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Junk food: a cure-all?

(article, Culinate staff)

In its July/August issue, the Atlantic has a cover feature about junk food. Author David H. Freedman details how, as always, the snack-food industry is trying to figure out how best to market its treats — this time with a veneer of healthfulness. 

Take, for example, the Trader Joe's product dubbed Inner Peas, which consists of "peas that are breaded in cornmeal and rice flour, fried in sunflower oil, and then sprinkled with salt." Freedman isn't impressed: "By weight, the snack has six times as much fat as it does protein, along with loads of carbohydrates."

Freedman's main health argument is that fat and carbs are bad for you, and that the form they take doesn't really matter. In his view, beef from an entirely grass-fed cow, or bread made from a home-fermented starter, are equivalent to, say, a Whopper. 

The fact that many industrially produced foods have chemicals and other additives is, to Freedman, incidental, since the additives are not obesogenic — in other words, they don't make you fat. And, Freedman says, all of the ingredients in our food are safe, because they're regulated by the USDA.

Freedman's main motivation is the obesity epidemic. On these grounds, Freedman takes down Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and their main publisher, the New York Times,_ accusing them of both simplistic thinking (the assumption that all processed food is bad food) and of foisting "obesogenic travesties" on an unwitting public. 

And saving people from obesity, writes Freedman, is more important than pretty much anything else on the dinner table:

bq. By all means, let’s protect the environment. But let’s not rule out the possibility of technologically enabled improvements to our diet — indeed, let’s not rule out any food — merely because we are pleased by images of pastoral family farms. Let’s first pick the foods that can most plausibly make us healthier, all things considered, and then figure out how to make them environmentally friendly.

Oh, and if we can make those healthy foods available and affordable to all, not just Pollan and Bittman and their fellow elitists — yes, Freedman rehashes that old argument, too — then our diets will be truly wholesome.