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Customer Review

26 July 2007
I agree with Michelle Simon that

(1) we cannot believe anything the corporate food giants tell us
(2) they haven't the slightest interest in promoting healthy eating habits, not even for our children
(3) they are in it for profit, pure and simple
(4) they are in part responsible for the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the country
(5) their reaction to criticism is to spin, not to change.

What I don't agree with is that they are to be condemned for their practices any more than corporations in other industries. As Simon points out in the first chapter, "Anatomy of a Food Corporation: Why We Can't Trust Them," their officers have a fiduciary responsibility under the law to look out for the interests of their stock holders. In making this point Simon is following Joel Bakan whose excellent book (and film documentary) The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004), made it clear that corporations are, effectively speaking, pathological entities that externalize the costs of doing business whenever possible. Just as coal mining companies prefer not to clean up the mess they make, food companies prefer not to pay for the medical and other costs associated with the food they produce and sell.

I emphatically agree that it would be wonderful if there were some way we could make MacDonald's, PepsiCo, etc. foot some of the bills for obesity-related diseases. But that would require an enlightened Congress and White House, something we don't have, and are not likely to have for the foreseeable future.

What food corporations have is the power to invade our consciousnesses with their advertising. Because virtually all media is under corporate control, its central message to consumers and the public at large, like a pit inside a peach, is "Conform your behavior in a way that benefits the corporation." Corporations not only get us to eat what we shouldn't eat, and to eat more than we should, but they get us to vote for people we shouldn't vote for. The advertising is paid for by the corporations. The politicians are beholden to the corporations.

What we are experiencing is the power of the mass media on a mass population. No one could predict just how awesome that power would be. People are more easily indoctrinated than, say, Washington or Jefferson could have imagined. We live in a democracy by capitalism. An individual's vote is nearly meaningless compared to the votes that can be bought through advertising. Most Americans are too busy making a living and dealing with the day-to-day events of their lives to become knowledgeable about the secret agendas of the corporations and their servants in the Congress, and so few people know what is right and what is wrong regarding any complex issue.

Only education--knowledge about what is really going on--is going to change the direction in which this country is headed. It's going to take a sustained effort at the grass roots level over generations to stem the tide. One result of education would be to change the legal status of corporations to make them responsible for what are now "externalized" costs of doing business. If--and only if--that were done would they behave more nearly in the public interest.

However what knowledge and education are up against is the nearly irresistible lure of products--sugar, fats, salt, easily consumed and easily digested--that were prize products in the prehistory when our ingrained appetites were forged. Big Food is seducing the primordial human in all of us, and the seduction begins at an early age and never lets up.

So there are no easy solutions. The battle against the bulge, as it used to be called, is being fought in all industrialized societies and it is being lost. For myself and many of the people I know, it is not being lost because, like Michelle Simon, we know how to eat properly and how to avoid (most!) of the temptations. The problem is how to get that message to a greater percentage of the population.

Simon's book is a step in the right direction, but only a step. She focuses on the deceptions and lies of the food industry giants, how they spin the news, how they attack opponents, etc., and she gives a lot of information on just who the spinners and liars are, and she describes the tricks they use. But as for a solution... Well, if the knowledge in this book could somehow reach all Americans through their schools and religious organizations, that would be a giant step toward a solution.
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