Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Simplicity Takes Over as Consumers Ponder What They Eat


We learned today that Haagen-Daz is producing a new line of ice cream labeled "Five" — because it only has five ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla bean). "Simplicity Becomes a Selling Point," announced the Washington Post, as food companies brag about how few ingredients their products contain. The type on ingredient labels grows larger as the list of food recalls (ground beef, peanut butter, pistachios) grows longer. Snapple is spending millions to promote its tea, which contains green and black tea and "real" sugar (and water, presumably). Real sugar comes from cane instead of the somehow fake sugar that comes from corn.

Americans' obsession with what goes in their guts is also measured by miles. Consumers have come to believe that eating "local" food is better and more environmentally friendly than eating food shipped some distance. Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register notes that the distance food travels is often a poor measure for environmental impact. After all, does it make sense for Phoenix or Las Vegas to import water so these places can grow their own food. Artisan cheese makers in Italy survive because of a world market for their product — as do some growers in Africa. What would an eat local movement do to these producers? Moreover, Brasher reminds us, easy answers are often mistaken. For instance, researchers at Cornell University have found that eating meat could be more efficient that turning to a full vegetarian diet.

The local food movement is marching ahead and foodies continue to measure miles a piece of fruit or head of lettuce travels, even though the ag economists who first brought up the notion of "food miles" say it was always a poor proxy for environmental impact. 


local food, etc.

Supporting local food may not be as environmentally friendly as some people make it out to be, but it's still a good thing. After all, the more people try to eat locally produced food, the more call for small and mid-size farms there is. The more farmers, the stronger the rural economy. Unfortunately, while that motivates a lot of people to buy local, most suburban and urban middle and upper middle class consumers couldn't really care less about strenghtening rural communities. After all, if people stay on the land, then the supply of weekend gettaways might diminish.

As for the corn syrup vs. cane sugar debate, I think the crux of the matter is the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup as a filler in just about everything. It's been a cheap additive to processed food for a while now and sometimes is listed as the first or second ingredient in things (generally the highly processd, but inexpensive "food" that so many Americans seem to love). People get a lot of sugar in foods they wouldn't expect it in. But a good deal of responsibility sits in our laps (we're the ones buying these products, after all). Why Americans seem to want everything to be sickly sweet is beyond me.