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Author: Anthony Winson
Publisher: UBC Press
Book Publication: 2013

University of Guelph professor, Anthony Winson, long involved in research and writing about agriculture, agribusiness and food, believes our food environment has become “contaminated” with vast amounts of edible products that are basically unhealthy. The world, he says, has become flooded with these nutritionally deficient “pseudo foods” (investigate closely what’s on your local supermarket shelves to confirm the validity of this statement for yourself).

With the shocking increase in incidences of weight gain and obesity worldwide, and its corresponding negative impact on our health, Winson felt the need to take a hard look at mass diets and how they have been shaped over the last 150 years.

With his book, The Industrial Diet: The Degradation of Food and the Struggle for Healthy Eating, Professor Winson endeavours to help us understand how this glut of “pseudo foods” came about – the social, political, and economic forces that promoted it around the world, and what might be done to fix what’s wrong with our food system.

From the first phase of the industrialization/degradation of our food supply, Winson identifies four sectors of influence: flour milling, meat packing, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, and canning. Flour mills that began producing highly processed “patented” white flours, and the breakfast cereal companies, were two harbingers of early dietary change, and not necessarily favourable ones. Winson explains, “Both of these … signified the expanded consumption in the American diet of a nutritionally-degraded grain food that, via processing, was now largely devoid of the essential B vitamins, iron, calcium, and fibre that had previously been present in flour that was produced by simpler stone-grinding technology.”

In addition to chronicling how food became part of the factory system of production beginning with the flour-milling industry, Winson also explores a number of the influences involved in the act of nutritionally degrading food. These include mass advertising, spatial colonization, simplification, adulteration, and the speed-up of agricultural and transformative (processing) activities (including confined animal feeding practices). The net effect was, and still is, the aggressive promotion – both in the media and on supermarket shelves (mass advertising and spatial colonization) – of commodities which have been brought to market in the fastest way possible in order to ensure the highest profit, with no consideration given to nutritional content. Biological richness has been sacrificed to enhance durability and storability (simplification). These ‘commodities’ are chock full of added sugar, salt, fats, and chemical additives (adulteration).

Despite the powerful forces that have turned eating into something where the economics of industry rule rather than the production of a healthier end product, Winson still believes food does not have to be degraded in the ways it has. He cites Marin Organic, a group in California that seeks to link up local organic farms with schools’ food purchasing programs, and FoodShare, an organization in Toronto that operates a number of programs focusing on community food security and social justice. Both organizations have had some success at developing new food systems that acknowledge the importance of human health, animal welfare, environmental health, and social justice – versus corporate profits.

In closing The Industrial Diet, Winson asks this important question: What if Governments get active again? “If governments can mandate higher fuel efficiency in the automobile sector despite resistance from the powerful auto companies; and far-reaching tobacco control policies despite multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns from the corporate tobacco oligopoly, so too can they nurture healthier food environments through a combination of policies.”

This is an important book, painstakingly researched, inclusive of many disciplines of study, and incredibly informative. If you care about what you eat, you will want to read The Industrial Diet. It offers what you need to know in order to understand the problems associated with our current food system, and strategies that could correct them.


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