From ‘pink slime’ to bug burgers, a look at the quintessential American meal
For most of the world, the symbol most associated with America isn’t the bald eagle, George Washington or even the stars and stripes—it’s the hamburger and fries. But how much has this simple meal — a ground-beef sandwich with fried potatoes — changed since its glory days of the 1950s? Let’s find out.
1950s: According to Andrew Smith, author of The Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food, the quality of hamburger meat was so bad in the early 20th century that by the 1950s, customers needed reassuring that what they were getting was actual meat. “Heading into the ‘50s, White Castle had beef slabs delivered to each outlet a couple times a day,” Smith says. “It was ground up in front of any customers in the store to assure everyone that their beef did come from a cow, as opposed to a variety of meat and other products from other slaughtered animals.”
So during the burger’s heyday, most people could feel confident that they were, in fact, getting 100 percent ground beef, while the fries were exactly as advertised: Potatoes, sliced in the restaurant and fried in animal oil.
Today: In 2008, a study by Brigid Prayson of the Cleveland Clinical Foundation tried to find out whether it was even possible for America to produce as much beef as was apparently being consumed — an interesting question, considering that there are fewer cattle being raised now than in the 1970s, and yet we’re eating more beef than we were then. The answers weren’t encouraging, and a test of a variety of fast-food burgers found that the amount of real meat in burgers ranged from just 2 to 14 percent. The rest was made up of what has become known as “pink slime,” or in the words of the study, “a mash of connective tissue, blood vessels, peripheral nerve, plant material, cartilage and bone.”
This nauseating goop was then doused in ammonium hydroxide, an antimicrobial agent once classified by the Department of Agriculture as “generally recognized as safe,” though the practice is banned in the European Union. McDonald’s and other chains have since claimed that they no longer use the stuff, but after a brief public backlash, it has crept back into grocery stores, with a 2014 study claiming that up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in stores contains the dreaded pink slime.
The meat isn’t the only thing chock-full of chemicals now, either. A quick look at the fry ingredients listed on McDonald’s website reveals not just potatoes but rather a dozen different things, including chemicals with such appetizing names as sodium acid pyrophosphate (that’s the one that maintains their friendly yellow color). Essentially, most of the water in the fries has been replaced with fat, and a bunch of chemicals are added to make them taste like they were fried in animal fat, rather than the mix of corn and soybean oil they’re actually fried in.
1950s: “The combo of french fries and burgers as a meal became solidified during World War II, since meat was rationed and you needed to bolster what small amount of it you had with something else,” says Smith. How small exactly were the burgers? In 1950, the average burger weighed just 3.9 ounces—not so much bigger than a modern-day White Castle slider, at 2.2 ounces, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For their part, an average order of fries weighed roughly 2.4 ounces.
Today: As rationing came to an end, burgers began to fatten up. “Chains like Burger King came along offering bigger burgers with more meat, and the increased competition led to an arms race of the sizes and the styles of burgers,” Smith says. As a result, the average fast-food burger has quadrupled in size since the 1950s and now stands at a gut-busting 12 ounces. Fries, meanwhile, have nearly doubled in size, weighing in at 6.7 ounces (again according to the CDC)…
As the New Year dawns, so does our thinking process have an opportunity to do likewise. And why not make it a first call to get your priorities sorted out about your 2017 eating habits? After all, it is the quality of the fuel that you put in the tank that ensures how well your engine runs.
Although they might look nice, the great majority of supermarket foods are just a brilliant con trick. And I’m telling you this, sensing that the majority reading this article are most likely still doing most of their food shopping in a supermarket or ‘superstore’.
Alright, so put on your safety belt, because I’m going to take you on a rapid ride down the isles of that ‘superstore’ just down the road from you.
First impression: Wow, so much choice! Wrong, the product range you are looking at is made up of many slight variations of ‘one food’, and that one food has a number of different manufacturers. So you go to get a litre or two of milk; Oh my! Six different mega dairies have their goods on display, all churning out the same white stuff (called milk), and they all look identical. Choice? Oh yes, you can have skimmed, reduced low-fat, or whole; all of which are pasteurised and homogenized. And, of course, there’s ultra heat-treated (UHT). But there’s no ‘milk’ available. I think you get my drift: each of those products is a denatured distortion of ‘real milk’. Real Milk is ‘illegal’ in these places – unless you’re in France. Raw unpasteurised milk, with nothing added or taken out: not allowed.
