Food industry: 10 rules to be an informed consumer

Our diet has radically changed in the last 100 years and the food industry is an active part of this process. We have lost sight of the concept of eating well, but above all, we no longer wonder “Where does our food come from?”

That’s what modern industry does: it makes you see the world like a fairytale, a wonderful countryside crop of grain where Uncle Johnson and her daughters are smiling as if they are so much pleased.

But guess what? Uncle Johnson is gone, bye-bye! Big multinationals took his place and your place as well.

World’s largest food industry companies

When the demand for food has never been higher, the companies that own the business have never been so few. And even if we think we’re buying a local product, the brand is often owned by a much larger company. For example, this happened to me buying water from a small bottled-water company close to my city, which I found out later that belonged to Nestle, the world’s largest food corporation.

  1. Nestle
  2. Pepsi Co
  3. Anheuser Busch in Bev
  4. JBS
  5. Tyson Food

Source: Foodengineeringmag.com

Oxfam: Ten Multinational Corporations Control Most Food Brands |  OurFuture.org by People's Actioncredits: https://ourfuture.org/20170105/oxfam-ten-multinational-corporations-control-most-food-brands

Food industry doesn’t want aware consumers. Instead, they rather have good sheeps that happily graze in their factories without knowing to be sheeps. In this way, we increase their enormous yield by buying products that make us trapped in an exploitment chain, also known as capitalism. 

But slow down! I’m not saying anything bad to you. The point is: there is always choice standing in front of us, and we’ve got plenty. Which choice do you want to take? Do you want to be an informed consumer or keep eating something you don’t know where it comes from or how it was grown?

1- It’s got to be abundant!

How many times they are, well, somehow convincing you that food automatically spawns in front of your feet on the fruit display baskets of a supermarket. Every time everything’s got to be so full and so copious that the result is you think it is unlimited, and that’s the first way the food industry does it.

To have moderate consumption has become a myth. Take 2 for one, have a whole menu, small one 3,50 big one 5. But as science has proved to us: “Buying cheap has a high cost.” If we had to pay our products’ environmental costs, we would be heading to the biological store and get some beans for 10 euros right now.

Why don’t you start thinking more constructively? And this time instead of the glass, try seeing the fruit basket half empty rather than half full, and think, “Hmm, but if I don’t need all these things in such an exaggerated amount why am I buying them?”

2- Cows’ farts

Cows standing on the green field in front of fuji mountain, japan. Free Photo
credits: https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/cows-standing-green-field-front-fuji-mountain-japan_10824477.htm#query=cow&position=26 @tawaitchai07

Society educates us to think that our purchases do not have an origin or consequence on the external environment. It gives little pleasure that a consumer is aware that they can make a difference with their wallet. So everything seems to come from nothing. Or at least, that’s what the animal industry would like everyone to believe. I’m not vegan or vegetarian at this moment personally, but I realize just one crucial thing. We’re killing 149 billions of animals every year. We eat six times more meat than one hundred years ago. This is not the circle of life, it’s the circle of environmental disaster. The impact of animal agriculture is so huge that it’s accountable for 51 per cent of all worldwide greenhouse gasses.

Animal agriculture also takes up one-third of all land on the planet. A farm of 2500 cows produces more waste than 410,000 humans combined. And even if we manage to get rid of fossil fuels, we will still exceed the limit of 565 gigatons of CO2 by 2030.

And what about your health? Long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women. 

We could use all the food that animals eat for human consumption and give it to poorer people instead of giving it to animals that we will kill.

We don’t need as much protein. And in addition to that, we can replace meat with high protein vegetables. Many legumes not only contain more protein than some types of meat, but also have additional nutritional values such as iron and zinc, bringing many benefits. Just eating chicken instead of beef would make a significant change. You don’t need to chain yourself on an oil distillery, just a few dietary transitions could make you an environmental hero.

 Credits: https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/superhero-girl-saving-world_3530030.htm#page=1&query=environmental%20hero&position=0 @raxipixel.com

No photo description available.
Chicken intensive farming, credits link

We can’t have a fair and happy future for our environment if we don’t treat ourselves right and the rest of nature, with which I’m including billions of animals that we don’t need in our diet as well.

3. New Speech and Double Think

Quoting Orwell, the way they pack, distribute and advertize food reminds of New Speech. In the Food Industry the concepts are distorted by evasive language, which, as in medicine, contains the traits of an explanatory leaflet. But at the same time they want the consumer to think he’s making the right choice. And here comes Double Think. Similarly, as “Ignorance is strength”, everything that is exaggeratedly unhealthy suddenly becomes healthy.

