|Image obtained from Time.com|
The advent of many of the convenience foods we know today came about in the wake of World War II, when men were off fighting overseas, and women, who normally would be at home keeping house and cooking meals, took to working in factories to assist in the war efforts. There was a demand for quick, easy foods that women could quickly get on the table after a long day at work. Frozen dinners and canned fruits and vegetables (which could also serve as staples in your handy bomb shelter) became the norm. Margarine became an acceptable substitute for butter because of rations.
But when the war was over, the companies who were making these items just kept on. And advertisers figured out that they could convince people that they needed these products. And so the vicious cycle was born.
And here we are today – in a country where more than half of our population is overweight and more than 30% of adults are obese.
Which brings me to free will. My husband got into a discussion with a friend on facebook the other day that began with a comment about a cable news station and eventually turned to the subject of rising food costs and the inability of poor people to afford or source quality food in urban settings. All of this got me thinking.
First, I know plenty of people with plenty of money who consciously choose to purchase low-nutrient convenience foods over fresh, nutrient dense foods. Whether it’s because they’ve been convinced by advertisers that this is the best way, or because they just don’t care, I’m not sure. I just know that it happens. I often think that there are just as many undernourished middle- to upper-middle-class children as there are lower-class children simply for that reason.
Second, I wonder if people were taught how to advocate for themselves, would they be willing to do so ? I know it is difficult for the poor in America – they don’t have access to good education, they don’t have access to quality food, they don’t have access to reliable transportation which makes it hard to find and keep a job, and the list goes on. And because of that lack of access, the argument is that they need someone to come in and take care of them, to do for them, to provide for them. Which, in my opinion, makes it appear that people are incapable of doing these things for themselves. And by inferring that someone is incapable, aren’t you automatically discounting their ability and intelligence?
Being the cock-eyed optimist that I am, I believe we are all intelligent beings, and we all have the same ability to gain knowledge. It comes down to the availability of said knowledge and a willingness to learn. There was an article in Newsweek a while back called What Food Says About Class in America, and it spent a lot of time outlining the disparity between the foods consumed by those on the upper end of the income spectrum vs. foods consumed by those on the lower end. Organic, local, seasonal, nutrient-dense foods for the “rich” Americans and calorie-laden high-fat processed junk- and fast-food for the poor. And granted, that is true to some extent.
But I don’t believe that it has to be.
The article ends on an uplifting note, featuring a man who receives $75 in food stamps per week for his mother and himself. They are both diabetic, and he understands that they both need healthy regular meals in order to regulate their conditions. He is quoted as saying, “To get good food, you really got to sacrifice a lot. It’s expensive. But I take that sacrifice, because it’s worth it.” He goes to farmer’s markets and spends time sorting through the limited produce at his local grocery to find the best of what they have. He is an example of someone making the best of his situation. He does it because he knows he has to. He’s informed, and he understands that in order to survive (literally, because of his health) he has to eat healthfully.
Just like we now know that the cigarette ad at the beginning of this post is ridiculous, we should also know that most of the claims made by advertisers about processed foods are also pretty much lies. You’re not going to be happier or healthier if you purchase them. And those of us who understand this should make an effort to share that knowledge with people who may not have access to the same sources that we do. I’m all for free markets, and I believe that companies and advertisers have every right (within reason) to sell their products. I also believe that consumers have a choice, and if we demand better quality food then producers will have to provide it. The laws of supply and demand still apply, and we don’t have to let the big food conglomerates continue to dictate that supply. If we stop buying it, they will have to stop producing it. It’s that simple.
This is a PSA/commercial that Beyonce did in conjunction with General Mills and Hamburger Helper® encouraging people to donate to food pantries. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think people need to donate to food pantries – absolutely. And I applaud Beyonce for trying to make a difference. I just wonder why celebrities aren’t teaming up with local growers (and even backyard gardeners) to encourage people to donate fruits and vegetables and whole-grain products. Why do we give the worst quality foods to the people who need the most encouragement to eat well and feed their children well?
Why aren’t more celebrities partnering with organizations like Share our Strength? Why aren’t more people in general signing up to volunteer to teach people how to cook healthfully through programs like Cooking Matters?
With knowledge comes power, and the power lies in our hands. We just have to choose to use it. We have to choose not to be influenced by crafty advertisers whose sole purpose is to get us to spend money on products we don’t need. And we need to figure out a way to help others do the same.
If you read this whole post, thank you. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
I’ll leave you with one final image:
This was my attempt at a home-made version of Hamburger Helper®. It uses fresh whole-wheat pasta, homemade cheese, fresh tomatoes, and white-meat ground turkey. My husband, who is an admitted fan of Hamburger Helper® and hates that I won’t let him buy it, loved it. So did my kids. It contains 213 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber and 432 mg of sodium per serving. It took me an hour, start to finish, to prepare everything.
And my oldest got to help me roll out the pasta – which he thought was super fun (he called it “driving” the pasta machine). You can’t do that with a box of Hamburger Helper®.
If you’d like a printable version of this recipe, click here.