Stick with me on dairy, because in many ways it’s symbolic of all the rest of the junk in this ‘superstore’. Did you know that ‘homogenized’ milk involves forcing the cream layer (which normally floats on the top) to morph into the rest of the milk? Yes, that’s what happens; and it’s a particularly dodgy business because this forcing is done under very high pressures, where the milk is blasted through a metal plate perforated with many small holes, thereby forcing the cream into the milk and the milk into the cream, so you can’t see the difference. What comes out the other end resembles ‘another food’ – and by the time it’s also been heat-treated (pasteurised), squirted into a plastic bottle and stuck on the supermarket shelf for a few days, it is another food. Food? No sorry, shouldn’t really use that term.
According to the dairy industry, the end result is supposed to be ‘more attractive’. Sure, it’s beautiful isn’t it! Maybe, to the eyes of the advertisers. But what this ‘homogenized’ and pasteurised milk is doing in our gut is another thing altogether. It’s essentially indigestible. So let’s get serious: a report by a leading scientist/doctor in the UK some thirty years ago, exposed the fact that homogenized milk causes blockages in the arteries of the heart, leading to potential cardiac arrest. His report mysteriously disappeared soon after it was released and the author was quickly sidelined. Ever heard any stories like this before?
OK, so let’s jump back on our trolley and head for the ready prepared meat department. Wow, now here’s a great line up of tempting looking cuts; special ham, spicy sausages, acclaimed bacons, tender chicken nuggets and so forth. Now don’t tell me there’s no choice here!
Sorry, it’s all coming from two or three (at the most) huge factory farms. Probably in another Country or some place in your own homeland that you’d least expect. Places it would make you sick to set foot in. Places where 15,000 hens cram into one vast neon lit shed. Usually in ‘cages’ of eight to ten birds each. Hens fed antibiotic laced genetically modified soya and maize – and a bunch of other stuff like manioc from Thailand and rice husks from China; what ever is cheap and available and capable of fattening a chicken in just ten weeks. Ten weeks? Yes, that’s how long it takes to get them up to slaughter weight. Just keep the lights on and keep stuffing them – and that’s the full life-span of a typical supermarket chicken. The antibiotics are fed prophylactically so as to keep the hens from dying of diseases which are rife in this airless, sunlight-less, neon lit ‘natural’ environment… Egg production just the same horror story. Life span even shorter. Beaks clipped too.
Never see grass, let alone the light of day.
Lord, give me a break! What about the pork and ham cuts on display? Yes, exactly the same regime.
Hundreds, more often thousands, of pigs in the same style vast shed. Also fed GM maize and soya. Also given routine antibiotics. Also deprived of sleep and relentlessly fattened. Their life span of the fatteners is at best three to four months and the sows, maybe a year.
By way of contrast: sows on my farm, running free range on pasture, live for at least five years. Free range chickens on grass also around five to six years.
Take a look at those lovely cling film covered trays in which these remains are displayed, especially the ham. How many chemical stabilizers, synthetic preservatives and colouring agents?
But listen, it can’t all be that bad can it? I mean, these stores have ‘quality controls’ in place and very strict hygiene arrangements. Sorry, these are just sops to make you feel that the food you are buying is ‘safe’. The reality is that what you are eating – unless it is certified as organic (and most ‘supermarket organic’ pushes the term to its limit of credibility) then you are eating the remnants of an animal that has just been through a concentration camp. Put that in your trolley? Support animal genocide?
Listen, I’m feeling a bit queasy, not sure I want to buy anything here after all.. maybe just some loo roles and household detergents. Yes, of course, but the paper (unless you purchase recycled) for your loo roles is coming from strip-forest logging exercises, is heavily processed and then treated with chemicals and synthetic perfumes – ‘to give you a blissful toilet experience everyday!’ The household detergents? Do I need to tell you? Chemical paradise designed to kill anything that moves – including you!
