'Taken together, the totality of evidence summarised here shows beyond reasonable doubt that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods is a major contributor to the pandemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes and related diseases.' Source: The need to reshape global foodprocessing: a call to the United Nations Food Systems Summit
A newly-published study of the global food system has surveyed the consequences of the increasing consumption of food that is manufactured by "industrial processes that convert food commodities such as wheat, soy, corn, oils and sugar, into chemically or physically transformed food substances, formulated with various classes of additives into generally cheap to make, long duration substitutes to minimally processed foods and freshly prepared dishes and meals." The study makes extremely well-thought-out distinctions between traditional types of food processing and modern rapacious industrial practices.
|A market in Africa (source)|
|A market in Indonesia (source)|
The problems of the global food supply, as so well documented in this UN report and many other sources describing the abandonment of traditional agricultural and food practices, are part of the global situation that makes me so pessimistic that I can hardly face reading the news (a reaction that a lot of people are expressing). Hunger. The pandemic and embrace of crazy snake oil cures promoted by demagogues. Shortages of goods and housing. Worse and worse racism and exploitation of the vulnerable in our own society and others. Armed conflicts over resources. Desperate refugees. And more, looming ahead of us.
The world seems full of indications that we face the disintegration of the human project. More narrowly, we face the loss of optimism that our society will improve and influence other societies. Natural disasters loom as well. Fires in the Western US are dwarfed by similar fires that have ravaged other parts of the world. Floods, typhoons, hurricanes, and droughts currently affect many environments and countries. Of many examples, the suffering of Haiti seems especially notable: is Haiti, with its inability to recover from repeated natural disasters, a bellwether of the human future or just a sign of international indifference to their poverty, bad luck, and bad government?
Obviously, there's much more to be said about all of this. One can find many controversies about causes, effects, and predictions. Please excuse my randomness! And please read the UN report on ultra-processed food -- only 3 pages long. In particular, check it out if you think my summary is wrong. The report makes very careful distinctions and observations, especially about what foods are considered ultra-processed and which ones are moderately or minimally processed and thus not necessarily being criticized.
Coincidentally, CNN recently reported that a survey published August 10 discovered that American children received 67% of the calories they consumed from ultra-processed foods, "such as frozen pizza, microwave meals, packaged snacks and desserts." In 1999 the corresponding quantity was 61%. "The study analyzed the diet of 33,795 children and adolescents nationwide." (link)
I learned about the UN report from a blog post by Marion Nestle, a food scientist, writer, and one of the authors of the study.
This summary is my own interpretation, and this review is copyright © 2021.