If you count yourself among the living and breathing human-beings walking the Earth, this means that at some level food consumes your thoughts on a daily basis. That burger looks delicious… What's for dinner? Let me UberEats something right now… Of course, this makes sense because on a biological level, we would die without food. Starvation sets in after 40 days without eating. But even when food isn’t a matter of survival, it brings us comfort. When we eat, the brain releases "feel good" chemicals on a physiological level. This is partially why the temptation exists to over-eat even when our body doesn’t need the extra fuel. Going a step further, food has also been a significant part of culture for thousands of years. One of the first things you look up on a trip is what kind of delicious cuisine is nearby. Perhaps you may even feel more connected to places when you've tried foods steeped in cultural traditions. Which goes to say, we are constantly being reminded by the power of food, every day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks in-between. The Federal Trade Commission reported in 2007 that the average child viewed 15 food advertisements a day. And this was before social media exploded. But how are we, as humans, supposed to view food? Is it simply a basic necessity? Like water or the air we breathe? Or rather, is it something to be consumed for pleasure? Calories in, calories out. A case could be made that a large percentage of us engage food without any level of critical thinking. Modern-day marketing has shaped our thinking and unless we see advertising that says otherwise, then food is generally neutral. Like, does it really matter if we order the same food on Doordash everyday, so long as it gives us that energy boost we need? Or do we have to eat extremely “healthy” if we're only consuming certain foods in moderation? I exercise, so I should get a few cheat meals, right? A recent round-up of the 50 most popular U.S. chain restaurants shows that there's often more of a premium on popularity and "getting more bang for your buck" than transparency about ingredients or health-consciousness. Of this Top 50 list, many are steakhouses (such as Texas de Brazil) where you can get copious amounts of meat for relatively good prices. There's also Americanized "Italian" restaurants (Maggiano's and Olive Garden) that offer heaps of pasta and bottomless breadsticks. And at face value, the messaging coming our way makes perfect sense. If food is neutral, why wouldn’t you want the most bang for your buck? Why wouldn’t you want the most tasty and convenient food to be had? At one point, we have thought and echoed similar sentiments. But as we began our own learning journey over the past decade, what we discovered was pretty eye-opening. What follows is a revealing of those discoveries, outlining how food is more powerful than we could have previously imagined. From brain function, sleep, mood and our ability to resist disease to socioeconomic policies and the air we breathe, food quite literally impacts everything around us.