Let’s get out of here. Please don’t tell me any more. Sure, good decision – but just in case you’re thinking of grabbing the odd veg for tonight’s dinner. Err, well, please understand that it’s almost certainly been sprayed ten to twelve times during its growing period with chemicals that destroy bees and sicken birds – so it might be better to give them a miss too, right?
Scene shifts to the supermarket car park. Orwellian looking arena, where strangely abstracted looking people wheel their cart loads of deadly packaged produce towards shiny waiting vehicles. Is there any choice? asks the by now pale-faced, shell-shocked consumer.
Yes, it’s called ‘real food’. I suggest you grow it yourself. But I suppose you’re not willing to countenance that idea. Then you must look around for the farms that do. Go to the farmer’s market.
Maybe a natural foods store. Places where a human being serves you, someone who knows something about the foods on sale in their shop and where they are grown and raised. Scale down your expectations. Look for that which is local, fresh and nourishing. Think human scale, not cyborgian mega-scale. Drop the ‘super’ and re-find ‘the market’. The market place. The real people with real smiles and earth worn fingers. Come to your senses. Realize that you have been duped, brow beaten and robbed – maybe for years. Give your body, mind and spirit the chance to heal. Give your money to people who deserve it; people who work with, rather than against, nature. Turn over a new leaf. And if a small bug falls off it, laugh out loud – and give praise for the diversity of the living environment. Rather than the sterility of a death cult dressed-up as ‘convenience’.
About the Author
Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic farming, international activist and author. Contact Julian at www.julianrose.info to find out more. He is President of The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside, and is the author of two books with some very powerful perspectives: Changing Course for Life and In Defence of Life.
In 2017, Live Science is bringing our readers a monthly series on personal health goals, with tips and tricks for reaching those goals with advice we’ve gathered from the countless health experts we’ve interviewed. Each month, we’ll focus on a different goal, and the goal for February is “Eat Better.” Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to connect with other readers who are working toward these goals.
It’s not uncommon to feel as if you’re drowning in a sea of diet advice: drink red wine for heart health; avoid bacon and processed meats; make sure your diet is filled with “superfoods.”
But eating a healthy diet is actually quite simple, if you know what to look for. Live Science pulled together the best advice and the most relevant stories about nutrition so you can eat better this year.
There is no single “perfect” healthy diet. But the U.S. government guidelines, which emphasize eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains and moving away from salt, added sugars and saturated fats, are a good place to start.
Should You Go Vegetarian?
Are vegetarian diets really better for you? That may depend on what your goals are. But science shows that it is OK to have some meat in your diet — just don’t go overboard.
When it comes to healthy diets, it’s hard to find one with more accolades than the Mediterranean diet. Rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish, it has been linked in studies to numerous aspects of health, from the head to the heart.
Other Diet Options
If you’re not mad about the Mediterranean diet, there are other healthy ways to go. The American Heart Association’s “DASH” diet, which stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, is not only praised as a heart-healthy diet but also a good diet for people who want to lose weight. And the “Japanese diet,” or the general way that people commonly eat in Japan, has been linked to longer life, one study has shown.
The Low Down on Sugar
The tables have turned on the sweet stuff: Although it was once considered not especially harmful, a slew of research now shows that sugar — specifically, added sugar — is particularly damaging to a person’s health. Too much sugar can raise a person’s risk for both Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The Low Down on Fat
Not all dietary fat is bad. Indeed, increasing evidence suggests that unsaturated fats can benefit health. However, trans fats have proved to be very damaging, leading the FDA in 2015 to ban them as an ingredient.
The Low Down on Salt
The body needs sodium – aka salt – in order to function. But too much of this mineral raises blood pressure, which can lead to a slew of heart problems, including heart disease. The salt you sprinkle on your dinner or add to a recipe isn’t the main cause of sodium in your diet; rather, the majority of dietary sodium comes from processed foods.
Natural, Organic, GMO: What Do Labels Mean and Do They Matter?
