Junk food is out to get you!
Junk food is not just fast food and ready meals which are high in fat, it is now everywhere! The book Long live junk food!, written by Christophe Labbé, Olivia Recasens, Jean-Luc Porquet and illustrated by Wozniak, dissects our diets in a celebratory manner on the surface, but making no allowances underneath.
Food is modified on a huge scale
The authors have organised their book according to theme; appetisers, starters, meat, fish and cheese, so as to point out exactly what the consumer doesn’t see or refuses to see. “Good products” are rare, even when they are labelled as “organic” or “traditional”. According to the journalists, thanks to development of the agricultural food production industry, “80% of the foods on our tables today have been modified (...) they have gone through industrial processes, had additives put in along with colourings and genetically modified substances, been subjected to radiation, been seasoned with fatty acids and hydrogenated fat and been stuffed with added salt and hidden sugar.”
One way of illustrating how these modifications made to food are harmful to our health is the fact that we swallow “25 grams of bad fat on average” each time we go to fast food restaurants, a figure which is lower than in America (35g), but also far from being equal to the Danes who “have only 1g per meal” (the level is regulated by the state). More worrying for Europeans is that France boasts the highest number of fast-food restaurants in relation to the population after the United States, even though these brands are making efforts to offer healthier, lighter hamburgers.
Misleading food standards
Industry standards are increasingly applied to products which do not have much to do with traditional dishes. You can now frequently find standard wines labelled with AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée or Controlled Origin Protocol), olive oil part containing sunflower oil, products labelled as “rustic” while having been mass produced or reared on batterie farms. It is the same with restaurants where if you choose a “traditional” menu based on local produce, it can include pre-prepared terrines and an imported main dish.
These misleading labels are unfortunately not only down to unscrupulous producers and restauranteurs, but also international associations. In Long Live Fast Food!, we also learn that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has “forced the European Union to accept the name ‘sardine’ for products like sardinella, herring, sprats or the South American pilchard, 21 products in total!” Recently, the European Commission ended up abandoning a project which ruffled the feathers of amateur wine growers and producers of rosé wine in France: to authorise the use of this name for mixtures of red and white wine. However, is this issue gone for good?
Some questionable consequences for society and our health
While the food production industry buys up a large part of the agricultural industry’s annual produce, we must still ask ourselves about this major change in society. Does the future of our diets really involve vegetables which keep for a very long time but have much less flavour, meats plumped up with water, irradiated fruit, pesticides, and ready meals which are too high in calories, bad fat, salt and sugar? Even if traditional food has been left behind or forgotten, should we be giving up tasty vegetables, the pleasure of carefully preparing a meal for friends with ingredients that are perhaps imperfect but surprising, fragrant, varied and evocative of the region, mood or desire?
The increase in obesity, diabetes, hypertension, in particular in developing countries or in disadvantaged socio-economic groups in western countries, signals an early response: not only are our taste buds becoming resigned to uniformity and mediocrity, but the harmful effects of junk food are also being felt.
Will this get better or worse in the future?
On reading this book, there is a lot to be pessimistic about. There is growing use of GM food despite European reticence towards it, and more and more sophisticated additives which could end up in animal feed. Neurosciences are used to influence consumers, and we even have meat cloned or grown in vitro by Nasa from “muscle cells of beef and chicken in a protein gel, a foretaste of the day when meat will be manufactured in factories”... Such thoughts are disconcerting to say the least.
Nevertheless, we are not yet at the stage where nourishment is in the form of pills like in science fiction novels of the 1960s. Farming is developing (even if, in France, there are few reasons for this), certain practices which are harmful or even banned; like beef with added hormones which has existed in Europe for years. Advertising for the most harmful foods will end up being widespread, and the regulation of fats, pesticides, fertiliser, sweeteners and other substances will become more lenient. Moreover, we will feel the effects of these new animal farming methods and intensive farming (infectious epidemics, mass food poisoning, etc.) whether we eat this produce knowingly or not.
While waiting for desirable (even essential) progress to be made, careful selection is a must: you can find good, healthy produce cheaply, even in supermarkets as long as you keep an eye out, something which the writers behind Long live fast food! can help you with, or you can even use Doctissimo’s guides on healthy eating or chat with other users in our forums.
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