Have you ever started salivating after catching a whiff of a cinnamon roll or the turkey coming out of the oven at Thanksgiving dinner? That desire is not solely in your head. Per Harvard, there is a two-way connection between our guts and our brains, and each can reciprocally affect the other: "The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut." Some even refer to the gut as the "second brain." Our digestive system, contrary to popular belief, is quite complicated. For years, scientists saw it as an efficient machine. And while it is efficient, it's more like a supercomputer than a factory. It was designed with its own nervous system – the enteric nervous system, and has 50-100 million nerve cells. It's no wonder that when we feel nervous, our stomach begins to throb. Or when we prepare to go onstage before a big performance or speech we feel "butterflies" in our stomachs. What we eat can play a massive role in our brains, particularly when it comes to mood, sleep, and mental health. Dr. Emeran Mayer's groundbreaking work, The Mind-Gut Connection, found research to suggest that "the gut can influence our basic emotions, our pain sensitivity, and our social interactions, and even guide many of our decisions – and not just those about food preferences and meal size." Here are just a few examples: Mood: Imagine the mind-gut connection as a highway in which communication signals can go both ways. The brain can make you feel a certain way in your gut, and in turn, the gut can affect your mood and disposition. Dr. Mayer explains what's really going on inside you when you feel road rage, for instance: "As you sat fuming about the driver who cut you off, your stomach went into vigorous contractions, which increased its production of acid and slowed the emptying of the scrambled eggs you ate for breakfast. Meanwhile your intestines twisted and spit mucus and other digestive juices. When you're depressed, your intestines hardly move at all. In fact, we now know that your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain," he said. Our emotions and moods are not random or arbitrary. Though eating a cheeseburger won't make us immediately depressed, Dr. Mayer's research reaffirms that food isn't neutral. Food affects our body chemistry, as the microbes in our gut "live in intimate contact with the major information-gathering systems in our body," he added. What does this mean? The over 50 trillion (yes, you read that right) bacteria organisms that live in your gut, communicate with your brain. They have "conversations," just like an ongoing text thread. First, they communicate through molecules in the blood. They also interact via the enteric nervous system. The immune system in the gut wall also responds to these interactions and responds to them, which in turn affects the brain and other organs. Crazily enough, the gut bacteria that we hardly think about can influence anxiety or stress. And part of our gut composition has to do with diet, so we have a level of control. To note, 90% of serotonin (a chemical messenger) receptors are located in the gut. Yes, the same neurotransmitter we try to boost with antidepressants. Low serotonin levels can lead to sleep issues, depression, memory and learning issues, and anxiety. Which goes to say, when we binge unhealthy, fatty or sugary foods, it perpetuates our lethargy and apathy. We feel weighed down and lack the energy needed to make meaningful change in our lives. Of course, we're not only influenced by what we eat. This is important to clarify. There are other deeper factors (like genetics, trauma, personal histories) that play a role. However, food should not be dismissed when talking about mood, as research is showing a clear link. Sleep: As a kid, you may have heard that milk and cookies before bed could affect your dreams. While somewhat true, eating badly before bed doesn't just lead to weird dreams. “When we don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin increases and leptin decreases. Researchers looked at 495 women’s sleep patterns, their daily quantity of food, and quality of food. They found that poor sleep quality was correlated with greater intake of food and lower diet quality,” Harvard recently reported. It's pretty normal in our culture to scarf down some sweets or snacks before bed. Yet eating fatty, sugary foods before we fall asleep can have an adverse affect on how many Z's we catch at night. A recent New York Times article, "How Foods May Affect Our Sleep," by Anahad O'Connor underscored this point. "Researchers have found that eating a diet that is high in sugar, saturated fat and processed carbohydrates can disrupt your sleep, while eating more plants, fiber and foods rich in unsaturated fat — such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados — seems to have the opposite effect, helping to promote sound sleep." Why is this? What is it about plant-based, fiber-rich foods that gives such a boost to our sleep? Slow-wave sleep is what restores us the most, and fiber from vegetables, for instance, can help do so. But that doesn't mean anything with fiber helps promote it. Eating complex carbs like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, or bananas, as opposed to simple carbs like white bread or cookies is the key. Mental Health: As with mood, what we consume can also affect us on a mental health level. Now, before we go any further, we want to acknowledge that mental health is a nuanced topic and affects each person differently. The goal isn't to make diagnoses or draw simplistic conclusions, but rather to show how food can affect us on a biological and physiological level. A new field called "nutritional psychiatry" charts the relationship between diet and mental wellness. Leading research has shown that certain nutrients are necessary for brain health and function. Historically, it's been an easier process for us to acknowledge the links between the food we consume and physical illnesses. For instance, eating a diet high in processed meats, refined carbs, and sugary beverages, to name a few, can impact heart function and in turn debilitate us. Not having enough iron can make us feel anemic and weak. The link between food and mental health is less obvious, but still present: In a 2008 study done in the Journal of Indian Psychiatry, researchers found that depression is not just biochemical or DNA-based. "Nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression." Scientifically speaking, how is this possible? It starts with understanding the role of neurotransmitters. As a refresher, neurotransmitters are the body's "chemical messengers." They're part of the nervous system's way of directing the secretion of certain hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, tryptophan. Just above, we talked about how lack of serotonin can cause issues and that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. And as the aforementioned journal study stated, "evidence suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and suicide." Again, research is suggesting that, meaning it's case-by-case and not conclusive. However, it's telling that there's even a link between a lack of serotonin and mental health. Tying it back into food, research has shown that certain types of molecules, such as carbohydrates, can produce more of those positive-feeling brain chemicals like serotonin or tryptophan. Now, that doesn't mean that any carbohydrate will have a long-term beneficial effect. We tend to binge carb-rich foods like pizza when we're sad or depressed, however, those types of ultra-processed carbohydrates have a short-lived boost, compared to complex carbs found in vegetables or whole grains. As the study stated: "It is suggested that low glycemic index (GI) foods such as some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pasta, etc. are more likely to provide a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy level than the high GI foods - primarily sweets - that tend to provide immediate but temporary relief." The research done around this subject is not black and white or definitive. Someone may eat horribly and never experience depression. This is not to say that there's an immediate causation between poor eating and depression, but rather to show that on a chemical level there can be effects when we either have a neurological lack or imbalance.


