Not the 9 o’clock news: Food companies want you to buy food

There’s a lot of noise, these days, about how food is killing us. Evil sugar is the overlord, but it has many minions in the form of pizza, and pasta, and bread (whither French culture!), and if we are to believe the noise, indulging in any of these is going to lead us to much nastier place than the world of Despicable Me.

The latest, a Guardian piece called “Fat Profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity”, is a good reminder that articles that are very earnest, and very long (is it me or are things actually getting longer, as if we somehow have more time to read?) can also be nonsense.

It’s not all nonsense of course. Its author, Jacques Peretti, has done his research. He tells us, for example, of how the big multinationals saw and grabbed the financial opportunities presented by the obesity “epidemic”, namely to get into the weight-loss business. So Heinz cleverly bought Weight Watchers in 1978, and Jenny Craig is owned by Nestlé. But then he goes on to “analyse” what this means:

You would think there might be a problem here: the food industry has one ostensible objective – and that’s to sell food. But by creating the ultimate oxymoron of diet food – something you eat to lose weight – it squared a seemingly impossible circle. And we bought it. Highly processed diet meals emerged, often with more sugar in them than the originals, but marketed for weight loss, and here is the key get-out clause, “as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. You can even buy a diet Black Forest gateau if want.

So what you see when you walk into a supermarket in 2013 is the entire 360 degrees of obesity in a single glance. The whole panorama of fattening you up and slimming you down, owned by conglomerates which have analysed every angle and money-making opportunity. The very food companies charged with making us fat in the first place are now also making money from the obesity epidemic.

Now I agree that there is probably a lot of food sold as “diet” food which does you no favours in the weight-loss department (notoriously, the “low-fat” craze distracted people from paying attention to how much sugar was used to compensate for the lack of fat). But I don’t see how eating something to, as he emphasises it, lose weight is oxymoronic. It sounds very clever, but this is nonsense, and it also betrays a mind-set which believes that all food is basically fattening. It must be this mindset which explains the next bit of nonsense, which is the notion that food companies are actually charged with making people fat.

Charged by whom? The Flying Spaghetti Monster strikes again, forcing carbohydrates on the world!

So here’s the bit that is not news: people who make food – and that goes from the dude (or dudess) roasting mielies on the side of the road, to big bad Nestlé – want you to buy it. They don’t care if you eat it. They are not trying to make you fat. To invoke everyone’s favourite analogy, that’s like saying that cigarette companies actually want people to get sick. They might know it could happen, and try to cover that up. But that’s a very different story.

Oh, but Peretti has irritated me before. With his film, called (wait for it) The Men Who Made Us Fat. And guess what he’ll be presenting this evening on the Beeb? The Men Who Made Us Thin. What? Have they? Is he having a laugh? I give up.

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