Reading food packaging can seem like doing a word search sometimes, but what do all the labels food manufacturers throw on your favorite snacks actually mean? Sometimes, a label doesn’t quite mean what it says. For example, “reduced sodium” products can still have a good deal of sodium — this label just means it has 25 percent less than the “regular” version of the same product. And in other cases, like with the word “natural,” it doesn’t mean anything at all…
(NaturalNews) If you had been walking on sharp rocks and jagged shells all day, and a doctor told you to take some aspirin for the pain, would you go out the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and walk on those same rocks and shells, expecting the aspirin to “do the trick” every time, for weeks, months and even years? Wouldn’t you expect that you would get such a horrible infection that you might lose your foot, your leg or even your life? That’s exactly what people do with toxic junk food – they eat it at every meal, every day for years, and then take antacids, IBS medicine, aspirin, ibuprofen, diet pills and prescription medicines for everything from inflammation to depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia … you name it.
Then, after years of abuse, these same people think that some oncologist is just going to magically cut out the damage, the polyp or the tumor, and they’ll be just fine. It rarely ever works out. Why? Cancer is the uncontrolled multiplication of mutated cells that thrive off chemicals, and the more toxic food you eat, the worse it gets. It’s like walking on sharp rocks and jagged shells for years and expecting the doctors to just patch you up and send you home. Well, you can forget about it. You need drastic, major lifestyle changes to prevent and/or beat cancer. Sounds difficult, but if you know what to cut out first, it’s actually pretty easy. Here we go.
These top seven causes of cancer are some of the most popular foods, beverages and even medicines known to Americans. Doctors, dentists and dermatologists refrain from telling their patients the truth, or they may lose all their “clients for life.” Many doctors don’t even know what to tell their patients, because there is zero nutrition education in medical school in America. It’s true. Let’s take a look at the major cancer culprits “cutting up” your health daily.
Top seven causes of cancer, and great alternatives for prevention and healing
#1.Fluoridated water: Want some insecticide in your tap water? You’re in luck! It’s already in there. Municipal tap water often contains toxic sodium fluoride imported from China. It causes cancer, brittle bones and a lowered IQ. The solution? Get a Big Berkey water filtration system for your home. It’s the best filter on the planet, and even removes other people’s medications, heavy metal toxins, bleach, artificial sweeteners and more.
#2. Artificial sweeteners: They should be called the sweet devils, because aspartame, sorbitol and sucralose trick your body into thinking it’s getting something sweet, increasing cravings for sugar and carbs and contributing to weight gain. And, because they’re synthetic and carcinogenic, they warp your cells and lead to cancer of the breasts, prostate, bladder and more. Look into safe alternatives like stevia or xylitol, or just moderate your sugar intake using organic sugar in the raw, or better yet, organic honey.
#3. Nitrites and nitrates in meat: Meat spoils easily, so manufacturers use extra strong preservatives – highly concentrated salts – to preserve them. This goes for nearly all deli meat, barbecued meat, spicy meat, hot dogs, most Chinese food, jerky treats, sausages, and of course, meat in soups. Watch out for monosodium glutamate (MSG), a genetically modified preservative used to add flavoring back into meat products that have been processed with ammonia and bleach to kill the E.coli and salmonella. These salts cause migraines, severe dehydration, and yes, cancer. Want safe alternatives? Use organic sea salt, organic garlic salt and organic jalapeño peppers.
#4. Vaccines: Contained in the infamous polio vaccine were nearly 100 million doses of SV40 – a cancer-causing virus that is now believed to be responsible for causing millions of cancer cases in America, according to the CDC. The information was posted on an official CDC fact sheet entitled Cancer, Simian Virus 40 (SV40) and Polio Vaccine. Though the CDC removed it from their site, RealFarmacy.com archived the damning page before the CDC pulled it. Check it out yourself here.
#5. Chemotherapy: Most MDs and oncologists would never take chemotherapy themselves or recommend it for their relatives, knowing as do that it only has a 3 percent chance of success and totally wipes out the human immune system, while flooding the whole body with chemicals that cause new cancers to develop. Look into medicinal mushrooms and alkalizing the body to naturally beat cancer.
#6. Pharmaceuticals (prescription medications): The number one cause of cancer is consuming chemicals, so why would you ever take prescription medications that are all made in laboratories using chemicals?
