The country of Chile started aggressively combating obesity with marketing restrictions and labeling mandates. Three-fourths of Chile’s population is obese or overweight. Their cereal boxes no longer feature Tony The Tiger, but instead a plain bowl of milk and flakes. Chilean children, over half of whom are overweight, will not be bombarded with food marketing anymore. And the Chilean government is attempting to regulate the businesses that are responsible for fattening their people.

Modern food culture is rife with inconsistencies. Indulgences are pitted against healthy options, some of which are not even truly healthy. Food is sold to the masses as a celebration, a comfort, something to resist. Veganism has become popular, but so has the Paleo diet, which attempts to replicate primal diets by eliminating grains, dairy, and processed foods. Most diets focus on restricting some type of food, whether it be carbs or fat. Each proclaims it causes weight loss and restored vitality.

Most people have a weak understanding of what a calorie is (a unit for measuring energy), but don’t understand how their bodies process foods differently. Most people have eaten a large plate of pasta, only to feel starved hours later. I personally have tried to clean up my diet, but cave into sugar cravings after less than a week. Everyone’s bodies process food differently, and this is why it is so difficult to create one comprehensive diet plan that will solve the myriad diet-related illnesses and complications. Instead, we end up eating whatever is familiar or convenient, and that often takes the form of processed, sugar-laden junk. The modern food industry has many issues besides the obvious health problems caused by unhealthy eating. Abuse of livestock, big business outcompeting family farms, and improper treatment of workers plague what we eat every day.

One of the biggest culprits for chronic, diet-related illnesses is sugar. In the 1960s, the government decided the fatty foods Americans consumed were causing a multitude of health issues and mandated the food industry to reduce the amount of fat in their products. The problem was that low-fat foods tasted awful, but there was a solution. Sugar tastes delicious, is low fat, and is cheap to process, but is addictive and correlated with obesity since replacing fat. Sugar is metabolized in the body by the hormone insulin, which sends some of the glucose for cellular processes, and the rest is converted to a molecule called glycogen in the liver. Glycogen is used as energy in the periods between meals, but some of it may be left over and stored fat tissues throughout the body. 

Most meat eaten today is raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), housing up to millions of animals that are kept in tight crates or pens for the majority of their lives. The cruelty of how the animals are treated is not the only concern, as CAFOs produce dangerous amounts of pollutants. Over 168 gases are released from CAFOs, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Hog farms in particular are environmentally detrimental because a place to store their feces is needed, and waste lagoons filled with dung and urine seep into the ground and eventually water sources. Countless other animal rights violations and environmental degradation are committed by the meat industry. Some people are aware of this; others choose to eat factory farmed meat in spite of their awareness.

The people who own and operate CAFOs suffer as well as their animals. The documentaryFood Inc.” outlines how multinational corporations like Perdue (a chicken product manufacturer) charges small farms enormous prices to use their equipment or meet capacities, causing them to go into debt which they are never able to repay. Produce companies like Monsanto use GMO seeds, which they claim blow into other farms and contaminate crops with their patented seeds. They then sue and shut down small farms who refuse to work under them. Produce pickers are mainly illegal immigrants with little rights. They often work for less than minimum wage, excessive hours, and in inhumane conditions. They are unable to protest these injustices because they fear deportation and need the money, as they are only able to work part of the year. The giant multinational food companies that dominate the food industry abuses both those in control of farms and the workers who process food. 

We have created a disconnect in modern food culture, both between what we eat and where it comes from. We have no idea how to properly feed ourselves, and obesity rates are higher than ever. Many people feel trapped by cravings, tradition and connivence. The lack of education about how food is metabolized in the body means that most people don’t understand how food will make them feel (and look). 

In addition, the very food consumed is harming animals and workers alike. We spend so much of our lives focusing on food, deciding what and when and where to eat. But we spend so little time concerned with what is inside our food and who grew or processed it. There is no one diet in America, but the vast majority turn to processed foods made by large food companies that abuse producers and consumers alike. The very thing that keeps us alive should not be consumed without any consideration of its implications. Chile is moving in the right direction with restrictions on big businesses in an effort to protect its people, but America needs to take the same steps and go even further to educate and alter the habits of its population. The only way for us to become healthy and ethically conscious with our diets is to question what we are eat.

Camille Wilder is a Trinity first-year. Her column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.