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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Food Industry - The Culture of Waste

The global food processing industry is growing at an alarming rate. They are taking over farmlands and diverting the produce towards making processed foods like chips, ready to eat meals, Conrnflakes, Cold cuts, Curds, fruit juices and so on and on. The reason why this industry or sector of economy is growing is because our lifestyle has changed to such an extent that cooking food gives us the heebie - jeebie. We feel lazy after work to rustle up a couple of dishes and would prefer something ready to eat. And who would like to eat a proper, nutritious healthy meal when a meeting is in progress or when we are on the move. Why should we carry food on a journey...when there is so much available on the way? When I think of all this and I am not an economist by any stretch of imagination and do not have the figures at hand with me, but intuitively the following comes to mind immediately:-

1. What happens to the food products that are past their expiry life? Have we ever thought about that? Do they destroy it, reprocess it(if it is possible) . Do they ship it to poor countries, where any form of food is acceptable? Its criminal to see that amount of food going waste after all the effort put in to grow it (Fertilisers, seeds, transport etc). Even though refrigeration technologies try to keep it fresh,. food does not taste the same any more. A complete waste of resources. Does anyone have some figures in what percentage of processed food expires and goes waste and how many human being could be fed in lieu?

2. Intuitively, it seems that if large companies divert a large amount of grains and produce towards processing, then the available grain and produce in the market would reduce, leading to a demand supply mismatch, which leads to increased prices. Now, that is not good for the common man, who cannot buy the fancy processed foods.

3. Considering the fragility of food (Fresh food cannot sustain without help/refrigeration for more than a couple of days), the amount of chemicals that are being pumped into processed foods makes them downright un healthy for consumption. Processed foods available today have high salt, sugar etc which makes them a highly concentrated form of nutrition, which is hard to burn if we only undertake normal activities. A friend of mine recommended reading articles on processed food at www.michaelpollan.com. I havent yet seen it, but i bet that it shall bring out even more harmful effects of processed foods.

Effects on Humans

4. The amount of advertising this industry does to market its products to specifically target children in most products is not even funny. Our children growing up being poisoned by these products so that they lead un healthy lives and pay fat medical insurance premiums.

5. These foods are calorie-dense i.e. for an equivalent size and weight, as compared to natural foods, processed foods have a large number of calories. For e.g. 100 gms of potato wafers have almost 500 KCals (which btw takes upto an hour or more of fast paced walking to burn). Hoever, a 100 gms sized apple would give you only about 200 calories and is far more healthier..but would I eat an apple over potato chips??? Nah...Give me potato chips any day.

6. Processed foods are addictive and provide comfort in times of stress and depression. So we consume far more calories in smaller portions of processed foods which dont satiate us, which makes overeat and hey presto....a fat slob!!!!

What do we do !!!

There needs to be some sort of check on this industry. One solution could be that only a specific amount of grain/produce should be allowed to be processed so that more fresh food is available to people at reasonable rates, Or alternatively, the cost on these products needs to be so high so that it is not an option for most people to buy. I know many people say that almost 25 - 35 % of fresh fruits and vegetables are destroyed while transportation so , therefore in a way, the processed food industry is doing us a favour by ensuring efficient utilisation of these products....I really dont think so...!!!! We just need to improve the transportation and storage system...toreduce these losses.

This planet produces enough food for all people. Its just that the way society has evolved, that this food is not being evenly distributed for consumption. A lot of it goes waste, becomes rubbish and along with it wastes many more resources as garbage dumps build up, raising a stink and uses up precious space. Garbage disposal is becoming a huge problem which uses up more natural resources like oil and creates even more pollution. The problem is Water, the most precious of them all and it is not recoverable and we cant afford to waste even one drop.

It is high time that all persons start thinking long term and dont palm off responsibility. Reduce consumption of processed foods and we shall see that in a year or two, the entire system shall stabilise. Prices shall come down, wastage shall be less.

Now I dont have any figures for this, but again I intuitively believe this to be close to the truth. If this industry is allowed to prosper, we are looking at a Hungry planet in a few decades from now.

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