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From junk food to 'miracle' food

From junk food to 'miracle' food


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By Esther Vivas

Sick and fat

The "Western diet," as journalist Michael Pollan points out in his bestseller "The Detective in the Supermarket," is responsible for many of our illnesses. "Four of the top ten causes of death today are chronic diseases whose connection to diet is proven: coronary heart disease, diabetes, heart attack and cancer," he says. A "western diet", with many processed foods, a lot of meat, a lot of fat and a lot of added sugar, which makes us sick and fat. At the beginning of the 20th century, as Pollan points out, a group of doctors observed that where people abandoned their traditional way of eating and adopted the "Western diet", diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancer soon appeared. which were dubbed "Western diseases".

The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Schutter agrees in the diagnosis: "Unhealthy diets are a greater risk to global health than tobacco." And he adds: "Governments have focused on increasing the amount of calories available, but very often they have been indifferent about what kind of calories they offer, at what price, for whom they are accessible and how they are marketed." Not surprisingly, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is responsible, worldwide, for 3.4 million deaths a year.

The United States is the greatest exponent of this drift: 75% of Americans are overweight or obese, 25% suffer from metabolic syndrome, with a higher probability of suffering from cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, and between 4% and 8% of the The adult population has type 2 diabetes, according to the work 'The detective in the supermarket'. WHO data confirms this trend on a global scale: since 1980, obesity has more than doubled worldwide. Currently, 1.4 billion adults are overweight, and of these 500 million are obese.

In Spain, the childhood obesity rate has only increased in recent years, becoming one of the highest in Europe. According to the Perseo program, from the Ministry of Health and the Spanish Food Safety Agency, it is estimated that obesity affects 20% of boys and 15% of girls between 6 and 10 years old. With regard to the general population, the figures are also very high. The Enrica study, promoted by the Government, indicates that 62% of the population is overweight, and of this 39% are overweight and 23% are obese.


A situation that has only worsened with the crisis. More and more people with less income are being pushed to buy cheap and less nutritious products. The white paper on nutrition in Spain states: "In the current situation of economic crisis, consumer behavior has also been affected. They select cheaper options both when deciding where to buy food and beverages, and the type, quality and quantity of products ". With the crisis, the diet of those who have the least is rapidly deteriorating. You buy little and cheap and you eat badly. One of the products that has increased its consumption the most, for example, are packaged sweets (cookies, chocolates, substitutes, pastries and pastries), with an increase of 3.8% between 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The fat, paradoxically, in general, have the least, and, consequently, eat the worst. Looking at the map of the peninsula it is clear: the autonomous communities with the highest rates of poverty, such as Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Extremadura, have the highest figures for the overweight population. Class position determines, to a large extent, what we eat. And the crisis only accentuates the difference between food for the rich and food for the poor.

Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde

However, the same people who promote junk food, of very low quality, with a negative impact on our health, are those who sell us "miracle foods" to lose weight, control cholesterol, reduce constipation, strengthen the immune system, maintain Bone density.

In the purest Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde style is how the big companies in the food industry act.

Panrico claims to sell bread, with "a crumb like the usual bread." My grandparents, I think, would not think the same. Beyond the questionable ingredients and results of its bread, it also offers Original Donuts, Bombón Donuts, Donettes, Striped Donettes, Nevados Donettes, Bollycao Cacaco, Dip Dip, Palmera de Choco, the list goes on. But like any good food industry, if we "go overboard" with so much pastry, Panrico helps us fight those extra pounds with its Panrico Line, "for those who like to take care of themselves without giving up its delicious flavor", as defined by the company, or Panrico Integral, with a high fiber content. Panrico has bread for everything.

Nutrexpa, for its part, sells us Cola Cao Original, which from fathers and mothers to daughters and sons and grandsons and granddaughters, repeats to us, is "the ideal breakfast and snack." Nutrexpa, always thinking of the little ones, also sells Nocilla, very "natural" with "milk, cocoa, hazelnuts and sugar", remember? And Phoskitos, with various adhesives and artifacts, which now has a new line, time passes but not the Phoskito, with Mini Phoskitos Hello Kitty and Phoskitos SpongeBob. Its range of products does not end there, and includes Cuétara, Chiquilín, Artiach, Filipinos cookies. Although he is so overweight and obese as children, his line of Fibra Línea or 0% sugar cookies, as well as Cola Cao Cero or, even better, Cola Cao Cero with Fiber are here to give us a hand.

