I was going to wait until Friday to include this New York Times Opinionator piece in our Weekend Reading links, but the idea is just too good to wait: why don’t we stop calling junk food “food”? I won’t try and top Mark Bittman’s prose, so here’s the salient part (after comparing food and obesity to tobacco and lung cancer):
“I frequently hear, ‘The difference between tobacco and food is that you need food to live.’ This isn’t food I’m talking about, though, but food-like products. No one needs Pepsi or Whoppers.”
There’s a strong argument to be made that regular meals aren’t at the heart of the obesity epidemic in the US, but rather the blame lies largely in an abundance of cheap, empty calories that we consume between (or in addition to) real meals.
Over the last 40 years, the American food system has added over 500 daily calories per person to the food supply—that’s like eating a second breakfast every day—and most of those calories are in grains, fat, and sugar. Plus, the cost increases of real foods like fruits and veggies have far outpaced increases in the price of sugar (see chart below), meaning we can afford a lot more junk than food with nutritional value.
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Part of the problem in getting folks to eat healthier is simply wording: any time we move to regulate toxic consumables, critics level the claim that it’s an attack on food—the most-basic necessity of human life. (Take for example the campaign to get a tax on sugary drinks in Washington, which was deftly defeated by cries of a “food tax.”)
By-and-large, junk food is empty calories devoid of nutrients or anything substantial. It’s just sugar, fat, and processed carbs (and sometimes wood pulp). So why don’t we call it what it is?
How would you label junk “food”? “Food-like products?” “Phood?” Maybe just “junk”? Let’s hear your ideas in the comments.
Photo credit: Vending machine / Steve W / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
George W. Bush helps us with this one:”Food-related program activities.”
Matt the Engineer
Hmmm… a name for something addictive that makes you feel good for a short period of time but is terrible for you…calorie crack?
The video store in our mall had a cat between 1992 and 2010 when the health inspector evicted him because they were selling food. what food? we ask- they have slushes, popcorn bathed in who knows what and wrapped candy. so i guess this stuff is defined as food. The cat has a good home now.
I love “phood” but our term of choice needs to sound different, not just read different.Insofar as phood tastes good but malnourishes us, we could try to revive an old, grandmotherly term: “treat.” It might imply moderation in the word itself.
I vote for “toxic consumables” as the technical term.
I rarely eat any processed meats, food from a can, sauces or gravies. I don’t drink alcohol, coffee or soda drinks.I rarely eat red meat but instead I eat more seafood and chicken or turkey.It may seem boring to some people but I love it.And I chew each bite 40 times which makes me feel full much sooner so I don’t go for seconds. I don’t count the times I chew, I just grew up with this habit. My one soft spot is chocolate but chocolate stimulates endorphinsand has other good qualities. I just have to remember not tooverdo it.
This discussion (and the Bittman article too, no doubt, which I’ve yet to read) reminds me of something I think of when listening to discussions about farm subsidies. The word “farm” has become somewhat meaningless too. It describes everything from a 2-acre plot that feeds ten families in an urban CSA, to a 10,000-acre wheat operation run by a multinational corporation. And everything in between. It’s time to use different words for these different kinds of “farms.” This topic, or discussions relating to it, often come up at farm conferences, but since most of the attendees and discussers know the difference between all the different kinds of farms, it’s hard for them to understand that the average American (who is nowadays very much not a farmer) doesn’t have the same distinctions in mind. Megafarms use Americans’ sympathies toward farming to secure farm subsidies for their toxic, costly monocropping operations, while smaller family farms (and medium-sized family-owned farms) struggle to survive while growing “specialty crops” like, uh, vegetables. OK, I’m probably off topic here, a little, except that we’re talking about food, and guess where food comes from? Even Whoppers get their start on some patch of farmland somewhere, in the form of monocropped corn, beets or soy.
Thank you Patrick, for getting to the crux of the matter, profits. Now most produce grown in soils depleted by Megafarm practices results in foods with fewer nutrients than small organically managed local farms. Organic certification is now so watered down its almost a joke. The GMOs and hybrids that allow “food” to withstand shipping and processing are what? Fast processed food stuffs are bad but the real food that isn’t is crazee! Subsidizing ill health makes 0 sense only mega cents for GDP (more crazy). When in London last year I was gone long enough to know that though the food appeared the same it wasn’t, it was gentler on digestion. It is time to change the direction of policies. Profits are not the value systems leader we need.
Thanks for posting this and referencing Mark Bittman’s article. For years I was a diet soda addict, but found it strange that it is considered food. Water, stimulants and other chemicals with absolutely no calories or nutrients. Something that could not have existed 100 years ago. I’d be all for taxing such substances, but I’m a Portlander, so noone’s offerred.