Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemma Ch. 4/5

Explain the concept of an “industrial eater.”

Think about your own eating habits. Are the food processing companies successful in their tactics for overcoming your ability to eat a fixed maximum of food each year? How?/How not?


  1. An industrial eater is a person whose diet consists of processed foods. The scary thing is that most, if not all of us Americans, are industrial eaters. We like how cheap processed food is (it’s cheap because it does not internalize its externalities), the lack of cooking, and the salty, sweet artificial taste. The scary thing about industrial eating is that it is trying to remove the market from nature, and make the supply of food not dependent on the size of the world’s various crops. The quantity of fruit rollups made during any one year does not depend on the corn crop, as the company can get the fructose (or whatever other random chemicals are in it) from any number of plants. An industrial eater’s diet is no longer built on food, but the materials that make up food.

    I found the food industries dilemma of having an inelastic demand rather amusing. It seems funny that they want us to eat as much as possible, and they drive the amount of food produced, not us. I especially liked their idea of useless food, where people could eat as much as they wanted because their body wouldn’t absorb it. Tell that idea to someone starving in Asia…

    However, I have to admit that the food processing companies have been partially successful in their tactics for overcoming our inability to eat more than fifteen hundred pounds of food per year. I personally will choose to eat more food (even if I’m not hungry) if I think that food tastes good or is nutritionally beneficial. I am especially prone to do this if the food involves chocolate, cake, or ice cream. MMMmmm, ice cream. It appears that other Americans are similar to me because they are so obese. However, the food processing companies can never fully get over this inelastic demand problem because there is a certain limit to just how much food humans can literally eat. For example, if I eat more than four slices of chocolate cake, I’ll probably get sick.

  2. Since I've completely changed my eating habits in the past few years I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I now avoid super processed foods and inorganic meat products, however, prior to that I was without a doubt an industrial eater. The frightening thing, though, that I discovered after reading these chapters is that it's nearly impossible to find foods untouched by Industrial Agriculture, almost everything you find in the supermarket has either been through the finely tuned "machine" or is somehow indirectly linked to it. Even if the foods you buy are organic and natural, chances are that some of that number 2 corn has made its way into your healthy snack's wrapper! AAH. Conspiracy theory? I think not.

    Anyways; as a kid, I was definitely an industrial eater. Blinded by a combination of my own nutritional ignorance and bombarding advertisements, I had once indulged in about every processed food you could imagine. Lucky charms, cocoa puffs, McDonalds, Burger King, Fruit Roll-ups, pop-tarts, you name it. Chances are, if it was filled with high fructose corn syrup, advertised on TV, and almost completely synthetic or corn-based, it probably found its way into my stomach. I find myself disturbed when I look back at my past eating habits. I was also the picture of childhood obesity. I would get my mom to take me to McDonalds before 11 am, no joke, and be pissed that they weren't yet selling "Happy Meals." Yeah, disgusting, I know. Honestly, if not for my privileged place in society as a member of the Middle Class and as a well educated individual, I probably would not have changed, and would have been just another statistic to add to the growing average of obese people in our nation. But knowledge is power! Knowledge and, sadly, money. It's ridiculous and simply disgusting how our Food Industry has marketed cheap unhealthy foods as a novelty, tricking thousands upon thousands of people into venerating this garbage as a commodity. There's something dreadfully wrong in a world in which a bag of potato chips, filled with trans fats (CORN!), a Coke filled with high fructose corn syrup (MORE CORN!), and a Big Mac (guess what? EVEN MORE CORN) is cheaper and more readily available than an apple and nutritious sandwich.

    Because I've decided to reform my eating habits by educating myself and completely changing my lifestyle and my attitude as a consumer, I firmly believe that I am no longer at risk of being 'force fed' extra calories by an overzealous Food Industry. However, if not for my socioeconomic class and educational opportunities, this might not have been the case. We live in a terrifying world today, where the majority of food being sold can hardly be called food, more like corn-based poison. However, with the knowledge and the means, it is not impossible to make better choices.

