Monday, November 2, 2009

The Diet of the Working Class American

Everyone deserves access to a healthy diet. We are fortunate to live in a modern affluent economy where many of us can visit the local grocery store and find food from all over the world, even food that is out of season. Abundance of food is the norm of the marketplace. However, abundant healthy food is difficult to find for average working class people. Generally, working class people only have access to cheap unhealthy food, whether it's a cheap burger on the McDonald’s Dollar Menu or a hormone laden $5 rotisserie chicken sold at a local grocery store. The price of eating healthy is steep. While the purchasing power of the working class has diminished at the food counter, the diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease and obesity have increased in the doctor's office. Furthermore, the crisis facing the diet of the working class is compounded by a lack of access to information providing tips on healthy eating.

First, there is the notion of access. There are some in the working class who have little access to healthy food because they are simply priced out of the food market. In Boston, the price of healthy food staples such as milk is up 26% since 2006 and eggs up 40% since 2007 (see Boston Globe report). The exponential inflation of food is well above the general national inflation rate, which has hovered at no more than 5% since 2000. Couple inflation with the stagnation of wages during the past several years, and one can only conclude that the food market is squeezing the working class out of healthy eating.

Secondly, the food industry has undue influence in shaping the notion of what constitutes a healthy diet. While stocking food abundantly and selling a variety of food products are the food industry's principle marketing techniques, these techniques obscure the faulty production schemes food producers are employing to increase production efficiency and thus profits. The consumer is not told the truth about the unhealthy ingredients in food, such as fructose corn syrup, pesticides and tainted genetically modified DNA strains.

However, not all is bleak. Numerous organization across the country are confronting the challenge to healthy eating in two key ways. Certain organizations, such as food banks, are specializing in giving working class people access to a healthy diet. By the same token, non profit organizations such as, The Future of Food, are specializing in creating awareness about genetically tainted food and thus educating people about how to make wiser choices at the food counter.

California is leading the way in providing healthy food to these individuals. Some food banks of the state have shed their old organization model of specializing in the collection of processed food and instead are offering fresh fruits and vegetables.The New York times recently published an article about these innovative food banks. The Times’ notes that there is a surplus market of fresh produce which grocery chains do not purchase simply because a fruit or a vegetable may not have the right shape and may not be the right size. Thus, food banks across California have organized effectively to collect such unwanted, but fresh produce. In essence, these foods banks are helping improve the diet of Americans at or below the poverty level.

Furthermore, organizations such as The Future of Food are leading the way in educating the consumer about unhealthy food. Recently, The Future of Food organization released a study which noted that average consumer is exposed to a supply of food which is grown with seeds of tainted DNA strands. Iganacio Chapela, a scientist taking part in the work of this organization said:

"As we move on into this so-called biotech revolution and we start producing more and more transgenic manipulations, we'll start seeing pieces of DNA interacting with each other in ways that are totally unpredictable...I think this is probably the largest biological experiment humanity has ever entered into."

The Future of Food is both creating awareness for healthier eating and also holding food producers accountable for shady production techniques.

The food industry cannot have a prerogative over the health of working class Americans. The diet and health of people must not become a commodity of the marketplace. Everyone deserves equal access to a healthy diet.

Web link to Boston Globe and New York Times article

The Future of Food documentary trailer

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