While I don’t agree with him on everything, author and foodie Michael Pollan has some great advice about how to eat correctly as a human.
1. ”Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
2. ”Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.”
Whether you’re vegetarian or Paleo (or something in between) this is stellar advice: eat real food. Sadly, our current food system is set up to deliver the exact opposite. Today we consume a massive amount of food-like substances, all heavily packaged and preserved, capable of sitting on shelves for months or even years without signs of decay.
Nowhere does the weirdness of our “food” become more obvious than a simple comparison of Walmart versus Whole Foods. In a recent article, Slate writer Ben Blatt compared the ingredients of 19,900 food products from Walmart’s vast inventory to the Whole Foods’ “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food” list. For context, the average supermarket contains around 42,000 items, and most Walmart’s likely mirror that–give or take a few thousand.
What Blatt found was astounding, but not altogether shocking if you’re a conscious food consumer. Ingredients considered “unacceptable” by Whole Foods run rampant in Walmart, mostly due to the fact that the latter stocks a massive amount of processed foods.
“Of the soft drinks sold at Walmart, approximately 97 percent contain ingredients that Whole Foods considers “unacceptable.” High fructose corn syrup and the preservative sodium benzoate, both on Whole Foods’ banned list, are in the majority of Walmart’s soft drinks,” Blatt reports.
And perhaps even more startling.
“More than 36 percent of drinks that Walmart labels as “water“ also have ingredients that disqualify them from Whole Foods‘ shelves. While standard Aquafina and Aquafina FlavorSplash Lemon Water have similar packaging and might even be sold on the same shelf, the latter contains four ingredients (sucralose, calcium disodium EDTA, acesulfame potassium, and potassium sorbate) that would prohibit its sale at Whole Foods.”
That’s right folks, in our highly processed world, even water has been made unhealthy for you.
Blatt also found that 51 percent of sandwich breads, 33 percent of all juice, 31 percent of all bacon and sausages, 30 percent of the milk, and 24 percent of the fish sold at Walmart contains ingredients that would get the same products banned at Whole Foods.
Now, I’m not trying to be a Whole Foods fanboy here. Like most of America, I can only afford to shop there on very special occasions. The point is attempting to eat according to Pollan’s advice (which, again, is just to eat real food) eliminates the vast majority of what we’re passing off as food in this country, and around the world.
Despite the fact that farmers’ markets are experiencing a renaissance, most of the world can’t, won’t or simply doesn’t shop this way. Most people shop at Walmart, which means most people are eating “food” instead of food. Rather than waxing poetic about the virtues of organic, or the wisdom of veganism, what the average person needs is education.
Moms need to know that water should be the only ingredient in water. Fathers need to know that candy shouldn’t include a laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals. And kids needs to know that real food doesn’t come in a box. Only then will we create demand for real food, and only then will places like Walmart consider carrying it.
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