#7. Conventional gluten: Also known as “food glue,” most gluten is processed with bleach and toxic dough conditioners, and it all sticks in your digestive tract for days, rotting everything that comes in behind it and fueling chronic inflammation, IBS, dehydration, polyps, and eventually, cancer.
The Svalbard seed bank, set like a concrete monolith in the minus 4 degree Celsius permafrost of a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, shouldn’t determine the fate of our agricultural future. Though the remote bank has collected 860,000 seed samples from around the world, with the latest withdrawal being made from war-torn Syria, what are the true intentions behind a bank said to, “preserve as much of the world’s crop diversity as possible,”while seed supplies around the world are being monopolized by a few corporations, and indigenous, thousand-year old seeds are being wiped out by genetically modified versions?
Svalbard’s investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation,Monsanto, Syngenta, and other biotech interests tout this ‘seed saving’ monolith while simultaneously ravaging seed diversity, along with state laws throughout the US, and elsewhere on the globe, that prevent small farmers and gardeners from saving and sharing seed.
Currently, there are at least 100,000 global plant varieties endangered in the world. Extreme weather events, over-exploitation of ecosystems, habitat loss, and the cross-pollination of seed by genetically altered, terminator seed, contribute to the problem.
You could look at seed saving and seed sharing like open-source education. If you really want to democratize the flow of knowledge and information, you make it free, and offer it online, as many Universities now do. No one institution holds the entire knowledge on mathematics, art, literature, spirituality, or any other subject. Just as in nature, we require diversity of thought so that we don’t become automotons repeating a single, well-crafted agenda created by a handful of people.
Many farmers groups, non-profits, and governments are attempting to conserve seed diversity in their own communities, with more than 1,000 known seed banks, collaboratives, and exchanges around the world, but this time-honored tradition of seed saving is butting up against some very serious obstacles, which I’ll name in a moment.
Moreover, while the Svalbard seed bank seems to pass an initial sniff test, a little deeper digging can reveal other questions that many should be asking about such an expensive adventure in ‘protecting agriculture.’
Cary Fowler, senior adviser to the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Svalbard seed bank, states,
“SSE’s seed bank and the Seed Vault are similar in many ways. Both primarily function as an insurance policy for other forms of conservation. In the case of SSE, that would be varieties grown yearly by gardeners. With the Seed Vault, its seed samples held by seed banks, such as the Dutch, Philippine, or Kenyan national facilities, or SSE. The Seed Vault, however, was physically built to last as long as anything on earth. Its location is obviously remote, which adds to its security. Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty, which reassures many, and it was no small matter that Norway offered to pay the entire cost of construction.”
Fowler also argues that the age-old habit of seed sharing by farmers and gardeners poses too great a risk for Svalbard not to to exist, but while he dismisses ‘conspiracy theories’ around Svalbard’s true purpose, he has yet to address that those theories are not the rhetoric of ‘rabid dogs’ as he suggests. Many US states have made it illegal for gardeners and seed libraries to share seeds without a permit.
The Criminalization of Seed Sharing
Even more alarming is the European Union’s recent move to ban all heirloom seed and criminalize the planting of seeds not registered with the government. TheEuropean Commission,
“. . .regulates the marketing of plant reproductive material of agricultural, vegetable, forest, fruit and ornamental species and vines, ensuring that EU criteria for health and quality are met. EU legislation applies to genera and species important for the internal market and is based on:
Registration of varieties or material;
Certification or inspection of lots of seed and plant propagating material before marketing.”
Many are concerned that the EU Commission will not enhance agriculture with the Plant Reproductive Material Law, but give more control to the handful of agriculture corporations which are already monopolizing the world’s seed. The draft text of the law reads such that the act of passing seed from one generation to the next would be a criminal act.
Another example of the laws which prohibit the free and unencumbered sharing of seed includes the state of Minnesota’s seed law. It is broad enough that it essentially prohibits gardeners from sharing or giving away seeds unless they buy an annual permit, have the germination of each seed lot tested, and attach a detailed label to each seed packet. This would obviously be a time-sucking, financially draining practice for most gardeners and small farmers, yet the Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently told seed libraries that they can’t distribute free seeds to gardeners unless they buy a permit and provide detailed labeling, even though the libraries aren’t selling the seeds, and only sharing them freely. The penalty for violating this law is a fine of up to $7,500 per day.