May be an image of text that says "Verano en casa, verano con estilo. ® CEREALDO COME BIEN Kelloyg's"
credits: https://www.facebook.com/KelloggsLatinoamerica/photos/1378609805681420

The food companies show us only part of the truth as in a kind of reverse propaganda. “4 cookies one-third of the calories you need, fresh milk, seasonal fruit, 50 percent less fat!” A bit like what happens with politics, part of the truth is always shown and not all of it. This language, the design, the greenwashing system and the advertisements are pretty successful to deceit the consumer. This way of thinking has gotten so deep into our minds. To the point that other people think us to be insane if we don’t drink cola, chips, go to Mc Donalds… They’ve raised us as eating unhealthy and unsustainable was something normal.

credits: Filippo Massariol

4. Alienation of the product: Packaged here! (Made out of nowhere).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2-940x686.jpg

When a product is typical from a unique country, the provenience becomes essential. Otherwise, the product seems to have lost its value. But ethical and economic value are two concepts that don’t get along entirely well with the food industry. They don’t want to waste their money by enhancing their product’s quality and their employees’ welfare. But at the same time they don’t want a bad rep. Even in this case, a good marketing strategy, and some gaps in the legislature can work it out easily for them. In the end, you will probably end up thinking that the mediocre product you’ve just bought (which most of the times doesn’t even come from the country they’ve mentioned), is the best choice.

I’ll pick Italy, the place I come from, because it embodies the perfect example of this paradox. For example, take olive oil. Some of the largest companies in Italy get the raw material from abroad. Why? Because it’s cheaper. Then they label the product as if it was Italian.

“100 % Italian Product” (with capital letters) and then “Olives from non-eu countries” (very small, almost invisible). But consumers don’t realize and buy that just because it’s cheap.  This leads to Italian farmers being bypassed by foreign labor and finding themselves forced to accept starvation prices.

Pasta, a sacred and traditional product, goes back to being treated as a mere bargaining chip. Larger companies import wheat from countries like Canada to have fewer restrictions on pesticides and carcinogenic components like glyphosate. It is also true that we would need to convert the whole country in grain fields to satisfy the demand, but the question again is: do you really need so much? 

5.Everything is ready!

Eating well is not necessary anymore; the product must be cheap and fast. Pre-cooked meals have become one of the most successful choices to get money and make the consumer addicted to needing everything hot and ready. Thanks to the food industry but also to our stupidity, most of us don’t even know how to cook, make a cake or a good starter. And the idea of home-growing food, as our ancestors did, doesn’t even cross our minds. We have such a large supply of resources that we can delight in the kitchen and resume our grandparents’ good habits of making homemade things, or having a vegetable garden outside the garden. We don’t even need to pay someone to teach us. And there is an even greater vastness of tutorials on the internet, so why don’t you do yourself a solid and become the new Gordon Ramsay?

6.Sustainable is not convenient

Why don’t we develop a system to put a tax on who pollutes? And make those responsible pay more if they mean to do so. That’s the problem, perhaps the biggest obstacle to change. People will never want to be eco-friendly as long as polluting is cheaper. As many economists suggest, CO2 must be taxed. It is the only way possible for people to buy sustainably. But this is not what big companies want to.

It’s obvious that people with economic problems would care less about something that they see as out of their lives. But we need to care about this as we care about our life. We’re part of the planet and the planet is part of us in the same way our lungs are breathing. So if you are part of the problem, and you don’t have enough money to make an ethical choice, then push local authorities and governments to do so. We need to buy more responsible. But they need to forbid such behaviours as well. Until we just stand by and watch I don’t think they’re going to do something. There are many environmental campaigns you can join and support peacefully without spending a penny of your money. And if you don’t want to be an activist, you can just choose and vote for people that care about the Earth. (But be careful because politics is tricky and it’s not rare to hear false promises!)

7. Science is by our side

Science, greenwashing, humanitarian projects. Corporations have plenty of methods to hide their blood. And in the end, reason, or maybe money, is always going to stand by their side. “Science doesn’t prove that” were the words of Arlene Anderson-Vincent, Nestle’s Natural Resource Manager for Nestle Waters North America.  Even after shocking images of dry streams and environmental damages in Michigan, where Nestle produces Ice Mountain and Pure Life labels, the company always denies any responsibility. It’s so easy for such powerful industries to overrule official data and convince the authorities to rely on “Science.” “It is amazing what science can show if you can pay for that science.”

8. A bitter sweet

Today the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar per year equal to 3 pounds or six cups of sugar consumed per week. In fact, it’s not surprising. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, 39.8% of U.S. adults and 20.6% of U.S. adolescents are obese. And at the same time, 820 million people don’t have enough food to eat. Food industry companies don’t want their clients to be healthy and informed. They’d rather have them addicted and ignorant.

9. That doesn’t concern you!

Many people are not concerned at all about where the packaging they throw ends up.