    An interesting side note; as I was reading these chapters, I found myself reminded of a relatively recent commercial playing on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. It was literally a commercial venerating high-fructose corn syrup as a "wholesome" sweetener extracted from the most "wholesome" all-American source: corn. In this commercial, a kid was eating cereal, and his brother walks in and says, "hey! don't you know that has high-fructose corn syrup! (in disgust)" The younger brother responds with a laugh, "you don't know what you're talking about, don't you know hfcs comes from corn and is no different than sugar?" After which the older brother rethinks his comment, and then says, "hey, gimme some!"

    The fact that the Food Industry has not only caught on to younger generations being more educated about food but is also leading a counter-attack against this education, a crusade to protect corn no doubt, is both disturbing and frightening.

  3. An industrial eater is what humans have become. Instead of eating raw corn and some natural derivatives like tortillas, humans consume strange contortions of corn or processed foods. It’s shocking that fifth of the corn river from the corn farms goes to wet milling plants, where the corn is altered and broken down, and then sent to McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to assemble our processed foods. In short, the industrial eater is the consumer of the sugars, starches, alcohols, and acids created from the original “mother crop,” corn.

    I’m a vegetarian for many reasons, but one is that I don’t like my food even remotely looking like a once-living animal. When I say I’m a vegetarian, that is slightly misleading because my doctor said 3 years ago I have to eat a slice of turkey or its equivalent twice a week for adequate protein. And, I do…most of the time. But, I really don’t like it. I’ll never eat beef, pork, or fish, but I will eat chicken or turkey. I am certain I just would not be able to do it, if it was not processed to look different, like chicken tenders. I could never just eat a chicken leg, but I can eat a chicken tender or whatever they’re called. In that sense, I definitely eat more meat thanks to food processing companies than I would without them.

  4. Food processing companies want to do three things (1) make money (2) overcome their biggest obstacle: the fixed stomach/inelastic demand (3) get rid of the huge corn supply. Of course those companies are successful in overcoming our abilities to eat a fixed maximum of food each year. Junk food like chips, candy bars, and sodas have no substance to them. If you start eating cheetos you will probably say "Oh my god. These are so addictive. I just can't stop eating them" until sure enough, you finished the entire bag. This is because these delightfully orange synthetic crisps aren't making you full so you keep eating, thinking you will be satisfied eventually. Also, food processors have started advertising products that claim to be organic, when they indeed are not. What freaked me out was what Pollan said about ingredients that say "natural" in them. Like how natural raspberry flavor does not mean that it came from an actual raspberry but from corn. Thus, the product is not synthetic as corn is from nature. Companies also have products that promise health benefits, creating "a pill-in-a-meal". We begin to believe in all of these fraudulent claims and think that these products are the solution to our health problems when they actually contribute to and make them worse. And then we end up buying them instead of actually healthy, from the Earth, foods. For example: V8 juice says to have 3 out of 5 servings of the daily vegetable requirement in every 12 oz. Why would one buy a large amount of expensive produce to reach that requirement when one could drink it in only 12 oz instead? There are 690 mg of sodium in that 12 oz, but who cares? It's healthy. Oy vey dude.
    On a personal note, my family eats quite healthily with fruits and vegetables galore. However, there is the occasional box of Trader Joe's crackers. I now laugh at how I have thought that because my crackers come from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, that they just must be healthy. Oh how I have been wrong. There are most likely...definitely? a substantial amount of corn in them. We have all been brain washed. Since we come from a higher socioeconomic class we are afforded the knowledge and ability to change our lifestyles. What about the rest.

    On a side note, (from Chapter 4) I was utterly disgusted by how we have to force feed our livestock (salmon included) with corn because they don't normally eat it. Then, we pump antibiotics, protein supplements, and vitamins in there. Think about how all of that unnatural crap is going into us, scary. When I was reading how in 1997 the FDA banned the feeding of cow parts to cows I laughed in a horrified way. That was basically only a decade ago. And it took mad cow disease for people to realize that that was wrong. And now since there are no regulations on the unsanitary practices of mixing feathers and chicken litter into cattle meal, CAFOs do it. Oh, and they mix cow tallow into the feed too since "fat is fat". No big deal.

