HERE’S THE SKINNY: EARL BUTZ, AGRIBUSINESS and the INSATIABLE SENSES

In a continuation of the King Corn theme, this is the most concise definition of our paradoxical food crisis—the over-production, the war against children getting good food, the sustained brutality of livestock, the unsustainable model—I have ever read. It made me laugh out loud, too. From James Hill, epidemiologist in the field of obesity:

“Becoming obese is a normal response to the American environment.”

The article, in the Sunday Mail (England) in 2003, with the succinct title How Americans Became The Fattest People In The World (and Canadians and Brits are right there with you) goes on to say—and tell me this isn’t fascinating:

So what is it about the American environment—and, increasingly, our own [English environment]—that is making our weight balloon?

We all know the short answer—too much fast food, too little exercise—but the detail is fascinating.

According to Greg Critser, the problems began with Earl [Let's Expand American] Butz, a former Secretary of Agriculture to Richard Nixon whose brief was to produce cheaper food.

Under Butz, corn crops multiplied, leading to the increased production of high-fructose corn syrup, a liquid sugar produced from corn starch that is six times sweeter than cane sugar, and which had new attributes that matched the needs of food manufacturers very well indeed.

Not only did high-fructose corn syrup mean that more sweet foodstuff could be produced much cheaper than before, it also protected frozen foods from freeze-burn, prolonged the shelf life of other foods and made baked goods look more appetizing.

Then, palm oil—a vegetable oil made from the pulp of the palm tree—entered the national diet. Palm oil may sound healthy, but its other name, tree lard, gives a hint of its highly saturated nature. It was loaded with calories and bad for arteries. But, in the jargon of the processed food industry, it gave “good mouthfeel”. And it was cheap.

Who can’t relate to the good mouthfeel? What is the eating of, say, a warm, chewy, moist…nutritionally hopeless chocolate-chip cookie, after all, other than good mouthfeel? Salty, oily chips? Mmm! Or perhaps worst of all, and one of which I am not guilty, addicting, sweet-ladened soda pop.

Says Critser [generalising, to be sure]:

“The legacy of Earl Butz was that Coca-Cola and Pepsi switched from a 50/50 mix of corn sugar and cane sugar to 100 per cent high-fructose corn syrup, enabling them to save 20 per cent costs, boost portion sizes and still make profits.”

At the supermarket, too, calorie-dense convenience foods became even more affordable.

“In short, Butz had delivered everything the modern American consumer had wanted. Cheap, abundant and tasty calories had arrived. It was time to eat.”

It’s true. We want our food available and cheap. It isn’t easy to spend more money on better food, even if it can be afforded. But it’s probably essential to do so for long-tern sustainability, both personal and environmental. Buy local (as an aside, Earl Butz lived to 98).

Here’s the push behind it all, where something can be called a ‘Happy Meal’ although, for so many, it is actually a ‘Horrible Meal’ that will eventually lead to, say, the amputation of a leg due to Type II Diabetes, or just a massive clogging of arteries and a heart attack at the top of the stairs, only to be found weeks later, at the bottom of the stairs, the remains of that once happy ‘Happy Meal’ splattered desperately across the wall.

The cheap, calorie-dense fillers were embraced by a new breed of fast-food marketing men—and sales went through the roof.

Who can say no to that?

What the American consumer wanted was quantity, not quality. They wanted more for less, and they got it in jumbo portions and combo deals (chicken, mash, gravy, peas and a cola, for example).

But enough is never enough. The more you give people, the more they eat, simple as that. There is a new science of understanding human satisfaction, or satiety, and the evidence seems to show that there is actually no such thing as satiety.

The yogis have said this forever. Literally, that the ten senses can not be fulfilled, and thus we must ask, “Are we these ten senses?” If not, “Who are we?”

Continuing:

A study by Penn State University in the US shows that as portions increase, people simply eat more. Human hunger is not something related to stomach size and caloric need. It is something that can be expanded by merely offering more and bigger portions.

