From the radical news service Democracy Now , Michael Pollan , professor of science and environmental journalism at UC Berkeley, argues that what most Americans are consuming today is not food but “edible food-like substances.”
MICHAEL POLLAN: Yeah, it’s a literary scientific experience now going shopping in the supermarket, because basically the food has gotten more complex. It’s—for the food industry—see, to understand the economics of the food industry, you can’t really make money selling things like, oh, oatmeal, you know, plain rolled oats. And if you go to the store, you can buy a pound of oats, organic oats, for seventy-nine cents. There’s no money in that, because it doesn’t have any brand identification. It’s a commodity, and the prices of commodity are constantly falling over time.
So you make money by processing it, adding value to it. So you take those oats, and you turn them into Cheerios, and then you can charge four bucks for that seventy-nine cents—and actually even less than that, a few pennies of oats. And then after a few years, Cheerios become a commodity. You know, everyone’s ripping off your little circles. And so, you have to move to the next thing, which are like cereal bars. And now there’s cereal straws, you know, that your kids are supposed to suck milk through, and then they eat the straw. It’s made out of the cereal material. It’s extruded.
So, you see, every level of further complication gives you some intellectual property, a product no one else has, and the ability to charge a whole lot more for these very cheap raw ingredients. And as you make the food more complicated, you need all these chemicals to make it last, to make it taste good, to make—and because, you know, food really isn’t designed to last a year on the shelf in a supermarket. And so, it takes a lot of chemistry to make that happen...