Industrial Food

By industrial food we understand all food, raw and processed that is produced using industrial methods in both agriculture and food processing. Such foods have only been available in the last 200 years, having a humble start with industrial sugar, then flour. A high acceleration of food industrialization has happened in the last 60 years. Industrial agriculture started in earnest after the Second World War with mass production of nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Industrial food processing and retail dominance by supermarkets and chain restaurants followed.

What is wrong with industrial foods? The short and simple answer is: everything. Yet, nothing is so simple. Indeed, industrialization resulted in providing a high level of convenience of food procuring and preparation that reduced time spent with food to the bare minimum, even less than one hour per day. Immediate safety of industrial foods guarded by government regulations is also valued. The price of food for people in Western countries has been reduced to be very low. Admittedly, availability and reliability of obtaining foods is very high, at least for now. Yet, these common and evident benefits are shadowed by problems that they create. Unfortunately, people only tend to see the benefits which are evident and experienced daily. Problems caused by industrial foods have a long term, delayed effects or are experienced elsewhere, not affecting directly and immediately people in Western countries.

The effect of industrial food production on the environment, climate, water availability and purity, biodiversity, rural economies, fate of farmers and farm workers around the world and other negative effects are well known and information is widely available. Our focus is on building an understanding of how industrial foods affect our health and in this aspect it can be safely said that all is wrong with industrial food. There is nothing in it that can be considered superior when compared to sustainable foods and in many cases these foods are plainly harmful.

Public discussion about the negative effect of industrial foods on our health is focused on agriculture and the chemicals and biochemicals that are used on crops and in animal feed that may find their way to our food. But such focus reveals only a fraction of the problems. Even more problems may be hidden in the food processing sector. Also, this is not only about what should not be in our foods (agricultural chemicals or industrial food ingredients) but also about what should be but is not because of industrial food production practices. To fully understand how industrial foods are inferior and often damaging to our health, it helps to consider the following diagram. The lists are not complete, they only highlight the problems.

Industrial Foods Diagram. Reduced

Industrial foods cause problems not only because of what is or is not in them but also because they promote and stimulate new diets that cause our health problems. Many industrial foods damage health because people eat way too much of some foods, mostly containing carbs and proteins, but not enough of other foods that are essential to our health. The industrial food diet is completely unbalanced and, as the saying goes, the dose makes a poison.

Health comes not only from balancing our diet to obtain the right nutrients in proper proportions but also from eliminating toxins from our food intake. The latter part is much less understood but it may be more important than the former. Some toxins are present in raw plant foods as this is the plants' defensive way to assure their own survival. In the past, such toxins were removed or highly reduced by proper processing techniques. Food industrialization, not being focused on human health but on making profits abandoned such techniques, thus allowing the natural toxins to stay in foods. At the same time it creates a host of new industrial toxins, through both introducing new processing technologies that change various food ingredients making them toxic, and by adding many new toxins to food.

In light of all the problems with industrial foods, the most sensible and principle approach towards improving our health (as well as the health of the planet and our societies) is to stay away from industrial foods altogether. Health-wise one cannot do wrong with such approach. It may be highly impractical, at least at first, but not necessarily impossible. The start is to understand that industrial foods are always inferior to traditional, sustainable foods and our life food plan focused on our health needs to be guided towards eventual elimination of industrial foods from our diet. Interestingly, such approach will need not only to the healthiest but also the most tasty diet.

In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Appetite for Profit. How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back by Michelle Simon