This is an example of just one law in a single state, but laws like these can be found in around 30 percent of states in the US.
Who Owns the World’s Seed?
This is even more alarming considering that just ten corporations now control 70-90 percent of all the seeds cultivated on this planet. These are:
Monsanto – 27% of market share
DuPont -17% of market share
Syngenta – 9% of market share
Land O’ Lakes/Winfield Solutions
As Mother Earth News suggests, rather than imposing laws that uproot the age-old practice of seed sharing, governments, should be nurturing the free exchange of locally adapted seeds. But then, this would put the power back in the hands of people, small groups, and widely varied indigenous agricultural knowledge, not a few power-hungry, seed monopolizing entities known for destroying the very lands they claim to want to protect, and fomenting wars within the ISIS-cabal matrix…
A junk food diet is clearly not healthy. Burgers widen our waistlines, raise our cholesterol levels and tighten our arteries. But scientists now think that even before it shows up as additional pounds on the scale, junk food is changing our bodies in other, surprising ways. It’s actually a form of malnutrition that could be making our immune systems attack our own bodies.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Immunology, scientists at Australia’s University of New South Wales investigated a typical western diet—one that’s high in saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Specifically, they looked at the diet’s impact on immune cells called T lymphocytes, or T cells.
The researchers fed mice a high-fat diet for nine weeks to see what effect it would have on the T cells before the mice gained weight. The results surprised study leader Abigail Pollock. “Despite our hypothesis that the T cell response and capacity to eliminate invading pathogens would be weakened we actually saw the opposite: the percentage of overactive T cells increased,”she explained.
This might sound great, but having more T cells doesn’t necessarily mean your immune system is stronger. In fact, when the immune system goes into overdrive, it attacks healthy parts of the body, resulting in autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Cell membranes—the bags that hold cells together—are made up of layers of fatty lipid molecules. Looking closely at the T cells, the scientists found that having extra fats in the diet actually changed the amount of lipid molecules in the cell membrane, which in turn, said Pollock, “changes the structure of the cell, altering the responsiveness of the T cells and changing the immune response.”
The team had shown previously that altering the lipid content of T cell membranes affects how they signal and activate each other, but this is the first time the effect has been shown in a living animal. More research is needed, they say, to figure out exactly what’s happening and determine which fats we could avoid to make sure our immune systems don’t go into overdrive.
Indeed, this is not the first study to show that a high-fat diet impacts the immune system; almost 20 years ago, scientists at the University of Oxford in the U.K. studied rats on diets rich in different fats. They found that the lymphocytes of rats fed a high-fat diet rich in palmitic acid grew more, whereas natural killer cells—another type of immune cell—of rats on a high-fat diet rich in stearic acid grew much less.
More recently, scientists at the University of Ulsan in South Korea compared obese mice on a high-fat diet and non-obese mice on a normal diet, and found that the obese mice had significantly lower levels of immune cells, including T cells, in their lymph nodes, where the immune cells wait until they are needed by the body. The lymph nodes near the intestine were much lighter in the obese mice and contained far fewer T cells than those of the control mice.
The scientists concluded that the accumulation of fat around the organs—visceral fat—due to a high-fat diet causes cells in the lymph nodes to self-destruct: “Dietary fat-induced visceral obesity may be crucial for obesity-related immune dysfunction,” they explained.
A high-fat diet won’t only affect your immune system; it could also impair your memory—and that of your kids. When they fed pregnant mice a diet high in lard, scientists at Capital Medical University in China found that the fat in their offspring’s brain was altered. The authors explain in their study: “Our research demonstrated that long-term high lard diet […] changed the brain fatty acids composition and damaged the memory and learning ability of mice.”
What’s in your burger and fries?
A junk food diet is rich in fat, but there are all sorts of other harmful things lurking in there too. Firstly, junk food is highly palatable—it tastes good. This makes us eat more and more, which is an even bigger problem because it’s also very high in calories. A small cheeseburger is 300 calories, the same as a whole (nutritious) meal. And you would rarely just eat a cheeseburger; adding fries (230 calories) and a soda (170 calories) takes the total to a whopping 700.
