Processed Food: Fad or Fitnah?

processed foodGo to any supermarket and you will see shelves upon shelves of ready-to-cook meals, canned food, ready-to-use fried onions, frozen vegetables and the like – all tempting you to save your time and try them out. At the same time, you might have heard that processed food is totally unhealthy, and you should avoid it as much as possible. So what should you do?

It is important to remember that virtually everything we eat is processed in some way or the other. Peeling, cutting, mashing, cooking, baking or frying is all referred to as food processing. All cooked food is, therefore, processed food. It doesn’t mean that all processed food is bad food. There is a huge difference between mechanical processing, which may be essential for making food eatable (such as peeling the bananas), heat processing that changes the texture and may change the nutritional value, but at the same time makes food more tasty and easily digestible, and chemical processing that is largely used by the industrial food manufacturers and which can turn good, natural ingredients into nutritionally worthless or even harmful products. Such chemically processed products are most commonly referred to as processed foods and must be avoided.

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Well-Fed or Welfare?

Image courtesy http://foodloverssociety.com/

Image courtesy http://foodloverssociety.com/

Why do we eat what we eat? For most of history this question has been quite simple; we eat to survive. But in the context of material abundance, when food is plentiful and easily accessible, this question becomes quite different. What do we feel like eating? Whether it’s our choice of breakfast cereal or the spread at a buffet lunch, there is always a multitude of choices to satisfy our present craving. Most of us make these choices based on our personal taste but when we’re at the supermarket, we’re looking for the best value for money. This fuels the current global market for food; choice, taste, and price. But what’s missing from this equation?

First we have to look at how industrialization has changed the way we produce, package, and distribute food. Small family farms have been replaced by massive agri-businesses. Farm production has shifted to mono crops with global market value. Industrial fertilizers and pesticides have increased crop yields but pollute water, destroy wildlife, and deplete the soil of natural minerals. Meat is industrially produced in increasingly large quantities, creating a huge demand for fodder. Convenience foods laden with chemicals are produced in factories and distributed all over the world. As food becomes plentiful, for some, it comes with a huge price tag for all.

We might consider these changes to be something we have little control over, and therefore, have no accountability for; but a closer look at the problem reveals that we are not only accountable but even responsible. Every time we put something into our shopping cart, we are participating in this unsustainable system. We need to rethink our decisions about food by inserting the question of welfare into the equation – regarding our health, our planet, and every living thing on it.

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