Danone is king. It sells a wide range of strawberry, coconut, banana, fruit salad, pineapple and lemon yogurts. Although the only thing that they have similar to the fruit is the flavor and the color. In its range of desserts, the vanilla and chocolate custard, which accompanied us as children, and, more recently, the oreo and choco blanko, for the new generations, have always stood out. Lest with the passage of time the customs are lost ... and the brand is abandoned. Surprisingly, these products are classified on its website apart from those that the company includes in the "good habits" section. Could it be that they are not? Has the webmaster betrayed by the subconscious? It is in this section of products where Danone displays all its theoretical concern for our well-being and offers, from Activia yogurts, "the most delicious way -as they say- to help your digestive health", passing through Actimel and "its exclusive L -Casei, which incorporates vitamins B6 and D "up to the Lactose Free Danacol which favors, they claim," a healthy and balanced diet that will help reduce cholesterol. What more can we ask for?

Modus operandi

His modus operandi does not fail. First, advertising. Both to sell us one as the other. Although there are not so many differences between a Danone Strawberry and a Danacol beyond nutritional marketing. Advertising investment spares no financial resources. In 2005, for example, the US food industry spent more than $ 50 billion on advertising, more than any other industry in the country. Coca-Cola, in particular, disbursed 2,200 million dollars, a total much higher than the entire budget of the World Health Organization, as stated in the book ‘A planet of the fat and hungry’ by Luis de Sebastián. The little ones are often your main target audience. As Tim Lobstein, director of The Food Commission, stated in a debate on the English BBC: "We live in an environment that has been dubbed 'obesogenic', full of stimuli that encourage us to eat, to exercise less and above all to consume. It is a commercially managed environment. "

Second, blame. We are guilty of eating badly, getting fat, getting sick. If you get fat, they say, you don't have willpower. You have to sacrifice yourself, they claim. They sell us the paradigm of the perfect woman and the perfect man, as if it were so easy to fit in a size 38. Ultimately, the fault is ours. Meanwhile, they hide the structural causes of so much fat and disease. I still remember my old boss how, sometimes, for breakfast at the bar he would ask for a cream dog, "battered" with white sugar, and a coffee with milk, yes with saccharin. We get fed up with eating badly, then sacrificing ourselves and eating, supposedly, well. A whole business, to blame our stomach.

Third, the "miracle" product and the expert. The same ones that sell us poor quality food give us nutrition lessons and offer us functional foods, which contain components that, they say, benefit our health: milk enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, phosphorus and zinc; yogurts with calcium, vitamins A and D; cereals fortified with fiber and minerals; juices with vitamins. Although both a product of what use would it be without a "good" expert or "specialized" organization to endorse it. The Spanish Heart Foundation is a regular in lending its image to support these products, which has earned it significant criticism from the scientific community. Among its "sponsored" is the Flora Original margarine with Omega-3 and 6 from Unilever, Danacol, fermented milk with added plant sterols, from Danone, the MegaRed supplement with Omega-3, Firgas Water with low sodium content and high concentration of calcium and magnesium. But, how much money will the Spanish Heart Foundation have received for its services? It is not known. In any case, if you are a company in the food industry, put an "expert" in your life, it seems that you will gain credibility, whether it is true or not, and you will increase sales.

How to eat well?

Having seen what we have seen, what can we do to eat well? As Michael Pollan said, it is about "eating food", which is not as simple as it seems. "Before, the only thing you could eat was food, today we find thousands of other edible substances similar to food in the supermarket," he says in his book "The Detective in the Supermarket." And he adds: "If you are concerned about health, perhaps you should avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because these types of claims about a food product lead to the assumption that it is not really food." Nonsense: food is denatured, and then others artificially natural are sold, which they say are better. The food industry and its advertising have stigmatized traditional food. They have led us to believe that eating fruit, vegetables, legumes and cereals was something for the poor. What's the point of squeezing some oranges? If we can take a Mediterranean Pascual Bifrutas, not only with orange but also with peach and carrot and milk and with 0% fat and vitamins A, C, E. Why waste time peeling potatoes, carrots and onion for a cream when I can buy a Vegetable Sopinstant Gallina Blanca already prepared and, as they say, "low in fat, with less salt and without preservatives"? It seems that the usual food no longer has "glamor".

However, in recent times, things have started to change. More and more people are wondering what we eat, where what we eat comes from, how it has been prepared. The multiplication of food scandals and the rise of some diseases have lit the alarm lights. The consumption of organic, rural, local, seasonal products is increasing, although it represents only a small percentage of global consumption. Eating well implies moving in this direction, reappropriating what we eat, demanding that food production respond to the needs of the people, take into account the peasantry and the Earth, and not be subordinate to the economic interests of the food industry. food. Eating well means eating natural. And although some say that natural foods are a scam, what is a scam is when the industry, through so much functional and "miraculous" food, wants to sell us a hoot. As Michael Pollan says, "don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

Esther Vivas @esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com


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