#processed food

When Processed Food is a Good Thing (Really)

on May 21, 2010

In so many of my posts, I go on about all the evils of processed food and of all the terrible things it does to us. Today I’d like to discuss actual sound uses for processed food. Now before I go on, we should understand that the ability to process food is a technology, and one our society uses heavily. Processing often strips food of much of its nutritional quality. In doing this, the food’s shelf life and stability increase dramatically (interestingly though logically enough, this happens because the nutritionally deficient food doesn’t attract the bacteria and fungi that would otherwise cause it to go bad). This quality of “not going bad” is actually pretty handy in, let’s say, bringing food to unfortunate groups of people that would otherwise starve. In the choice between eating processed food, and eating nothing, one is clearly better off with the former from a health standpoint.

I’m not entirely sure on the history of this but I believe processed food started out this way (do correct me if I’m wrong). It was used to reach people that were hungry and starving. Somewhere along the way, food manufacturers realized that they could cut their own costs by processing foods. Longer shelf life and less spoilage permitted a lot more leeway in the process of selling food and also in creating “new and exciting” products. Of course food companies passed on some of the savings to consumers and we took the bait. Cheaper food meant we could have more. In the US we went from spending 40% of our income on food to under 10% within the last century. Is the savings in money really worth the price in health?

As with any technology, we should consider the situations we use it in. Processing food is a great tool in reaching those that may not have anything otherwise. But it’s also a curse upon those who could be eating better and have to pay consequences in health instead.

Are You In Control of Your Actions?

on May 7, 2010

We like to think that we have free will – that we’re not like other animals which are governed by their biology. But if you think this, you’re gravely mistaken. We humans, as biological creatures, are under its rules. Our decisions are fueled by dopamine on rules built through evolution. You have two choices: refuse to acknowledge this and be a slave to your desires, or accept your underlying biology and learn to become wary of its unconscious influence. If you choose the latter, continue reading below.

Our psychological mechanisms often hide their purposes from consciousness and have strong influences on our behavior. We share many of these mechanisms with other animals. The feeling of hunger causes cravings, and of course there’s the sex drive. Some are pretty helpful, like the fight or flight response while others appear to do more harm than good, like in the case of nervousness.

There are uniquely human unconscious forces as well. As social creatures, we feel all sorts of social forces, such as morality (we know when things are right and wrong) or in-group/out-group forces (the need to fit in somewhere, or to despise outsiders). We literally feel these forces and they, without a doubt, affect and sometimes dominate our behaviors. Love (often characterized as a mental disease) and its less potent variants (such as lust) certainly affect our behavior beyond normal conscious will.

Our brains are incredible pieces of technology shaped by evolution. But are we using our built-in technology as it was optimized for? The world today is very different than what many mechanisms evolved for. Also, we have access to ways to abuse our technologies, such as drugs. Cigarettes work on the level of brain chemistry, as do most other drugs, including alcohol. Processed food is chock full of sugar and fat targeting evolved mechanisms to help us in times of starvation.

We should be mindful in how we use any technology, especially that which is built into us. Do you understand why you desire something? Are you responding in positive ways to unconscious mechanisms? Or are you merely pressing evolutionary buttons (or letting others do so for their gain)?