Food forgeries

Synthetic food eye dropper and flower potLike our hunter-gather ancestors, modern humans must seek real food amidst the food forgeries — things that seem like real food but are not.

For millions of years humans foraged for food by hunting and gathering. About 10,000 years ago, humans began keeping plants and animals closer to home by farming and raising livestock. No longer forced to wander, our ancestors settled and created larger and larger communities. As society and technology developed, humans moved farther away from all natural food sources.

Modern consumers of low-quality food

For modern humans, the source is the food industry, much of it controlled by large corporations. Our only role is to consume its products, and many of us merely hunt bargains.

Modern society overproduces cheap, low-quality food. Food producers compete intensely to entice customers into buying and consuming more of this food than needed. Like any business, they can’t afford to offer products that don’t sell.

They employ many people directly or indirectly. They have a lot of overhead, including raw ingredients and costs for processing, packaging and distribution. They also use media and advertising to attract consumer attention and interest. But most of all they want loyal customers — people who regularly consume the same products.

Marketing tricks to sell fake food
Unlike most animals, humans don’t choose food by instinct. We learn how and what to eat by observing other people. This makes us naturally vulnerable to advertising.

Given the intense competition, most food producers must find new ways to cut costs. Since real food is expensive and time-consuming to produce, one common cost-cutting strategy is to introduce synthetic foods into the market. Synthetic foods are food forgeries. They look and often taste like real food. But they are not real food.

Forgeries trick our brains by stimulating our senses with chemical flavors and additives that simulate real food. Intense marketing reassures customers that this fake food is safe and nourishing.

Another food forgery strategy is to boost the appeal of cheap bland base mixtures with chemicals that increase reward chemicals in our brain. Fake food is often highly hedonic or pleasure-inducing. Much of our modern food is almost addictive. Without it, regular consumers crave it and suffer withdrawal or food preoccupation around the clock.

Fake labels on canReal food rarely has labels. Most labels are at best meaningless and at worst deliberately misleading. Deceptive labels contain terms like “healthy,” “wholesome,” “enriched,” “cholesterol-free,” “fat-free,” and “added vitamins.” Marketing research shows that putting words like this on labels and packages makes consumers more likely to buy the products, even if the product is not real food.

To understand these concepts in detail, read books such as The End of Food by Paul Roberts and Food Politics by Marion Nestle.

Our responsibility is to choose
The food industry is culpable, but does not force this fake food down our throat. We must accept our share of responsibility. The food industry gives consumers what we ask for — cheap, convenient, calorie-dense, sugar and fat laden “food.” We buy these foods, we eat these foods, and we feed them to our families. We do so because we believe we have no choice. This is another way the food industry has shaped our behavior.

We do have choices.

The tide is starting to change. We are becoming aware that completely trusting any industry is foolish. There are alternatives. Obesity isn’t a disease. It is a predictable side effect of our current environment. We are humans. Humans adapt to new environments. With the right strategies, humans can thrive anywhere from barren deserts to frozen tundras. We can even survive in the land of milk and honey, but not without some changes in our behavior.

Today’s hunter-gather must seek real food amidst the flood of food forgeries. Shopping today is more like foraging for mushrooms than picking berries or hunting rabbits. It takes skill and effort to learn how to distinguish the safe ones from the dangerous look-alikes. It’s still about survival.

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