Friday, September 17, 2010

Sensible thoughts about food

Food technologists have made a science of making food attractive, right down to the sound that food makes when you crunch it between your teeth. It's convenience, it's price, it's prestige, it's how it looks and smells. All this has combined in modern society to make us fat, because that's what our genes are dreaming of.

Our genes are saying: 'See that gazelle carcass? Eat as much of it as you can.' Except here we are sitting in a mall with no gazelles but plenty of hamburgers. Given the right environment, three-quarters of the population will become overweight. Some people will just get there sooner. It is not a problem you can solve by yourself.

So says Martijn B Katan, Ph.D., a professor in health sciences at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in Consumer Reports on Health. This newsletter is rigorously matter of fact and sane. It's one of the few print periodicals that still seems worth the subscription price.

Recently Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein -- who is a classic yuppie foodie -- offered an opinion that is the broad scale corollary to Mr. Katan's assertion about individual behavior.

I can't think of a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production -- and then back again. Are there any examples I'm missing? Maybe so. But for now, I think of the preference for farmers markets and small producers as being mainly important in sending certain signals about production methods and branding preferences to Big Ag than in actually creating some sort of viable alternative.

The problems caused by what we eat will have to be solved by society-wide changes in market incentives. We're not going to make ourselves healthy or thin by individual effort. This means, if we eat junk, it is not our fault and kicking ourselves is not going to help. But that we can work to let the corporations that supply our food know that we want and will pay for healthier products. And we can use government action to create incentives for production of
healthier food.

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