On July 4, 2021, competitive eater Joey Chestnut crammed a 76th hotdog into his mouth. We'll spare you the details, but his strategy was to dip the 'dogs in water and smoothly funnel them down his gullet. With 76 in a row, Chestnut had broken his own record for the most hotdogs ever eaten in 10 minutes. Chestnut's feat is undoubtedly impressive. However, it's also indicative of a culture that celebrates overeating and doesn't view this as much of a concern. While we may not be consuming 76 hot dogs in one sitting, America has a huge problem with overeating and over-portioning. The average meal at an American fast food restaurant is 700 calories (more than a third of the daily recommendation), and portions are much larger than in other countries. This is America. As we noted above, you get bang for your buck. But we must ask, at what cost? The human body was not designed to eat this much or consistently consume this level of portion sizes. In fact, for much of human history, especially in the hunter-gatherer days, food was scarce. Today, heart attacks among younger people are on the rise, per the American Heart Association. This is troubling, as in the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death, higher than cancer or contagious diseases like COVID-19. Here are some telling statistics, according to the CDC:
  • Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability.
  • 70% of annual deaths are due to chronic diseases.
 And in many cases, these chronic diseases are preventable, not genetic or innate. In The Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Mayer details how changes and "disturbances" in the gut-microbiome are "associated with a wide variety of diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and asthma." Taking it a step further, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a clear link between disease and a lack of healthy nutrients: "Of 702,308 adult deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, 318,656 (45%) were associated with inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients widely considered vital for healthy living, and overconsumption of other foods that are not." Mind-blowingly, death from these diseases had some kind of association with overeating. As we discuss further in our blog The Rise of Disease and Greed, there's been a huge push by the food industry to increase levels of sodium in foods, despite the fact that "the highest percentage of cardiometabolic disease-related death (9.5%) was related to excess consumption of sodium." Just as research has pointed us to what foods are making us more unhealthy, it has also been uncovering normal, everyday foods that can help stave off disease. Can certain foods counteract diseases, or at least lessen the likelihood of them? There are actually practical, researched-backed ways to change your everyday diet. Flip Your Fat Source: For instance, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can reduce the risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), per the National Institutes of Health. Unsurprisingly, food companies love to push saturated fats. After all, they're the tastier, fattier, juicier options. Saturated fats are derived from animal products like cheese, butter, and meat. These increase "bad" cholesterol levels and can lead to the clogging of arteries. Unsaturated fats can be found in nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils (such as olive oil). They're associated with the lowering of bad cholesterol and are a staple of longevity-driven diets, such as the "Mediterranean Diet." So when the doctor says to "eat your fruits and veggies," it's not just a cute saying. Folic acid, found in many fruits and vegetables, helps foster the creation of healthy red blood cells. They also cited evidence to suggest "low folic acid intake is associated with greater risk of colon—and possibly breast—cancer and that use of multiple vitamins containing folic acid reduces the risk of these cancers." Up That Dietary Fiber: Another NIH recommendation was to consume whole grains with high amounts of dietary fiber, which helps regulate weight, and thus curb the potential of obesity. Real talk, dietary fiber also helps you poop by softening your stool. In fact, many diseases are linked with bowel issues and disorders. Watch the "S": Unsurprisingly, health experts warn against excessive sodium, sugar, and sugar-based beverages. Sugar has no nutritional benefit and is nothing more than empty calories. Sodium (or salt intake) in the right moderation is important, but should be monitored and regulated as it can lead to high blood pressure if left unchecked. It should be noted that this is an uphill battle, given that sugar and salt are two staples advertised to many of us at a very young age. In Food Politics, a deep-dive into how the food industry influences nutrition and health, professor and nutritionist Dr. Marion Nestle highlights a phenomenon that most of us aren't highly aware of: pouring rights. This is where a dominant beverage (or sometimes food) producer, such as Pepsi, can monopolize a stadium or venue by ensuring they only sell Pepsi products. That may not seem super harmful when you think of a baseball stadium, but consider the implication when it comes to schools: a captive audience of adolescents. You may have noticed Pepsi or Coca-Cola machines in public spaces of your middle or high school, and at the time that was cool. Even if your parents forbid soda in the home, you could easily sneak a few quarters from your buddy in math class and at least down your gross school lunch with a refreshing Coke or Sprite. Needless to say, pairing adolescents with copious amounts of sugar is not a good combination – for many reasons. Yet from the earliest ages, children are essentially groomed to "love" certain brands. (One of our team members who shall not be named may have even rocked a Pepsi t-shirt back in the day…) To make it worse, if it's not sugary sodas and beverages being sold, there are often vending machines filled with salty snacks like chips or the fabled Cup Noodles. Salt makes it easy to pack a ton of product into a relatively small space. It gives the illusion of being full despite offering little to no sustenance. These patterns often translate into college or early adult life, and can even extend beyond that if we're not careful. We may know something is "bad" for us but be lured in by the forces that surround us. We may consciously recognize that added sugar isn't good for us but resort to chugging a Mountain Dew because it's the quickest and most caffeinated option. But we must clarify, we aren't powerless in this. Taking the knowledge of the truth and putting it into action is a fantastic combo. Something as simple as meal prepping or making "boring" vegetables taste better can help foster better choices. And while it may be obvious to us that making poor food choices can lead to poor heart health, what about less obvious connections?


