LETTER: ‘Health and what we eat and how it is produced, processed and distributed’ - this is the debate

Les Walton’s letter on October 15 has prompted me to think what is at the core of the debate over “Health and the link to what we eat and how it is produced, processed and distributed”.

Lined up on one side of this argument are ever larger industrial scale farming together with the agri-chemical industry, producing “commodities” that the global food industry convert into cheap processed food to fill the shelves of supermarkets.

Cheap food for all is the mantra, never mind if the food’s nutritional value is unbalanced, that soils are increasingly impoverished, that pesticide residues are rising, that the link between farmer and consumer is broken.

We can rely on the food scientists and global corporations to produce more of it, with genetically modified crops, and higher yields of commodities to process and we will all get fed cheaply.

But here’s the thing - All this processed food, takeaways, sugar laden drinks is making us ill. The figures showing exponential rises in obesity published by the World Health Organisation are very frightening.

The links between obesity and heart disease, cancers, diabetes and chronic medical conditions is incontrovertible. And it’s not just here in the western world. It’s across the globe..

And meanwhile global climate change coupled with lack of farming practices that regenerate soil is leading to desertification and will inevitably result in more mass migration.

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The global food processing industry has for 40 years been in complete denial that the problem is of their making. Just as the tobacco industry denied the link between smoking and lung cancer. They now deny that processed sugars are the new tobacco. The world’s population has doubled in the last 40 years. The ubiquitous western world diet based on processed sugar laden foods, and corn fed animals has spread across the globe. Local supermarkets have 20,000+ different items on their shelves with usually 10 or more processed ingredients in each item.

All this results in cheap food for the people, big profits for the global food processing industry and agri-chemical corporations. The ironic thing is that most farmers are not making much profit (look only to the dairy farmers) and have lost the trust and respect of consumers.

If that is really what is happening who sits on the other side of the argument?

Here in our rural and relatively affluent community in Cambridgeshire if we grow more of our own food and vegetables using less pesticides, cook more using fresh ingredients, rely less on processed convenience foods and takeaways, support local small farmers by using farmers markets - well yes our own families will be healthier. Is this what “Think globally, act locally” really means?

The average income family in the UK now pays out less than 10% of their income on food. But the percentage spent on food by lower income families is far higher. And their only choice is processed food and cheap fast food. It is in low income households across the globe that there is the fastest growth in obesity levels.

Health and what we eat and how it is produced, processed and distributed. This is the debate. We are what we eat. And the large majority of the world population is now in hock to the global food processing industry which the World Health Organisation clearly identifies as the culprit in growing levels of ill health.

Cheap food for the people, big profits for the processors and agri-chemical industry and a population getting chronically ill.

Does anyone give a damn? Or do we go along with Les Walton and concede that the argument boils down to living in an age where people somehow have lost the knowledge to cook basic ingredients, despite the fact that TV schedules are full of cooking programmes?