A marketers dream! Monsanto can fill us with empty calories until, too fat to move let alone revolt, but revolting nonetheless, we’re on our big fat knees, with clogged arteries, immersed in our own delusions, begging for more, like a child who’s lost its mother.

Not pretty, but what a marketing strategy.

And I know the feeling. I love the feel of food, and constantly put too much in my belly. It’s hard to listen. May you stretch often, breathe deeply, eat well, and remember your deeper, truer nature. Or, may I!

Pete xox

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3 Responses to “HERE’S THE SKINNY: EARL BUTZ, AGRIBUSINESS and the INSATIABLE SENSES”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    Welcome home. (You are home, right?)

    Thanks for the posts on food. I’ve read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” as well as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and was starving for more information on corporate/government corruption of human eating habits.

    Seriously, both books are well worth a detailed read. He serves up important and sometimes frightening messages with deep knowledge and insight as well as abundant candor, humility, and humor. “In Defense of Food” includes discussion on the psychosocial aspects of eating including how distorted the social interaction surrounding eating has become in the west. Though he didn’t discuss it much, even the restaurant industry is geared to what I call speed eating. The name of the game is turning over tables. Get them in, get them out and the table freed up. There you have it; we are as much corn-fed cattle as the steak some eat.

    Oddly, I had read Ms. Garner’s article during research I did on the history of human eating habits. To an extent her article ties in with your post from a while back about how fear and a legal system gone overboard restrict our children’s freedom. It’s also restricting their physical activity.

    Funny, we talk about beef cattle being fed growth hormones so they reach slaughter weight before they die of complications from rumen/stomach infections, which they are pumped full of antibiotics to stave off, all the while packed together so tightly they barely move. We should look in the mirror. We eat mostly corn that’s poorly fertilized with petroleum products, while we’re packed into and rushed through eating establishments, and then we medicate the resulting disease. (I refer you to the statement above.)

    And gosh, of course we’ll eat everything on our plates. We haven’t evolved that much since our ancestors led a famine interspersed with the occasional feast life style. Is there anyone who hasn’t noticed our bodies are designed to put on weight relatively quickly and use those calories slowly? Even the most inefficient metabolisms are unbelievably efficient energy burners. Geeze, our muscles even make their own fuel while they’re working. (As I understand it, muscle cells convert glucose and/or glucogen into lactic acid, which in turn specifically fuels muscle cell mitochondria producing energy.)

    How lucky am I that the work I do never fails to leave me in awe and humbled by how amazing these shells we take for granted are? And much more respectful of them may I add. Unfortunately, one woman’s awe seems to be another person’s opportunity for exploitation. *Sigh*

    Enough of my ruminations.

    Love to you and those you share your daily repast with,
    Karen

  2. Lovely Karen,

    So great to get your ruminations. This is profound:

    “Funny, we talk about beef cattle being fed growth hormones so they reach slaughter weight before they die of complications from rumen/stomach infections, which they are pumped full of antibiotics to stave off, all the while packed together so tightly they barely move. We should look in the mirror. We eat mostly corn that’s poorly fertilized with petroleum products, while we’re packed into and rushed through eating establishments, and then we medicate the resulting disease.”

    And you’re so right, one person’s awe is another person’s exploitation. As we both know, you can’t make someone desire beautiful, tasty, nutritional food, anymore than one can make someone have awe, stop and listen to their own bodies or anything else. We all seem to be on sort of trajectories, all here, yet at varying heights and widths, no pun intended. It is an awe-inspiring world. So great to hear from you.

    Pete xox

  3. A high-carb diet leads to constant hunger. Also, it has caused high rates of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Public health has been devastated. If you want to understand how this happened, read Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and Tim Noakes. I’d also recommend checking out the work of Ben Bikman, but he hasn’t published any books.

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