DNA, in addition to being a chart-topper by Kendrick Lamar, determines how a living thing looks and functions. The Human Genome Project has uncovered much about DNA over the years, but there's still a ton we don't understand. However, there's new research about how food can affect DNA. This is crazy, as most of us see DNA as an untouchable part of our genetic code. These findings argue that what we eat can potentially affect our children and future generations. "Hold up, you're telling me that bag of Cheetos I just ate could alter my future child's DNA?" Not exactly. We first need to define what research means by "change." The article goes on to say that: "rather than change DNA itself, epigenetic signals can, for example, prompt changes in the number of methyl chemical groups attached to a gene, turning it on or off." Think of a light switch with different dimmer settings. It still turns the light on but changes the way the light is "expressed." Or if that's too simplistic, think of it this way. DNA interacts with other molecules, which can activate / deactivate certain genes. It's like going into the hardware of a computer and disabling or enabling certain switches in the motherboard. The switches may still be there, but may not function unless properly turned on. A new field called "epigenetics" has shed new light on this topic. Epigenetics is "the study of how cells control gene activity without changing the DNA sequence," per, a service from the United States National Library of Medicine. "Epigenetics…shows how environmental influences –children's experiences–actually affects the expression of their genes." This emerging research shows us that it's not nature or nurture, but both," said the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. What are some real-life examples of epigenetics in action?
  • In 1944, a famine struck the Netherlands, forcing pregnant women to live on limited calories. As a result, babies conceived, carried, and born during that period had "elevated rates of obesity, altered lipid profiles and cardiovascular disease in adulthood," according to the Scientific American article.
  • After the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many children born in the radioactive environment had birth defects like "anencephaly, cleft palate, cleft lip with or without cleft palate, club foot, polydactyly (additional finger or toe), and syndactyly (fusion of two or more fingers or toes)," according to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation.
 While those may seem like isolated, World War II specific incidences, there are studies that show how this can affect us on a practical, diet-based level. A study done on fruit flies shed some light on how this concept works. The parent flies that were fed a high-fat diet developed symptoms of heart disease (yes, flies have a heart…kind of.) Too We know too much fat can lead to heart issues. But in this case, the surprising finding wasn't how it affected the parents, but the offspring. The offspring and eventually their offspring had the same heart disease symptoms despite being fed a healthier diet. They were ultimately more prone to fat cell accumulation in the heart, through no apparent "fault" of their own. A study done on mice had similar outcomes. The high-fat, high-sugar diet often seen in the Western world had documented effects on their heart-related functions. On the flip side, the Mediterranean diet, one rich with vegetables, fish, and healthy fats (such as avocado) lessened the chances of negative cardiovascular effects. Hearing this may sound overwhelming, but keep in mind two things. One, you aren't instantly going to develop health issues just because your parents didn't eat healthy. Just because you have a certain gene predisposition, it doesn't mean it will become a reality. That said, it is important to be aware of your genealogy and also the generations that will follow you. Reassuringly, eating the right way can positively affect both you and your offspring. For instance, "bad" genes can be silenced by eating healthy foods, such as cruciferous vegetables (i.e. cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, broccoli, etc.). Cruciferous veggies have been shown to protect against cancer and slow the growth of cancer cells in pre-existing tumors. Just as the high-fat, high-sugar diet can up the prevalence of certain diseases, healthy vegetables, among other foods, can slow and stop the spread of diseases. As mentioned above, the research is still in development, and there are other factors that can lead to un-health. Sometimes anomalies happen, like when an ultrafit marathon runner with a lineage of health collapses unexpectedly, yet a smoker who eats mostly fast food lives to be 95. Point being, there aren't always guaranteed outcomes, but that's still no reason not to be proactive. Given what we know so far, your diet plays a huge role in your body on a molecular level. And those patterns can continue along in your family lineage. Recognizing that you have the power to impact yourself and others by the way you eat might shift your perspective.