An excessive calorie intake leads to obesity, which has an impact on the immune system. Norwegian researchers found that being overweight led to inflammation—a sign of an overactive immune response. They studied this on a molecular level, to establish a link between metabolism, inflammation, heart attack and stroke. Their theory is that overeating provides our cells with too much energy and the tiny cellular engines—mitochondria—can stall…
Carlos Monteiro got his start in medicine in the 1970s as a pediatrician working in poor villages and slums in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. His patients were hungry, and it was written on their bodies: Many were anemic, underweight, and stunted. Today, Monteiro is a professor of nutrition at the University of São Paulo’s School of Public Health, a stately building surrounded by lush gardens. It’s a long way—figuratively, at least—from the shantytowns where he trained. His career has done a 180, too. Monteiro’s early research focused on malnutrition, but now he’s mostly occupied with the opposite problem: Brazilians, like most of their neighbors in the Americas, have gotten fat.
Over the course of his career, Monteiro, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper curls, has seen a public-health crisis emerge. In the mid-1970s, less than 3 percent of men and 8 percent of women in Brazil were obese. Today, almost 18 percent of adults are obese and more than half are overweight, according to the Ministry of Health, and the rates of chronic, diet-related diseases like diabetes and some cancers have grown. Monteiro has spent years parsing the data on what Brazilians eat; the most salient change he’s seen is the shift from eating foods you can prepare in an ordinary kitchen to what he calls “ultraprocessed products”—highly palatable admixtures of synthetic flavorings and cheap commodity ingredients that require little, if any, cooking. In other words, instant noodles, soda, and processed meats are edging out staples like beans and rice, cassava, and fresh produce.
“The local food system is being replaced by a food system that is controlled by transnational corporations,” Monteiro says. Monteiro, who takes a broad view of nutrition, says this dietary deterioration doesn’t just harm bodily health but also the environment, local economies, and Brazil’s rich food traditions. “We are seeing a battle for the consumer,” he adds.
Over the last 30 years, big transnational food companies have aggressively expanded into Latin America. Taking advantage of economic reforms that opened markets, they’ve courted a consumer class that has grown in size due to generally increasing prosperity and to antipoverty efforts like minimum-wage increases and cash transfers for poor families. And as sales of highly processed foods and drinks have plateaued (and even fallen, in the case of soda) in the United States and other rich countries, Latin America has become a key market. Between 2000 and 2013, soda sales in the region doubled. At the same time, the sales of ultraprocessed foods increased by nearly 50 percent, even as they rose just 2.3 percent in the United States and Canada.
Monteiro is part of a cadre of leaders who, in the face of this onslaught, are turning Latin America into a sort of food-policy laboratory. Some of the reforms they’ve enacted have also been proposed in the United States, but have been thwarted by the food industry and its political allies. Mexico, for example, enacted a tax on sugary beverages and junk food in 2014. Chile also taxes soda, and, like Ecuador, requires warning labels on unhealthy foods. Chile and Peru have also passed laws designed to strictly curtail the advertising of unhealthy foods.
Brazil, for its part, is a bit of a two-headed monster. On the one hand, its government has invested heavily in industrial agriculture, helping Brazil become one of the world’s largest exporters of soy and beef (as well as the top user of pesticides on the planet). But over the last dozen or so years, Brazil has also made huge progress against poverty and food insecurity while supporting the family farmers who produce 70 percent of the food that Brazilians eat. In 2014, the United Nations removed Brazil from its Hunger Map. It gave much of the credit to the zero-hunger policies of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, who put ending hunger and poverty at the center of his agenda, building on strong social movements that had coalesced around nutrition issues and agrarian reform.
In recent years, Brazil has inscribed the right to food in its Constitution and reformed its federal school-lunch program to broaden its reach while bolstering local farms. And in 2014, the Ministry of Health released new dietary guidelines that made healthy-food advocates across the world swoon. Monteiro helped lead the team that wrote them; the guidelines transcend a traditional nutrition-science frame to consider the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of what people eat. They also focus on the pleasure that comes from cooking and sharing meals and frankly address the connections between what we eat and the environment…