Sunday mornings at downtown Walnut Creek are always bustling with activity. The farmers’ market was crowded with eager patrons wandering through aisles of fresh produce stands all proudly displaying signs that declared “locally grown” and “organic” products. The soft music of local artists accompanied the joyful chatter of families carrying heavy bags of sweet spring fruits and leafy greens. Walking down the crowded pathway, I was distracted by the vibrancy of the entire scene. Everything was so bright and colorful. I remember thinking to myself, this is how food should be: Displayed with all its imperfections, easily sourced back to its origins somewhere in California, and probably picked within the past few days.
Compared to the sunny farmers’ market, supermarkets are cold, dark storage centers. Bagged produce sits on stacked shelves, perfectly arranged and somehow glistening. Every fruit and vegetable seemingly cloned and stacked high in perfect mounds sported a sticker claiming its original home was somewhere across the country. Roaming between the rows of packaged foods, I realized I didn’t know what the box of cereal I held in my hand was. The list of ingredients on the back of the box seemed neverending and filled with words I could hardly understand, let alone pronounce.
More and more often I began to consider what I was eating. Our generational quest for health became processed food laden with claims of “ zero calories”, “ fat-free”, and “sugar-free”. But if it had no calories, no fat, and no sugar, then what was it? Chemicals. It seemed like at least half of the products at the store were guaranteeing that I would be more healthy if bought their product. Again, I was at a loss. If so much of the supermarket food promised various health benefits, how is America so obese? This led to my question: How has the industrialization of the American food system influenced the obesity epidemic?
The industrialization of food began with the industrialization of America. After World War II, people began to move to cities. America became obsessed with the “bigger, better, faster, cheaper” mentality and it applied not only to inventions, but to food. Soon food superpowers such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola would take over entire markets. Humans have an inelastic demand for food, meaning demand is very slow to change even with extreme price changes. This is a major problem for the big-league food producers as they are forced to think creatively in an effort to increase their sales. Our demand for food has only increased by one percent every year with our population growth. Our over efficient food system must do everything possible to entice people to buy more food (Nestle How). Very quickly, my research led to me to one crop in particular to which we could single-handedly blame for the industrialized food: corn.
Corn could be described as one of the most important crops within our food system. Not only is 30% of our land base currently producing...