Food Labor

In our increasingly globalized world, it's important to consider where our food comes from. We don't always know where the food we eat originates or how it affects the people who produce it. Many food companies work hard to keep their practices out of the public eye, while others companies do it openly without much fear of repercussions. When we do find out about a shady practice, we're often left with a difficult moral dilemma. "I know my coffee beans aren't ethically sourced or fair trade, but what can I do about it? Does my boycott of buying it make a difference?" While it may not seem like it, the answer is yes, it does make a difference. We'll get to that in a little bit. However, it can feel daunting when you consider the immense power and control of the food industry. Nestle, the company known for that charming Nesquik rabbit, seems like a beloved childhood brand. You probably grew up with many of their products, such as DiGiorno Pizza, HotPockets, or Cheerios. Setting aside the questionable marketing tactics, such as the sugary NesQuik being marketed as a healthy breakfast option for kids, Nestle has had documented human-rights issues, especially around child labor. In a stunning piece by the Washington Post entitled "Cocoa's child laborers," journalists Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel document the hardships faced by child laborers harvesting cocoa in West Africa, many of whom are told to lie about their age and say they're older. Unsurprisingly, a host of household name corporations are involved: "About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions…When asked this spring, representatives of some of the biggest and best-known brands Hershey, Mars and Nestlé — could not guarantee that any of their chocolates were produced without child labor," they noted. They also found that 49% of Nestle's products could not be traced back to their source farm. To be fair, Nestle made a statement around this, saying that "child labor has no place in our supply chain and we are opposed to all forms of child exploitation." However, the fact that they could not trace most of their product origins is troubling. Sadly this goes beyond Nestle, and these exploitative practices happen every day. As mentioned before, finding out this information can feel overwhelming. Can I make a difference as one person? It may seem daunting, but yes, you can! Food companies are backed by massive budgets and robust legal counsel, but they aren't invincible. At the end of the day, they still need consumers to buy their products in order to make a profit. Money talks, and when they sense that their business is on the line, they'll make changes to appease the customer. For example… In 2010, Greenpeace, an environmental justice organization, successfully campaigned to stop Nestle from adding to deforestation in its harvesting of palm oil. According to Greenpeace, "the expansion of palm oil and pulp plantations [was] driving the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands and pushing endangered orangutans to the brink of extinction." In response, Nestle pledged to "identify and exclude" companies from its supply chain linked to deforestation. Greenpeace also acknowledged that it would also take cooperation from local governments to prevent deforestation, showing that the task of doing so wasn't entirely on Nestle's shoulder. However, it's not uncommon for companies to make bold promises to protect their sales interest and placate their consumers.

