The Food Mafia controls our bodies
Corporate power is now so extreme and ubiquitous they control all aspects of our lives - the food we eat, the information we base our decisions on and how we spend our time. Because corporations are orientated primarily to make profit, the ramifications for our quality of life are devastating. Increasingly, large swathes of the human population are unhealthy and unhappy. It suits corporate narratives to pass responsibility for our declining wellbeing onto the citizen consumer but this denies the reality and prevents any meaningful response that might turn the situation around. We need to take a cold hard look at the stranglehold corporations have on our lives and take decisive collective action.
The idea that people are free to live the lives they want is preposterous. We are born into a cultural milieu and tend to live as those around us do. Education and cultural and economic pressures all steer us towards lifestyles that are normal for our times. Advanced capitalism, freed of regulations and, boosted by the neoliberal zealots that have shaped recent history, have handed the majority of the economy to multinational corporations. Today, these giant, powerful conglomerates are more fundamental to our lives then nation states or religions. They shape our world, our bodies and our minds.
10 companies control what we eat. They are responsible for how food is produced, how animals are treated, what packaging is used and how they are marketed to consumers. The myth of our time is that a stressed and tired shopper making their way home after the grind of working a bullshit job can influence the world by the choices they make in a supermarket. If they choose, organic, fair trade, or slightly less processed - things might improve. This is delusional. All the products on the shelf are owned by the same corporations and their track record, over decades, demonstrate their lack of regard for either human or planetary health.
Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial, fossil-fuel-based ingredients. This has not been driven by consumer choice. This has come about because this formula makes corporations the greatest profit. They can make tasty, addictive food by adding sugar, salt and other additives. Cheap ingredients like palm oil and high fructose corn syrup add calories but no nutrients. Down the supply chain, rainforests smoulder and orang-utans trudge with glazed eyes into the abyss.
Nestle, the world’s largest Big Food Corp, had more than $100 billion in sales and more than $11 billion in profits in 2013. To keep products flying off the shelves they hire the best and brightest minds to do their marketing. Tactics include getting children addicted to sugar so they they will be loyal customers for life. Advertising is aggressive, invasive and potent. It is found all across the attention economy. When your child is staring at a screen you know the Food Mafia are reaching out and sowing desires and behaviours that may be carried to the premature grave.
The cost for human health is staggering. It is estimated that 150 million people suffer from pre-diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes and obesity in the USA alone. This is driven by a massive increase the the amount of sugar consumed by the average person. In 1822, the average American ate the amount of sugar found in one of today's 12-ounce sodas every 5 days. Now, we eat that much every 7 hours. Children in the UK may be eating up to 70 teaspoons of sugar a day. As Yuval Noah Harari writes in his essential book, Homo Deus, “Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda.”
The Big Food-Big Sugar Industrial Complex will do anything to protect their bottom line, this includes distorting reality. In 1972, a world-leading nutritionist John Yudkin published a book called Pure, White, and Deadly proving sugar was toxic, addictive and a serious health risk. Rather than engaging with these facts and changing their recipes, Big Food destroyed the professor's reputation, career and life and buried the truth. They paid scientists at Harvard to create an alternative fake reality - that sugar was safe and that fat instead should be avoided. This fraud has led to hundred of millions of people dying prematurely. It is surely a crime against humanity? I know what you are thinking. America is the land of the free. Consumers can make their own choices. All we need is an enterprising entrepreneur to bring to market a healthy alternative and the free market will do the rest. Sadly, America is no longer that place and the free market got bought. A fascinating new book and film - The Food Mafia gives a fictional account of a sugar free cookie company that grows fast, is widely loved and then is taken down by Hessen - a Big Food Corp using hackers, bombs and stassi spies to safeguard its market dominance. This shit could never happen! Oh yeah? One of the authors - Jon Gordon - set up Clemmy’s Ice Cream - a sugar free product that was skyrocketing in popularity before a real-world Hessen torpedoed it. People still grieve for the loss of their favourite healthy alternative treat on the brand’s Facebook Page.
The Big Sugar Industrial Complex business model depends on addiction and they don’t want sugar-free options out there interfering with their monopoly. When you look at a supermarket shelf you are seeing various different brands all owned by the same mega-corps all based on the same business model - get the masses hooked on cheap, low-quality ingredients and laugh all the way to the Bahamas with your tax-free billions. Whether consumers pick the red packet or the blue packet we are still getting screwed. The book’s other author Steve Egglestone is a one-man-writing power house. He is an ex-lawyer with an eye for detail, a nose for the truth and the guts that enable him to get the big story out there. His extensive trial experience brings The Firm-like court scenes to life and make this David and Goliath thriller an irresistible page turner. Jon and Steve want to do more then have a literary bestseller. Several studios are in talks for film rights and the team want to use this forward momentum to catalyse real-world change. The parallel project is called Constitutional Change Now. Recognizing that corporations have become too big and too powerful, this new campaign seeks to create laws to break up monopolies to give smaller companies, that may be more ethically orientated a chance to get started. Also, to reduce the power vested interests have over lawmakers to benefit the common good.
An oil refinery and plastic cracking facility
All of this has profound implications for the environment. Currently, people everywhere are waking up to the immense harm caused by excessive plastic use and the pollution that harms ecological systems for centuries. Consumers are starting to use reusable coffee cups and decline straws. As this is going on, corporations in the USA are building vast new plastic manufacturing facilities to make use of cheap petro-carbons coming out of the new wave of fracking. Energy is no longer as dependable a market because renewables are becoming so cheap. It is naive in the extreme to think that a minority of conscious consumers choosing reduced packaging options can significantly dent the monstrous new flow of pollution about to hit natural systems. These fossil fuel companies need to have their actions curtailed at the source.
Of course, consumers need to stay informed and make the best choices they can, but without facing up to the corporate behemoths driving environmental and health epidemics we are on a downward spiral to total environmental and human degradation. The Food Mafia is big and scary but it is not invincible. The tobacco industry also lied to the public, steered government policy and peddled harmful, addictive products. It took a fight by some brave people (see The Insider) but ultimately truth and justice prevailed. The time has come to tackle the obese, out of control and sociopathic elephant in the room. Food corporations are too big and too powerful and their products are ruining our lives. It is time to break them up and allow fresh, local produce to once again dominate our diets.