  5. My impression is that "industrial eaters" mostly eat products that have been developed in food laboratories, and whose ingredients largely come from artificial products made from corn and soybeans. It seems that people can be considered industrial eaters whether they know it (e.g. "woohoo! Junk food! Cheetos!") or not (e.g. "health food" nuts who eat brands geared to appeal to people worried about their weight, or people completely ignorant of their eating habits); it is also the sort that is most heavily marketed to us, and virtually any "food" we see represented on television, on billboards, and in magazines is some sort of industrial "product". Industrial food has remained "cultural", to an extent (given the fact that advertising and consumerism can be considered to be a form of culture), it still presents itself as a system linked to the country's farms and soil (a good example is the meaningless "farm fresh" cliche), and the fact that it is a commodity is not entirely new (since people have bartered with food for centuries). It seems to me that the definition of food as "products" rather than as single species has been the greatest change that industrial eating has brought about. Perhaps, a food is industrial if it has a name that someone from 1700 would go "Marry!" at.
    I am going to say that a substantial amount of my childhood calories came from processed foods, and while I have largely cut "junk food" out of my diet, I still do eat things like potato chips, chocolate, rice crackers, and peanut butter fairly often. I make an effort to buy brands that have very few ingredients, and in which I can identify most (if not all) of the ingredients and safely say that I'm not eating large amounts of processed corn or things that will give me brain damage (such as MSG). I'm not entirely opposed to "brand" foods, because I realize that small operations (such as the fatted calf, Cowgirl Creamery, and even most of the stands at the market I work at) are still "brands" of a sort. I just try to draw the line at corporate brands, but even then I do still eat some foods that are unmistakably made by corporations (rice crackers are probably my best example).

    The underlying problem with industrial eating may simply be how widespread and pervasive it is. I think I've managed to stop being dependent on it, even if I'm not entirely free of it. I suppose that's more than a lot of people can say....

  6. I like to think of myself as eating quite healthfully. In my refrigerator, all the “Food” (i.e. consumables that make up meals) are unprocessed. But as I write this, I am eating a mug full of “Fiber Plus Antioxidant Cereal.” From the name alone, it sounds like a very wholesome cereal that is a “naturally flavored cinnamon whole grain oat cereal.” But when I look at Nutrition Facts I notice a overwhelming amount of corn based products. There is “Soluble Corn Fiber,” “Corn Bran,” “Niacinamide” and a host of other chemicals and ingredients that I cannot even pronounce. As I think about it, a good portion of my snack food is highly processed. American cheese for grilled cheese sandwich, butter for any kind of cooking, graham crackers, peanut butter and jelly. The majority of my meals may be made from ingredients I can pronounce and recognize, but the food that makes up my 3-6 snacks per day doesn’t even come close.
    In this sense. I would say the food processing companies are successful. I’m not exactly sure if I eat more than the maximum amount of food each year, though I do eat a lot. I see my family buying lots of food that sits in our garage or pantry that keeps for years, that we never eat, and end up throwing away. So though we do not eat all these products, the companies are successful is convincing us to buy them. I blame this partially on marketing and partially on Costco. The majority of our processed goods come from Costco, so they come in bulk. Because of this, we end up with lots of stuff we never use or need, but it’s cheap. So instead of just getting a small bag of chocolate chips to put in cookies, we get the gallon sized tub and half the chips get chocolate bloom and end up in the trash. So it’s the mass produced nature of the processed good that gets them into our household.

  7. As I read your responses I'm happy that most of you have really taken charge of your diet and cut out much of the processed "corn food" you were eating when you were younger. I remember being happily surprised when my daughter began refusing fast-food after reading "Fast Food Nation" at school, and certainly many of you, as she, saw the light and began making healthy eating choices. In fact, I notice every day how much fruit and raw veggie snacks and lunch items many of my students bring to school, and am actually pretty surprised - it wasn't that way when I was your age!

    I do want to highlight the point Leigh made about socioeconomics. My family, and most of CPS families, have both the education and resources to make healthy food choices. On a national level, this is certainly not the case. We discussed the plight of urban poor who have to rely on processed food at corner stores because they don't live near supermarkets or farmers markets, and might well not have the information they'd need to make good choices anyways. Also, since the "Great Recesssion" began I've seen bundles of stories of former "middle class" Americans who are suddenly out of work and dependent on food stamps and government subsidies of other sorts to make food ends meet. In virtually every story like this that I've heard, families have had to cut their intake on fresh produce dramatically, and need to replace real juice with HFCS Tropical Punch, etc. These phenomena combine to create the obesity epidemic rampant across the country, with the correlated diabetes and heart disease issues that eat up a HUGE amount of the tax payer money that goes to supplement health care for the poor. All because of our farm policy.....

