The free market has me suspicious about the food market

Forrest Johnson

Oh, to be a capitalist, a free market capitalist, in the industrial grade food business.
It can’t get any better as long as people still mate and produce more little consumers as blind as their parents when it comes to eating habits.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m no saint when it comes to the delights of food and the revving up of serotonin levels at the table of plenty. There are no kettle chips I can resist. The best I can do to exercise my will is not enter that aisle of bliss when I’m at the grocery store. Matter of fact, I seem to avoid whole sections of the store when I enter. It’s the only thing I can do to keep from filling my cart with unnecessary sugars and saturated fats and heaping piles of sodium hidden ever so carefully in the product, unless you happen to read the label and understand just how much salt goes into processed foods.   
Obesity and diabetes have never stopped our culture from eating whatever was put in front of us, and every processed food engineer and CEO understands that all too well. We have been a trusting nation and there is no place on earth where you can eat for less relative to your standard of living. Earl Butz wanted it that way, and American agribusiness responded in superlative fashion. We have gained weight and flirted with diseases directly related to food excess like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Health smealth. We want our Twinkies.  
A friend recently said that as the cost of food went down in terms of the percentage of our overall budget, health care costs rose on the other end of the spectrum.
“Any correlation there?” he said with a hint of sarcasm.
I remember long ago when my grandmother showed off a jar of Tang orange drink. In the early 1960s, Tang was touted as the “drink of the astronauts,” and soon every man, woman, and child back on earth could gulp along with John Glenn and Gus Grissom.
One day my grandmother noticed the label.
There seemed to be quite a few chemical compounds in one little serving, and she wondered why it took so much stuff with names you couldn’t pronounce to simulate what an orange could do by simply growing on a tree and being squeezed. There was even an aluminum-like compound listed, to prevent caking or tartness or some such thing.
Tang was soon gone from the shelf. Gram was a Swede and suspicious of something that seemed too good to be true. She was particularly suspicious of white bread as well, even if it did build strong bodies twelve ways.
I was always wondering exactly what those twelve ways might be. We were supposed to be suspicious of communists at that time as well.
It was a wonderful time of food experimentation for Americans. TV dinners and pot pies and frozen pizzas were becoming fairly common, filling in for those times when Mom and Dad might be going out for the evening, or just because they looked so good advertised in the magazines and on the television.
For my part, I was woefully disappointed in the soggy fake potatoes and salty Salisbury steak. I usually ended up eating only the frozen peas. They were infinitely better than canned peas. The only steak I’d known up to that point was the kind my mom used to get from the butcher shop and then pound on with her kitchen mallet. It would appear in the middle of onions and vegetables and it would make a person chew ferociously until your jaw muscles tightened and slowed to a crawl. Because of that I avoided ordering steak on those special occasions when we went out for dinner.
I remained suspicious until I was 22 years old. I was working for the Forest Service on the portage crew, and three of us had been flown into Fraser Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to check on a smoke during a particularly dry late summer/early fall in 1976.
We circled a point where the smoke was drifting through the trees, and by the time we landed and set up the pump the fire was eating whole trees. Within hours it jumped the lake and water bombers were soon swooping to get a belly full and then roaring over us and our blaze just above the treetops. We ended up poking away at hotspots on our side of the lake for four days as the fire spread away from us to nearly 10,000 acres. Our radio had gone out immediately, so we had no communication with the burgeoning spike camps growing on the other side of the lake, but every morning there was a fresh supply of K rations and fire retardant sleeping bags piled on the rocks extending out into the lake.
We did try to analyze what kinds of food products made up the K ration, but we couldn’t trust the labeling on the can. The chicken tasted like beef and the beef tasted like chicken. That’s what we told ourselves.
Finally, on the fourth day, a fellow from the LaCroix District came across in a canoe to see who we were. We quickly convinced him that we’d contained the fire on our side of the lake and we wanted to see what everybody else was eating at the mess tent. We imagined pancakes and coffee and chicken and real potatoes and beans, not K rations. He told us there were nearly 500 men on the fire, some from as far away as Montana.
After some confusion with the fire boss about why we weren’t listed on the fire roster and why my social security number started out 015 if I was born in Minnesota, we were flown back to Shagawa Lake, where a district ranger by the name of Moose took us to the Red Garter Tavern in Ely for a steak dinner. I asked if I could have chicken since I was suspicious of steak, and with a smile he slapped me on the back and said it was already ordered, medium rare.
I had never had such a steak. The cow it came from had to have been raised by a gentle king in a far-off land. It was delicious.
That kind of cow, likely free of antibiotics and not stuffed with corn until near death, rarely exists in today’s industrialized free market feedlot beef kingdom.
Hey, Mom bought cheap steak and did what she could to make it palatable.
My point is that it’s 2012 and our health as a nation is worrisome. The old idiom “you are what you eat” is certainly one of the contributing factors, a major factor, in the unsustainable cost of health care. The industrial food capitalists don’t care about your health because there’s just too much money to be made putting together Frankenstein-like foods laced with L-Cysteine Hydrochloride, ammonium sulfate, and silly putty ingredients like Dimethylpolysiloxane. Check the label—you’ll see what I mean.
We shouldn’t have to read a label, but the free market sure makes me suspicious about what can go wrong with food.