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.