Some think that cheap food has been essential given that middle class income has stagnated in the past few decades.
The dominant ideology of food in the United States is nutritionism: the idea that food should be thought of in terms of its component nutrients. Food science is devoted to identifying the nutrients in food that make us healthy or unhealthy, and encouraging us to consume more of the former and less of the latter…
It’s especially good for the food industry, because nutritionism justifies even more intensive processing of food. Instead of making bread out of flour, yeast, water, and salt, Sara Lee makes “Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread” out of “enriched bleached flour” (seven ingredients), water, “whole grains” (three ingredients), high fructose corn syrup, whey, wheat gluten, yeast, cellulose, honey, calcium sulfate, vegetable oil, salt, butter, dough conditioners (up to seven ingredients), guar gum, calcium propionate, distilled vinegar, yeast nutrients (three ingredients), corn starch, natural flavor [?], betacarotene, vitamin D3, soy lecithin, and soy flour (pp. 151-52). They add a modest amount of whole grains so they can call it “whole grain” bread, and then they add the sweeteners and the dough conditioners to make it taste more like Wonder Bread. Because processed foods sell at higher margins, we have an enormous food industry pushing highly processed food at us, very cheaply (because it’s mainly
made out of highly-subsidized corn and soy), which despite its health claims (or perhaps because of them) is almost certainly bad for us, and bad for the environment as well.
What does this all have to do with finance? Roughly speaking, read academic finance for nutritionism; the financial sector for
the food industry; subprime loans, reverse convertibles, and CDOs for highly processed food claiming to improve your health but actually killing you; current disclosure laws for the FDA-approved health claims on corn oil; thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages and index funds for the neglected, unsubsidized, unadvertised fruits and vegetables in the produce section; the OCC and OTS for the FDA; and the long-term increase in obesity and diabetes for the long-term increase in household debt….
In both cases, you have an industry that earns profits by convincing people to do things that are not in their long-term interests… And in both cases, the industry claims that if it isn’t allowed to continue on its current course, the economy as a whole will suffer. (After all, our corn- and soy-based diet is what enables the industry to provide huge numbers of calories at low cost.)
One big difference is that when it comes to the food system, there is a fair amount you can do to protect yourself and your family from its unhealthy effects (if you have the money)…
Healthy food may cost more (though cabbage and sweet potatoes are pretty inexpensive). I also drive a 12 year old car… Life is about tradeoffs.
Does that mean I shop at Whole Paycheck? Not usually. It means I cook food, not prepackaged meals.