  8. An Industrial eater would be one who eats a majority of foods that were heavily processed, foods that were produced in an industrial manner. If an industrial eater was someone who ate any industrially processed food products, then currently it is virtually impossible to not be any sort of an industrial eater; so many things that we need are processed. However, an industrial eater would base a majority of his/her diet off of highly processed foods.
    I believe for lots of people, including myself, food processing companies are quite successful in overcoming people’s ability to eat a fixed maximum of food each year. Food processing companies create food that is much cheaper, so people can naturally buy more and thus eat more. If all food was equally much more expensive, I am sure people would eat much less. Processed food companies also cater to human cravings. They create tons of food that is not only really bad for you, but also addicting. Something like a potato chip is a prime example; very processed, terrible for you, and very addicting, forcing you eat past a fixed maximum. Processed, industrialized food products are very tasty and cheap, so most everybody buys more and eats more than their fixed maximum of food each year.

  9. An industrial eater is someone whose diet mainly consists of highly processed food. Because so much of the foods we eat are processed, it is very difficult to avoid processed foods altogether (nearly impossible). Processed foods are cheaper, easier to make, and can save the average eater money and time resources. Sometimes processed foods are simply the easier choice.

    Because of the saved resources that processed foods suggest, I think that food processing companies are incredibly successful people's ability to eat a fixed maximum of food each year. The introduction of bulk products, as someone mentioned above in their response, has further pushed the maximum higher and higher. Bulk food products (usually also processed), like processed food, offer the easier choice in terms of resources. In addition, since the introduction of bulk food products, more and more preservatives are being pumped into our food because, of course, if someone buys a 60-loaf bundle of bread (I might be exaggerating a little bit here) from Costco, it has to stay good long enough for the consumers to eat that bread. It's basically a terrible cycle, that is most detrimental to people who do not have enough resources to choose the other option.

  10. An industrial eater is a person who is at the end of industrially modified food path from farmer to eater. When food production is industrialized, it no longer has the restraints of nature, which range from the natural limits on food production in the form of pests and nutrient and water restraints, and the obvious restraint which is that humans can only eat so much food before they are full. With the industrialization of food production, the calories from corn are condensed into more calorie-dense forms like corn syrup. By drinking a soda made with corn syrup, an industrial eater is consuming enough corn to become full, and yet because the calories are condensed, the eater still has room to eat much more food and many more calories.

    I am sure that food processing companies are successful to an extent in overcoming my ability to eat a fixed maximum of food each year. I think I am better than average, since I really don't eat or drink highly sweetened and processed foods. Nonetheless, I do eat some, and I am sure that the excess amounts of food add up to a surprising and unnatural number.

  11. the idea of an industrial eater is someone who eats processed foods. now many of Americans fall into this category, but there are a growing amount of consumers who refrain from these processed goods. that being sad it is nearly impossible to touch processed food in your diet, although it is possible. the advantages to processed foods means a longer shelf life, sometimes better taste, and often easier production (and consuming for that matter). the overwhelming disadvantage to eating processed food is that it can be exponentially more unhealthy for your body, and the environment!!

    many of these huge coorperations that are able to pull of these huge productions are able to do this through very devious (and unhealthy) tactics-
    the idea of producing food in bulk has been a huge help to increasing America's consumption. with the opportunity always at hand, it is hard to resist the monetary savings you can have if you by alot of food all at once, even if you dont plan on eating it all before it goes bad. by creating mass quantities of food all at once, corporations are able to make the price cheaper and therefore increase consuming without doing anything so much as changing the price tag.
    i personally am able to get over the idea of processed foods because i know the price is so much cheaper and the convenience is incredibly nice to have. in addition, i have lived such a balanced healthy diet for my entire life i have not felt too much guilt in giving into the system a little bit more now as i grow up...
    dunno if that is the most healthy, or appropriate approach, and i am definitely considering changing it

