Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back Paperback – Oct 20 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Simon, a health policy expert and law professor, skewers the food industry for undermining the health of Americans with "nutrient deficient factory made pseudofoods." In lawyerly fashion, she explains the ABCs of the business imperative of "Big Food" (Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and McDonald's, among many others): make short-term profit without regard to the product's nutritional value or societal effects. Permissible tactics, she says, include false advertising, sham "healthy" food initiatives and co-opting the government, press and academia. Simon also argues that food-industry advocates use front groups to attack critics and spread misinformation about nutritional needs. Simon also chastises her fellow food activists for applauding all "steps in the right direction," no matter how inadequate; the press for its passive publication of scientifically dubious industry statements; and the government for abandoning effective regulation of the food industry. Her case made, Simon offers a host of suggestions and a manual-like set of directions to parents and other food activists on how to work with legislatures, school boards and the media to create a "just food system" that is "sustainable, affordable, accessible, and convenient." (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
America's fast-food purveyors, beverage industry, and processed-food manufacturers conspire with pliant government regulators to seduce a gullible populace into eating habits that ultimately lead to ill health. So Simon, a health-policy attorney, argues in this volume. Defending their own actions as preservation of people's right to choose, these corporations and the government agencies charged with monitoring them actually restrict consumers' range of choices. This hegemony, Simon contends, leads ineluctably to the present national plagues of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other nutrition-related sickness. Simon expresses particular outrage at how the beverage industry, which so often controls schoolhouse vending machines, has tried to restrict children's choices for break-time snacks and drinks. Among the more controversial recommendations that Simon makes, nutrition labeling of restaurant meals presupposes that chefs exercise more consistency than creativity. Simon also fears that concerns about obesity often misfocus on symptoms, not causes. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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(1) we cannot believe anything the corporate food giants tell us
(2) they haven't the slightest interest in promoting healthy eating habits, not even for our children
(3) they are in it for profit, pure and simple
(4) they are in part responsible for the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the country
(5) their reaction to criticism is to spin, not to change.
What I don't agree with is that they are to be condemned for their practices any more than corporations in other industries. As Simon points out in the first chapter, "Anatomy of a Food Corporation: Why We Can't Trust Them," their officers have a fiduciary responsibility under the law to look out for the interests of their stock holders. In making this point Simon is following Joel Bakan whose excellent book (and film documentary) The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004), made it clear that corporations are, effectively speaking, pathological entities that externalize the costs of doing business whenever possible. Just as coal mining companies prefer not to clean up the mess they make, food companies prefer not to pay for the medical and other costs associated with the food they produce and sell.
I emphatically agree that it would be wonderful if there were some way we could make MacDonald's, PepsiCo, etc. foot some of the bills for obesity-related diseases. But that would require an enlightened Congress and White House, something we don't have, and are not likely to have for the foreseeable future.
What food corporations have is the power to invade our consciousnesses with their advertising. Because virtually all media is under corporate control, its central message to consumers and the public at large, like a pit inside a peach, is "Conform your behavior in a way that benefits the corporation." Corporations not only get us to eat what we shouldn't eat, and to eat more than we should, but they get us to vote for people we shouldn't vote for. The advertising is paid for by the corporations. The politicians are beholden to the corporations.
What we are experiencing is the power of the mass media on a mass population. No one could predict just how awesome that power would be. People are more easily indoctrinated than, say, Washington or Jefferson could have imagined. We live in a democracy by capitalism. An individual's vote is nearly meaningless compared to the votes that can be bought through advertising. Most Americans are too busy making a living and dealing with the day-to-day events of their lives to become knowledgeable about the secret agendas of the corporations and their servants in the Congress, and so few people know what is right and what is wrong regarding any complex issue.
Only education--knowledge about what is really going on--is going to change the direction in which this country is headed. It's going to take a sustained effort at the grass roots level over generations to stem the tide. One result of education would be to change the legal status of corporations to make them responsible for what are now "externalized" costs of doing business. If--and only if--that were done would they behave more nearly in the public interest.
However what knowledge and education are up against is the nearly irresistible lure of products--sugar, fats, salt, easily consumed and easily digested--that were prize products in the prehistory when our ingrained appetites were forged. Big Food is seducing the primordial human in all of us, and the seduction begins at an early age and never lets up.
So there are no easy solutions. The battle against the bulge, as it used to be called, is being fought in all industrialized societies and it is being lost. For myself and some of the people I know, it is not being lost because, like Michelle Simon, we know how to eat properly and how to avoid (most!) of the temptations. The problem is how to get that message to a greater percentage of the population.
Simon's book is a step in the right direction, but only a step. She focuses on the deceptions and lies of the food industry giants, how they spin the news, how they attack opponents, etc., and she gives a lot of information on just who the spinners and liars are, and she describes the tricks they use. But as for a solution... Well, if the knowledge in this book could somehow reach all Americans through their schools and religious organizations, that would be a giant step toward a solution.
There is nothing more American than what this book is trying to do: bring to light one of the toughest issues our society faces today (aside from the sustainability argument and climate change). While her views and frustration are evident, along with the massive scale of this problem, Simon successfully reframes the question with Big Food. All their cloying slogans, their favourite phrases, their dirty lobbying tactics and their endless pocketbook are exposed in "Appetite for Profit." All this hoopla about "personal responsibility" and "freedom of choice" coupled with the American "rugged individualism" are thrown out the window when we find out who's really calling the shots, and how they're managing to not get caught.
I simply cannot see how anyone can make a coherent argument for the goodness and harmlessness of Big Food after reading this book. Simon includes every false, manipulative, deceiving tactic employed by the food industry and presents a lucid counterargument. She covers all her bases; no issue is too small to go unaddressed. From vending machines in schools to the 30-year battle of making restaurants put out nutrition information, to Big Food blaming the lawyers to falsifying scientific evidence, Simon research shines.
Whoever the naysayer is on these Amazon review tabs, he or she
a) has not picked up the book and therefore has not read Simon's arguments
b) works for Big Food.
Please, anyone who can seriously debate Michele Simon's points addressed in this book, I welcome you to share them, for I would love to hear it. But if the first word out is "Energy balance" or "Personal responsibility", do us all a favour and read "Appetite for Profit."
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