Please Mr. Big Food, add less "value"
In my previous post, I described how my farm stand thanked its first 200 patrons, three days in a row, with a goody bag in celebration of a pavilion it opened. Because a large curly head of lettuce filled the open end of the bag, I assumed (incorrectly) that it all was produce and was disappointed to learn when I got home that it was the only produce: The other five things were all dependent on processed sugar.
I was disappointed. I know that they have a bakery, and that they sell a fair amount of goods that they don’t produce, but I shop there only for the fresh stuff, which is better, and often less expensive, than what I find in supermarkets.
I didn’t inquire about the bag’s composition because it at least would hint, to me, of ingratitude. (“Hey, why didn’t you give me a better gift!?”) But I do have my theory on why a business built on agriculture would compose such a bag.
The key is “added value,” which is perhaps the foremost barrier to healthier foods for all.
Farm produce is not processed. Its cost is its cost, plus a little markup. But there are many opportunities for markup when you’re combining many ingredients, especially when they’ve been grown in mass amounts, packaged in bulk, and processed to give them shelf life, which removes the foremost economic threat to trafficking in them — they won’t go bad.
That’s great for the bottom line, but bad for our nutrition. This is a continuum, of course: Few people are going to eat wheat off the stalk, or drink milk from the udder. But every step away from original and toward, say, butylated hydroxyanisole (aka BHA, a petroleum-derived chemical used as a preservative) is a step away from nature, health, and nutrition.
Those steps are what the industry calls “added value” — “We’re going to take the ‘raw materials’ and we’re going to make something ‘better’ out of them.”
The farm stand — which I’m not naming, even though my local peeps will know who it is, because this isn’t about them specifically — has apparently calculated that it can’t make the profit it needs for its investment on fresh produce alone. That’s their hook, certainly, but then they depend on customers’ desire for convenience and other factors to sell the higher-markup items.
This same calculation has been made a million times over, throughout the food industry: The money is in adding “value.”
The problem is, what they call adding is, in fact, subtracting — undeniably. That’s what processing is — subtracting fiber and nutrients in the name of “improvement.” Companies’ entire business model is based on this “added value,” when in fact, our public health depends upon their giving us less of it.