  12. An industrial eater is the lifestyle of eating mostly processed foods. Our nation has started eating a HUGE amount of processed foods mostly because it is cheaper and readily available and because the government is making it possible for these items to be cheap by subsidizing corn. I believe the main thing is education, most people do not know that they shouldnt be eating McDonalds all the time and think oh its cheap and easy why not... Mostly it is true that the healthier choices tend to be more expensive but luckily for people who live here there are so many choices that it isnt always more expensive to eat fresh organic foods. Farmers markets and places like berkeley bowl and monterey market have amazing organic and local foods for great prices. I have grown up eating organic non processed foods my whole life because my mom has always been very into it. When I was finally old enough to be able to make my own choices about what I ate for a while I was a little rebellious and would buy doughnuts a lot and other candy and sweets and fruit roll ups because I felt I had been deprived of it my whole life while all my friends had been getting fruit roll ups in their lunches every day! The past couple years though I have started to realize my mom was right! and I try to stay away from processed foods. Especially after starting this book I have really been trying to stay away from foods not grown locally or foods that I just cannot trace the origin of. Its scary not knowing where what you are eating came from! Personally I do not think the companies are succeeding in getting me to eat more food each year but overall on a US wide scale I would definitely say advertising is extremely successful and companies have huge control over the people and are definitely convincing them to eat more based on what they deem is the new best thing to eat.

  13. An industrial eater is an eater who eats the product of an industry. Not of a natural process, or a biological one but an industrial one. I really am just not going to be able to eat anything after I finish this book. After I read about how much corn, corn mush, reprocessed corn, corn liquid, corn corn I'm eating in everything, I started to think about what I've eaten today, and yeah, I've eaten a lot of corn today. But my first instinct was to defend my pride and rationalize it by going "Wait, I had a ton of work today, I didn't have time to pack fruits and veggies today, I had to just throw that granola bar in my bag for time's sake." And I feel like a lot of people must rationalize stuff like that to themselves. E.g. "I don't have a farmer's market in the cafeteria, I would eat an apple if it was sitting right here, but its not and a Twinkie is." or "I would grow my own wheat, sugar and apples in my backyard if I could, but I can't so I'm going to buy this frozen apple pie." I totally find myself falling into the fast life mentality: I would do it, if I could ("could" by the way, is just a euphemism for "had the time for"/"wanted to and wasn't just interested in it.") And someone that still doesn't grocery shop for herself, as I still live with my parents, I find myself rationalizing things by saying "OK, cool, no grapefruits left, I'm gonna have some saltines instead." But what I have actively politely ask myself to do is to take an extra thirty seconds to not be so passive and take a more active stance to eat healthier and not eat the corn stuffed with corn.

  14. An industrial eater is someone who eats primarily processed foods that are conceived of, created, packaged and marketed by the food industry. I feel like in some ways I am a very industrial eater. Most of my dinners are primarily cooked vegetables or organic foods of some sort, because my dad cooks really carefully and spends a lot of time pondering our dinner plans. The majority of my lunch foods are really processed though. I definitely eat a protein bar as a minimum of one meal a day to try to compensate for being a vegetarian and frankly in the interest of time. I eat a lot of yogurt, but of course that is made from milk from cows that eat corn all day and then sweetened with corn. I feel like as a vegetarian, I get really lulled into a false sense of security if something has either iron or protein in it, which is probably bad. This book makes me want to stick to raw vegetables that I grew myself, but it would be difficult to balance that with school.

  15. An "industrial eater" is the term Michael Pollan gives to the consumers (us) of the corn based processed food system that has come to define the industry. Basically, since we produce more corn than we can consume, the government and food industry are looking for new ways to stuff more number 2 corn down our throats or make more money. They (presumably the same people who shot Bobby and faked the moon landing) have done this by expanding their own markets through processing, globalization, and charging more for their products. Industrial processing is in the interest of food business because it allows one company to differentiate its product from another company's. As Pollan puts it, we have "evolved" with that industrial food system and become industrial eaters.

    First of all, I would like to point out how freaking scary it is that these companies have developed a corn based product that simple passes through our system, making us feel like we ate something, but still crave more of their product. What the hell... talk about science fictionesque conspiracy. As for my own eating habits, I would have to say that food processing has taken over my life. I wake up, eat general mills cereal drink organic milk (but who the hell knows what that mean...), make my lunch... Sure plenty of stuff I consume is not directly processed, but I'm sure that the industrial food complex reaches deeply into my life for their own benefit. Yes, I have eaten at a Mcdonalds in the last year, I am the devil (this seems like as good a place to confess as any).