Do some people really believe the food industry is out to kill people? Apparently so.
Know what I think? I think some people are just opposed to making a profit off folks they think can’t be trusted to make their own decisions.
At Dairy Forum last month, my favorite session of the three-day confab was “What Do Consumers Want – Really?” This panel discussion analyzed current nutrition trends and how critics of the food industry are impacting consumers’ opinions about the good people who make it easier for Americans to eat.
Headlining the panel were former IDFA veep Tom Nagle, now managing partner of his own consultancy to the industry; Louie Gentine, latest generation rising star at cheese giant Sargento Foods; and Jill Richardson, founder of La Vida Locovore, a politically minded food blog that distrusts big business.
Richardson was seriously outgunned on this panel, and admittedly so; she joked that she wore a red shirt to mask the stains of the tomatoes she expected to be lobbed at her.
To her credit, Richardson accurately documented the session on her blog and described her experience as pleasant.
But Richardson’s comments also reveal an attitude that I think reflects the opinions of others of her ilk: that money is the root of all evil, especially in the food business.
Nagle related the results of a study showing how consumers have negative views about the term “processed food,” many considering processed to mean unnatural, unhealthy and artificial. That’s a problem for dairy processors, who as you know are an indispensible link between the nation’s raw milk supply and an ample inventory of wholesome, nutritious food products like cheese, yogurt and ice cream, none of which – not even bottled fluid milk – would be possible without some sort of processing.
Unfortunately, Nagle said, the food industry is being attacked by people “with narrow but intense interests” whose consistent message is that food companies have no problem sacrificing people’s health and safety to make money.
Richardson certainly seems to think so. “I don’t think it’s the food industry’s goal to kill us,” she followed up on her blog. “It’s their goal to make money. More money every quarter. And with a relatively stable population, each of us has to eat more.”
So there you have it: Obesity is the result of food companies forcing people to eat more. Not since I last saw a methane digester have I been exposed to such a load of manure.
Without profit, you wouldn’t have innovation, R&D, new products – you wouldn’t even have employment. And why are companies relentless in their quest for new profit? Richardson would say greed, but I think that’s rare. Fickle stockholders? Quite often. Desire for capital to grow one’s dream beyond blood, sweat and tears? Most likely. Rising costs of ingredients, energy, human resources and regulatory compliance? Most definitely.
The Richardsons of the world would have us return to a time when everyone had their own backyard garden and nobody’s food came from more than 50 miles away.
So go ahead – blame profit, blame progress, get a lawyer and sue the unstoppable march of time.
The fact is, the modern-day food industry has done more to help feed a hungry world, and to offer choices for every conceivable nutritional demand, than any other entity on the globe, and profit is what makes that possible. That profit isn’t made by companies force-feeding consumers junk food at gunpoint.
It’s a choice – processors make what people want to buy, a concept Gentine summed up well but one Richardson seemed to disparage: “His attitude is that if consumers want a pony, you should sell them a pony.” Well, yeah, that’s capitalism, which she doesn’t seem to like either: “The choices people have made on their own have caused a health crisis.” In other words, we can’t be trusted with freedom.
Except by force, consumers are not going to buy your products if they don’t want them or don’t like how they taste, no matter how healthy Richardson or the government tell you they are.
Of course, that business model would take profit out of the equation, wouldn’t it?
Living la vida provechosa
February 1, 2010