The debate over processed foods has lately ruffled a lot of feathers. There is one guy, Chris van Tulleken, who is a zealot against “ultra-processed” foods and has made any media outlet who covers this stuff very nervous. There are registered dietitians who are paid speakers at PepsiCo doing Campbell’s soup ads.[^1] There’s everyone in between. The fact that we seem to always have more moralizing than information or social support to go around does not help things.
Like a lot of debates that happen online between widely ideologically dispersed people, there’s been a lot of context flattening and a loss of nuance. On the one hand, I do not think my protein powder, or my buffalo-flavored chicken-and-parm snacking chips, need to be illegal. I don’t even think my Oreos should be illegal. On the other, I know they are not doing the same things to and for me as broccoli. That doesn’t mean both can’t have their place; they do! I would not eat a head of broccoli as pre-workout fuel. Food also brings us benefits (joy, bonding) beyond its nutritional content. Ice cream is good for you.
But I hate the constant conflation of “what individual people are accountable for, morally” and “what institutions of power are accountable for, morally.” If a person can only afford a diet of foods that cost PepsiCo nothing to make, are sold at a huge markup, and contribute little nutritionally beyond calories—it is not on the person to “just make different and ‘healthier’ choices.”
However, there is a lot wrong with PepsiCo being able to spend billions of dollars highly engineering the foods to do a series of illusions, and then spend billions more dollars marketing them, when so many people in the world are food-insecure. This is why I’m starting to find the pro-processed-foods argument that goes, “uhhh, did you even know that most people can only survive if we have processed foods because they have no time or money?” specious. I did know that, but why are we accepting lack of time and money as an inevitable fact of living? Do you know how delighted ConAgra is that you are making this about me and you and these other people, instead of about ConAgra? (This is, honestly, why big companies love influencer marketing so much.)
Yes, people who comment on other people’s Instagram posts of them eating some Twinkies saying “You’re going to get CANCER!” are wrong. Not all “processed” foods are the same. But if PepsiCo is giving you money for your posts because you find yourselves ideologically aligned—I think that is also probably not so good. Just as I’d look askance at environmental coverage funded by, say, Exxon, or gun control legislation from a politician deep in the pockets of the NRA, or even some wellness influencer’s post of cut-up fruit sponsored by, I don’t know, Goop—I’d look equally sideways at nutrition content circulated by someone we would hope is an authority on health, funded by Yum! Brands.
These companies want people to throw their bodies in front of any bullets that will harm their bottom line, and one way they are doing it is to pressure us to think that we lose freedoms if they aren’t able to operate freely. The sooner they can turn people on each other, the sooner they can turn the focus away from themselves. We really don’t have to look a lot deeper at this than “who has all the money and power and an iron grip on the way we live our lives” (the snack companies, McDonald’s, etc.) and “who is struggling” (everyone else).
This is all hard enough without having to feel like we need to be able to extend all our choices to infinity. I feel fine about eating the canned soup; I think you should too. I don’t feel fine that the soup CEO can afford a yacht. I don’t feel fine that the soup is paying a medical professional online to tell me I should feel okay about eating the soup[^2]. I don’t feel fine that any of this makes me feel like I need to crusade for anything but a more equitable world, which has little to do with how I feel about my soup, which is fine.
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PSA that I’m going to be interviewing Alyssa Ages, the author of Secrets of Giants, at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica on October 10! Come through one and all; I’ll have a special little gift for those who come :) You can RSVP here and get Alyssa’s book here!
~Liftcord Pick of the Week: It’s hard to explain how the Liftcord arrived here, but nonetheless we find ourselves at Muscle Motion, a Chippendales-coded workout:
Friend of the blog and my former gym co-member Jamila Emani (who crushed Nats recently!) is on a mission to create a working international map of powerlifting gyms (it’s mostly U.S.-based so far, but she’s open to add in other countries). Send her a gym if you know of one that’s not on there!
This week, for kicks, I did a CrossFit workout, and wouldn’t you know, later that evening I felt a twinge near my collarbone that didn’t go away for two days. CrossFit remains undefeated (at causing injuries). I actually didn’t hate the workout itself, and if anything I deserve some blame for just starting to do a bunch of things (snatches, clean and jerks) that I don’t normally do. Ease in!
An interview with Barbell Mamas founder Christina Prevett. I get occasional requests for “lifting while pregnant” resources, and this seems like a good one!
Early positive results for North Carolina’s healthy food delivery program!: “Food delivery programs associated with HOP are more effective in providing food security than those provided by food subsidies, like food stamps.”
Oprah, the biggest stan of weight loss there is, calls Ozempic “the easy way out.” Okay, look—I’m no fan of Ozempic, but I can’t believe after all this time she can’t get her politics straight here. Nothing has changed since she obsessed in front of her studio audience and all creation over exactly what size the Olsen twins were, while they were trying open up to her about being frustrated over constant body criticism, or [gestures broadly at Dr. Oz]. Maybe even more to the point, Ozempic isn’t the “easy way out” of anything.
Cooking is, I guess, like a slightly more pointed version of mindfulness.
Friend of the blog Brian Merchant’s book Blood in the Machine, about how Luddites were not so much anti-technology as pro-people: “The Luddites sought revenge against the innovation that was holding them hostage. In Merchant’s telling, they were activists, punks, and masked celebrities standing up for the skilled working class, the successors to Robin Hood, another product of Nottingham.” It comes out this week! Got my copy at a real-life bookstore last night :)
Mini oil painting at the pool, in an Altoids tin.
At least a few subscribers also requested more photos of Luca. Here she is:
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
[F1] To work some of these arguments backward: If all of anyone’s message was “You are not a bad person if you eat processed foods”—great. Perfect. It doesn’t need to be extended into “Society leans on processed foods, therefore we must defend them.”
[F2] Reminded of how non-Americans who come to America are shocked at all of our pharmaceutical ads on TV, and the separate fact that many medical professionals here spend a lot of their time being courted by brands.