As time goes on portion sizes seem to grow continuously, along with our appetites. This article shows side by side comparisons of average food portions 20 years ago versus now. In 2000, average Americans enjoyed a 140 calorie bagel versus a 350 calorie bagel today. A 2.4 ounce, 210 calorie package of fries was the norm then, 20 years later a 6.9 ounce, 610 calorie fry is more common. The proof is in the pudding–Americans eat way more now than ever. Just look at the way this graph displays the rise in calorie intake since 1970. There was a 20% increase in calorie intake from 1970 to 2010, and that’s not even the most recent figure. In 2017, about 60% of an average American’s diet consists of sugar, flour/grains, and oil. These three categories have essentially no nutritional value and are particularly indicative of a diet high in processed foods.
So what is a processed food? According to one definition, processed foods “are packaged in boxes, cans or bags. These foods need to be processed extensively to be edible and are not found as is in nature. [Processed foods] often contain additives, artificial flavorings and other chemical ingredients.” Government subsidized commodity crops like wheat, soy and corn are big money makers for the food industry. These crops are cheap and have the potential to be ground up and pumped full of chemicals to become palatable items like breakfast cereals, cake mixes or muffins.
What, or should I say who, do we attribute to this appetite augmentation? For years the fast food industry has been increasing portion sizes in almost every menu item. Additionally, publicly traded companies like General Mills or Nestle must report increases in profits every so often to Wall Street. Of course, people can only eat so much, thus a new era of “conditioned overeating” has emerged. The food industry is responsible for producing larger portions full of highly addictive substances like sugar. Less processed foods are also more filling, so the more processed we eat, the more we will buy as consumers.
So how is this a social justice issue? you may be wondering. When a family is struggling to make ends meet and the parents are perhaps working more than one job, it’s inevitable that they will go for cheaper, quicker options. Fast food and processed products will be at the top of their list for these reasons. Healthy, whole foods are hard to come by on a budget but this doesn’t mean poor people shouldn’t have access. Healthy diets are their own type of preventative health care and making nutritious, unprocessed foods more universally available would be a step towards a healthier America.