No photo description available.
credits: https://www.facebook.com/Greenpeace.Esperanza/photos

Something as expensive and difficult to dispose of as packaging becomes magical. Many people don’t even know that plastic in most cases is not recyclable except for PET and PE-HD. According to a 2017 Science Advances paper entitled Production Use And Fate Of All Plastics Ever Made, only 9% of all plastic has been recycled. We are using the most durable and least recyclable material on the face of Earth to make things we throw away. It’s like using a marble couch to be comfortable. It makes no sense! But perhaps even more useless than plastic is paper and its huge overproduction. European demand alone is responsible for 10% of global deforestation. In the last 30 years, we’ve deforested 420 million hectares. Do your napkins or your brand-new ikea bookshelf still sound nice to you?

According to a study lead by Tearfund: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and Unilever alone produce 497,000 tons of plastic each year. The gold medal for this not very dignified ranking goes to Coca-Cola. Then there is Pepsi with 137 thousand, equal to 22 soccer fields. Nestlé follows the “winners” with 95 thousand tons. And finally with 70 thousand tons Unilever, the multinational that sells on the market items such as Lipton, Calvè, Knorr, Findus, Cif, Badedas, Dove and Mentadent.

Coca-cola food industry and plasticcredits: https://www.facebook.com/greenpeaceuk/photos/basw

Policies in recent years are improving. Although the changes made are a drop in the ocean compared to what should be done to meet the 2030 agenda. More and more countries are developing alternatives to plastics, using sustainable materials such as hemp, for example. More and more people are demanding more sustainable products, and this will hopefully prompt governments to act.

10. Take resources at almost no cost

Some food industry companies care so much about the health of their wallets that they try to exploit their misused intelligence as much as possible.

I take nestle as an example since has been notorious for several scandals during the years. The Swiss multinational owns everything from chocolate to coffee, from water to dog food. Shampoo and soap brands such as  Garnier and even clothing brands like Armani, Diesel and Ralph Lauren. It has gotten rich so fast because in fact what it does take resources at almost no cost. To resell them at such a cheap price and in so many countries that the profits are abnormal. From the $200 a year the corporation pays to the city of Evart in Michigan to extract 500 gallons of water per minute, to the price of coffee that has increased 200 times over that of the farmer.

Black coffee, a dark story

Nestlé's Corporate Reputation and the Long History of Infant Formula
credits: https://globalcapitalism.history.ox.ac.uk/files/case12-nestlescorporatereputationpdf-1

From Raj Patel’s Book: Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.

Have we ever wondered how certain foods get on our tables ? And how much farmers and the various middlemen who interact with the marketing of the product are really paid before it reaches the supermarket shelves?

Lawrence Seguya, a Ugandan coffee farmer, briefly describes his experience with the following words: “I would like you to tell people over there that the cause of all our problems is the drink you are enjoying right now.” In this area, the current price is around 14 cents per kg. Poverty and economic underdevelopment forces farmers, instead of running away to the city, to cultivate even more coffee in order to make ends meet. This gives them an incentive to use enormous amounts of pesticides, destroying entire natural ecosystems, just to produce that little bit extra that will at least allow them to eat.

Once sold to the first broker (who brings the bags to be milled), the price rises to 19 cents per kg. The mill will sell it for another 5 cents more, the minimum to keep it open.

credits: https://www.mightyearth.org/2018/07/10/eu-legislation-must-end-child-labour-and-deforestation-in-the-cocoa-supply-chain/

Who gets the real profit? A rhetorical question

Slipped into bags and shipped, coffee goes up to 26 cents per kilo with a shipping cost of $10 per tonne through wholesalers like Ugacof. While the latter have a much higher profit margin, this is not where real earnings are made.

By the time the coffee beans arrive in Europe, for example, in West London where Nestlé has a plant, the price will have risen to $1.64 per kg. As you would expect, once it leaves the factory the price will reach 26.40 dollars per kg, that is 200 times the price in Uganda.

The final question is: “Are you sure you really need this?”

As long as there will be a demand things are not going to change. Don’t stand by and watch. Buy local and eat healthy, and remember that food industry only exists because of you! You are and we all are the demand, and your wallet’s got the power to decide how things should be.

In the end you can:

-Buy less meat and eat more veggies -Reduce consumption of foods that are predominantly from exploitation (coffee, chocolate,…), or buy them from organic resources
-Buy local
-Boycott multinationals
-Lean on governments
-Consider the five R’s (Reduce, reuse, refuse, recycle, repurpose) -Read books and follow some useful zero waste tutorials -Support local groups or bright ideas for your and our future

And last but not least:

-Read Balkan Hotspot’s Blog and other interesting articles!

Post Author: Filippo Massariol

Hello! I'm Filippo, I come from Italy but the world is my home! I am a writer, a poet, a rapper and a crazy traveller that tries to change the world by little steps. "Be the change you want to see in the world" is my motto.

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