored to the dubious health fantasies of a small, elite minority."

Freedman pointed out several other examples. He compared the Vegan Cheesy Salad Booster from Living Intentions (sold at Whole Foods) to the much maligned Big Mac. "The [salad booster] is enhanced with spirulina, chlorella and sea vegetables. The label also proudly lets me know the contents are raw – no processing! – and they don't contain any genetically modified ingredients. What the stuff does contain, though, is more than three times the fat content per ounce as the beef patty in a Big Mac … and more than four times the sodium."

He similarly defends "chemicals," especially artificial colors and texturants, noting that no credible evidence exists that they are unsafe – and in fact are tightly regulated and highly scrutinized and researched.

My favorite part:

"Through its growing sway over health-conscious consumers and policy makers, the wholesome-food movement is impeding the progress of the one segment of the food world that is actually positioned to take effective, near-term steps to reverse the obesity trends: the processed food industry.

"Popular food producers, fast-food chains among them, are already applying various tricks and technologies to create less caloric and more satiating versions of their junky fare that nonetheless retain much of the appeal of the originals, and could be induced to go much further. In fact, these roundly demonized companies could do far more for the public's health in five years than the wholesome-food movement is likely to accomplish in the next 50. But will the wholesome-food advocates let them?"

I hope Michael Pollan chokes on his kale chips.

This Editor's Plate column originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Food Processing magazine.

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