Food Deserts

The term food desert is a bit misleading, as you may think it means the absence of food in general. However, the problem isn't a lack of food, but rather a lack of quality, nutritious food. A food desert is defined as "an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food." If you're looking for a more extensive dive into this problem, we invite you to check out our food deserts blog here. For the purposes of this blog, just know that food deserts are a blatant form of food injustice. The USDA says that food deserts occur when "33 percent of the population lives more than one-half mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store." The absence of supermarkets or traditional grocery stores often means an absence of healthy produce or fresh ingredients. Instead, these residents are forced to choose the closest possible option. And by "closest," that often means what's within walking distance or accessible by bus or subway. For many impoverished urban-dwellers, owning a car isn't practical or affordable, so it's not as if they can just drive to wherever the good food is. Instead, their only options are gas stations and convenience stores. If you've been in a 7-Eleven lately, you know that the old hot dogs churning on an electric roller aren't exactly peak healthiness. As the Food Empowerment Project found, "people’s choices about what to eat are severely limited by the options available to them and what they can afford—and many food deserts contain an overabundance of fast food chains selling cheap “meat” and dairy-based foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Processed foods (such as snack cakes, chips and soda) typically sold by corner delis, convenience stores and liquor stores are usually just as unhealthy." You can combat pesticides or GMOs by buying better ingredients (by shopping organic, for instance), but what if that isn't even an option? What if even eating remotely healthy isn't an option? To those wondering why food deserts exist in a modern country with plentiful food production (enough to feed everyone in the country twice over), the answer isn't simple. Factors like historical segregation, gentrification, lack of infrastructure, and political corruption all contribute to their existence. Due to these factors, many grocery stores or supermarkets resist building in these areas, only worsening the problem. Here's the takeaway: lack of access to healthy, affordable options inherently has a ripple effect on the things we've already discussed: mood, sleep, genetics, energy level, school/work performance. That's not to blame every outcome on a lack of nutritious food, but merely to show the cause and effect that can occur when people are already starting from a place of nutritional emptiness.

The Power of Food Companies

The way in which food products are marketed contributes to food injustice, as it contributes to the rise of nutrition inequality and the prevalence of food deserts. For decades, food companies have been "in bed" with government agencies, politicians, and lobbyists to ensure that people eat more, thus driving up their sales. They also use deceptive marketing tactics and misleading labels to persuade the American public to consume their products regularly. There's a whole web of corruption to unpack when it comes to the politics behind food, but for the purposes of this blog we'll focus more on the way many food companies and industries use a variety of tactics to get us to eat more and thus earn more for themselves. The constant introduction of new products, deceptive marketing tactics, and confusion over what's actually healthy leaves us in a weird spot. With how much is spent to persuade us, do we really have free choice in these decisions? In 2020, McDonald's spent $1.62 billion on direct media advertising, a figure that is likely to climb. And nearly 70% of food advertising in America is "for convenience foods, candy and snacks, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and desserts, whereas just 2.2% is for fruits, vegetables, grains, or beans." While Americans of all social statuses and income levels often partake in fast-food or "junk food", here's where the inequality comes into play:
  • Lower-income groups tend to partake in high-calorie, high-fat and sugar diets, thus leading to higher rates of obesity and disease. This is due both to economics, and, as Dr. Marion Nestle found: "the social status attached to certain kinds of food - meat for the poor and health foods for the rich, for example."
  • Food and beverage companies recognize this and seek to exploit this from a marketing standpoint. Nestle found that "the alcoholic barrage industry is especially adept in marketing to 'disenfranchised' groups."
 Ever remember seeing a commercial for vegetables growing up? Didn't think so. However, you were probably quite familiar with Tony the Tiger or the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Courting from food giants begins at an early age, making it even harder to break. Children often fall prey to these marketing tactics, as research has shown that children have trouble differentiating commercials from regular TV programming before age 10. That, paired with the high volume of commercials promoting sugary, high-calorie foods (breakfast cereals, yogurts, etc.), and lack of programming promoting healthy food choices, creates a vicious cycle – particularly for children in low-income areas who rely on their school system for even remotely nutritious choices. Beyond just marketing, the foods themselves are loaded with additives that make them more addicting. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a great example of this. You'll be hard pressed to find foods at a convenience store that don't have this common additive, as it's used to make historically unsweet or untasty foods sweeter. The FDA says that high fructose corn syrup is "generally safe" for human consumption. Not exactly a resounding endorsement. Though corn processors have downplayed the negative effects, research studies have argued otherwise. Studies have shown that HFCS can impact the brain in a similar way that addictive drugs do by targeting the brain's reward center. Beyond just being potentially addictive, it's not nutritionally rewarding. In essence, it's just empty calories. The American Journal of Clinical nutrition cited that HFCS has been linked to an increased risk of obesity.


Now comes the part of the blog where we're already anticipating some eyerolls. Because of extreme narratives on both sides, it's hard to talk about food's impact on the environment without your mind drifting to either tree-hugging activists or big industry proponents who see veganism as a threat to the hamburger. But food's impact on the environment doesn't have to be a political issue if we simply look at the facts. And as we often find, reality is often found more in the middle. Things like monocropping, water use, and meat production have profound impacts on our floating sphere of finite resources. While that list isn't exhaustive, those aforementioned issues give us a small glimpse and window into the toll our planet is taking when we disregard care and intentionality when it comes to food production. Monocropping: As the name suggests, monocropping is growing the same crop on the same plot of land for a prolonged period of time. This ultimately weakens and depletes the previously rich soil, making the land poor and unfertile. Historically, farmers would use methods like crop rotation or crop diversification in order to keep the land sustainable for years to come. This method was more difficult but ultimately more proactive, ensuring the land has time to develop deep nutrients. In fact, ancient cultures like ancient Israel, would let the land rest every 7 years as a means of preventing overharvesting and letting the land reset. However, farmers have been put in a precarious position by the unnecessary demands of the U.S. food industry, which is heavily reliant on corn, wheat, and soy. Money talks, and for farms trying to fend for their lives, growing these popular crops is a viable economic outlet. However, monocropping can have devastating economic effects too, as it means pinning your hopes onto one crop. As Washington Post author Tamar Haspel put it, "when all your eggs are in one basket, you’re vulnerable to a devastating loss; think Irish potato famine. Half of our 300 million farmed acres are planted with corn and soy, and that’s a very big basket." That's right. Half of our farmed acres grow either corn or soy. Hence why most products you see on the grocery store shelf are either corn or soy or their derivatives (high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil). How does this affect you, the consumer? For one, land that has been ravaged by monocropping often compensates by using pesticides and fertilizer, which could in turn show up in your products. And just as it reduces the diversity in soil, it also reduces diversity in our diets. Corn is in nearly everything we eat: cereals, snack bars, chips, and processed, prepared foods. A possible solution, despite being more expensive on the whole, is to shop for organic produce. Organic farmers often use natural methods of bug prevention and recognize that having a diverse crop rotation boosts their yields. Another is to diversify your diet and eat other foods besides wheat, corn, or soy. For instance, eating more vegetables or vegetable-based products with diverse nutrients. Water Use: Water is something we often take for granted in our everyday lives. Because water is "free" at most restaurants and establishments, we don't think of it as a big expense. When it comes to food production, however, water usage is extraordinarily high. To someone living in a state with plentiful rain, that may not seem like a big deal. However, consider that California (where droughts are common) is the United States' biggest agricultural producer. Here are just a few examples of the level of water needed to produce some of our favorite food items, per the Water Footprint Network.
  • 6 oz Steak: 674 gallons
  • 3 oz Ham: 135 gallons
  • 1 pound of fruit: 115 gallons
  • 1 Egg: 52 gallons
  • 1 pound of vegetables: 39 gallons
 Cattle Ranching / Deforestation: Here's an eye popping stat: "80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production," per Greenpeace. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising. Raising most livestock requires a copious amount of land and water. Given the booming demands of the aforementioned meat industry, a huge amount of land has been cleared out. The World Wildlife Foundation has done extensive studies on the unsustainability of cattle ranching in the Amazon Rainforest. They found that cattle ranching is "responsible for the release of 340 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year, equivalent to 3.4% of current global emission." To be clear, this is not an indictment of red meat or the consumption of cattle, but rather the unsustainable volume at which it's being cranked out to fit the needs of meat producers, such as JBS Foods. JBS is a Brazilian company that has subsidiaries, including JBS USA, a $28 billion dollar company headquartered in Colorado. You may not be familiar with JBS, but you've likely seen one of their brands, such as "Certified Angus Beef" in the grocery store. To be clear, it isn't just wildlife and conservation organizations like WWF or Greenpeace honing in on this issue. In an extensive feature by Bloomberg, it was highlighted that "while marketing itself is a friend of the environment, JBS has snapped up more cattle coming out of the Amazon than any other meatpacker in an industry that’s overwhelmingly to blame for the rainforest’s demise." In other words, JBS claims to defend the very land it's destroying in the process. It would be overly simplistic to say the Amazon's decline is solely based on the meat industry. There are other contributing factors such as illegal logging, illegal gold mining, and lack of governance," per the Amazon Conservation, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. Nonetheless, it makes you consider if the pace at which the world, particularly Americans, are consuming meat, is sustainable in the long run. The USDA notes that the average American consumes 67 pounds of beef a year. The U.S. clocks in at #1 in the world in beef consumption, At over 27.5 billion pounds consumed in 2020.


What we’ve learned over the last decade has flipped our worlds upside down. Food holds so much power that it has a daily impact on the brain, diseases, genes, the environment and justice issues. Which goes to say, we’re of the mind that food itself is designed to be a beautiful gift to humanity. If we grow and consume food in the way we are supposed to, it can contribute to human flourishing. It can have a positive impact on each of the five things we discussed above. It’s pleasurable. It provides natural medicine and remedies for the human body. And it can also be a beautiful avenue for gathering community around the table. Which goes to say, the current food system makes it difficult to realize that vision. Going up against any ingrained system of doing things can feel daunting and overwhelming, especially when you feel alone in doing so. However, consider this story as inspiration: In 1989, the Chinese government cracked down on its own citizens during the Tiananmen Square Protests. They sent tanks into the city, but one man decided enough was enough. In what's now an iconic photo, this unidentified man stepped out in front of a tank. One man in front of dozens of killing machines that could end him in a second. Instead, the man became an inspiration and a symbol of hope in the face of oppression. Did he single handedly change the whole system? No. But his actions started a ripple effect that empowered others and caused them to consider their own choices. You may not have to stand in front of a tank, but don't underestimate the seemingly "little" choices you can make in your everyday life. One of the most frustrating things in all of this is conflicting information you'll come across. Some of which will be valid, some of which may not. If you've ever been told "chocolate is good for you because of antioxidants," and then simultaneously read a blog bashing the sugar content in chocolate, you may be wondering…which is true? To help, let's boil it down with just a few practical takeaways. This isn't a one-size-fits-all plan, but rather a few things to consider as you go about your everyday life:

Eating Habits

How do we even eat as we were designed to? This isn't always an easy question to answer, as there's so much conflicting information out there. Brands tout themselves as "healthy" or "natural" but are really Trojan Horses loaded with GMOs and chemicals that masquerade as good for you. To an extent, you'll have to go to great lengths just to find something certifiably pure and untouched. But it's not impossible. Going to a local farmer's market, for instance, is a pretty reliable way to ensure that you know exactly where the food you consume is coming from. Speaking of farmer's markets, there's a compelling case to be made that (per some of the latest research), plant-based diets have been linked to longevity and, as such, reduced diseases. That doesn't mean we all have to go vegan tomorrow or drop eating animal products entirely. Moreover, eating plants doesn't solve our problems if those plants were made with excessive amounts of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. When you shop, try to buy organic produce. It's a myth that organic food has to be outrageously expensive, and there are ways to buy it in bulk or on sale when it's in season. If nothing else, familiarize yourself with the "Dirty Dozen" which ranks which foods you should be buying organic, such as strawberries or spinach.

Spending Habits

Money talks, as mentioned earlier. We may not think that our dollars play that big of an impact, but be encouraged that brands and corporations do notice. Ultimately they are dependent on you, the consumer, for profit and expansion. Look no further than companies, such as Apple or Nike, pledging to exit Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They're widely aware that they could make more money by selling their products to one of the biggest countries in the world. However, they've clearly made a calculated decision that they'd lose more of their consumer base and reputation if they continued aligning with a cause that many disdain. Point is, even if it's not for "virtuous" reasons, companies will react to how you choose to spend your dollars. The reality is that most people are simply unaware of what's going on. It's not their fault – the system is designed to be deceptive. However, once you possess the knowledge about how your brands can affect people around the world, such as the cocoa farmers in Western Africa, it may alter what you buy at the mall or grocery store. This is not intended to be a way of "virtue signaling" but rather raising awareness of how our dollars can perpetuate broken systems of injustice. The hope is to consider the following when we make the seemingly little, everyday decisions at the grocery store:
  1. What’s in this food?
  2. Who made this?
  3. Where did this come from?
 If knowledge is power, then so too are the choices we make around food. Being informed and then putting plans into action to maintain a healthy lifestyle are two keys to harnessing food for our longevity and benefit.


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