America's Diet Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

America's Diet

The typical American diet is one high in sugars and processed foods. Accordingly, The United States has earned the unfortunate nickname of "Fast-food Nation." The initiation of the rapid growth in fast-food consumption rates in America is likely a result of this country's lack of a widely embraced and highly diverse national cuisine. The United States as a country is truly a melting pot for cultures, religions, ethnicities and beliefs. This vast assortment has certainly carried over into the world of food. That is, most Americans have easy access to a large array of different cuisines on a daily basis and this chronic presence of other cultural food choices has virtually destroyed any possibility of creating a truly American cuisine. Therefore, American citizens along with the rest of the world have transfixed fast-food into this national category. Without question, on the global stage, McDonald's and Burger King are the most recognizable providers of American food . From a domestic perspective, fast-food consumption is certainly a nation-wide phenomenon, whereas there are other more regional food choices that show predominance in select geographic segments. Barbeque food is perhaps the most popular example of a traditionally American cuisine that is concentrated in the southern part of the country . This regional fare revolves around all kinds of meat. The primary subgroups of barbeque exist in the realms of pork, chicken and beef. States like Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Tennessee are all famous for their selected contributions to this southern cuisine . In most cases, each state has its own specific regional sauce and time-consuming smoking and cooking process. Thus, unlike the streamlined and convenient nature of fast-food, barbeque cuisine requires care and attention throughout the culinary process . And being that the southern belt of the United States possesses massive amounts of cattle, pig and chicken farms; the citizens of this national segment certainly have greater expertise in this meat-focused gastronomic field. And while the government has created legislation promoting the collective domestic availability of fast-food, this regional cuisine continues to remain geographically compartmentalized.

Beginning from a national perspective, the consumption of fast-food has become a way of life for numerous demographics. Knowing that this area of food typifies the American diet, it can also be said that this diet is one rife with unhealthiness and insalubriousness. Accordingly, this increasingly popular American dietary trend has been directly attributed to a number of growing health concerns and even pandemics striking America's collective population . There have also been several outbreaks of e-coli and salmonella poisoning that have been tracked back to the fast-food industry. As a result, many have begun to question the operational practices of the massive conglomerates that control this industry. When investigators have been able to break through the purposefully placed veil of secrecy surrounding the productive cycles of fast-food companies, the findings have been horrifying. Several documentaries including the popular film entitled Food Inc. have been able to penetrate the doors of this reticent industry and have brought their discoveries to the public eye . The appalling realities shown in this film have birthed a great deal of public outrage against the government, which is shown to be highly corrupted in matters pertaining to the fast-food industry. Though nevertheless, there has been no significant change in fast-food consumption rates as a result of this or any other publication.

Empirical and health-friendly sources like Food Inc. have also been able precisely identify the primary ingredients in the typical American Diet of fast and convenient food sources. Surprisingly, meat and poultry are not the primary staples of this popular cuisine. Instead, it has been determined that other agricultural products, most notably corn and soybeans, are the most significant contributors to the fast-food diet. That is not to say that the Fast-Food Nation is eating corn on the cob and drinking soymilk, but rather American citizens are consuming the unhealthy byproducts of these agricultural resources. The most common of these derivatives is known as high-fructose corn syrup, which is a widely used sweetener. This substance can be found in soda, breads, cereals, soups, condiments, candies, juices, cookies, ice creams and crackers . As is illustrated, this corn-based product has found its way into countless segments of the American food world and continues to contaminate citizens. In fact, studies have shown that "the average American consumes 152 pounds of sweeteners per year, more than 40% of which comes directly from high fructose corn syrup." This unbelievable statistic truly illustrates America's addiction to sweets and the fast-food industry's exploitation of this. What is more, almost all of the same products that contain high fructose corn syrup also contain some type of soybean derivative. While soy products have been marketed for their healthy characteristics, the derivatives of this American agricultural staple have been shown to be highly detrimental to personal health . And to exacerbate this unfortunate reality of harmful food consumption in the American diet, the firms that control these agricultural products are highly exploitive and ambitious. In fact, one large soybean company (The Monsanto Corporation) has actually patented their string of soybeans and charges farmers ghastly fees to grow their product . This abusive strategy has won Monsanto a virtual monopoly in this agricultural sector. They continue to force the hands of farmers and suppliers in the American food industry.

The immense influence of these agricultural powerhouses also heeds the advancement of the American fast-food diet. That is, through the monopolistic tactics of the corn and soybean industries, fast-food prices have fallen as subsidies have been created to increase the production of these commodities. In fact, it has recently been determined that approximately 40% of the United States' land mass is dedicated to the growing of corn . What is more, the United States has also recently become the world leader in the production of soybeans . Thus, knowing the great importance of these ingredients in the fast-food industry and America's massive capacity to provide these ingredients it is not surprising that this industry has truly flourished and has been able to maintain low prices in this domestic market. Throughout America's agricultural rise and its increased capacity to supply the staples of its fast-food diet, consumption rates have been steadily increasing. In fact, fast food expenditures in United States have increased from "$6 billion to $110 billion over the last 30 years."

And while corn and soybeans represent the primary ingredients in America's nation-wide fast-food diet, meat and poultry also play significant roles in the continuance of this culinary trend. However, similar to the harsh and oppressive tactics of companies in the aforementioned agricultural arena, many meat and poultry suppliers have fallen into this dishonorable domain. In order to meet the growing demands of the Fast-Food Nation, meat and poultry suppliers have begun injecting their chickens, cows and pigs with steroids to increase their growth rates and final slaughter weights . Additionally, with the ever-growing demands of fast-food industry clients, the life spans and living spaces of these animals have continued to shrink. Chickens, for instance, are often born and raised in dark sheet metal barns surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other chickens, sitting in their own feces because they are barely able to support the weight of their genetically modified and "enhanced" bodies . Many chickens are never able to stand up throughout their short lives. This entire abusive process has come to be known as "factory farming." That is, the traditional idea of a farm and a farmer has been systematically extricated and replaced by large plants that are stuffed with complicated machinery and abused animals. In order to provide the necessary proteins for the American fast-food diet, farmers have become mechanics and technicians and the lives of animals have become shorter and shorter and more and more unpleasant.

Moreover, like the aforementioned agricultural data, the abusive and cost-cutting tactics that have gained prominence in the meat and poultry industries have subsequently increased these industries' domestic capacity to supply the ingredients necessary to further the growth of America's fast-food diet.

And though the fast-food diet is certainly a nation-wide trend, it has shown a great degree of prominence in certain geographic epicenters. Considering the vast inequalities in the distribution of income throughout the United States, personal income levels as well as food prices certainly play a part in this compartmentalization, yet there is also significant literature claiming that people's inclinations have been systematically manipulated by large fast-food conglomerates that target lower-income areas . Research has also shown that the desired demographic for fast-food conglomerates is predominantly African-American neighborhoods . In fact, according to some of the most recent literature on this subject, "The percentage of black residents is a more powerful predictor of FFRD [Fast Food Restaurant Density] than median household income…predominantly black neighborhoods have one additional fast-food restaurant per square mile compared with predominantly white neighborhoods." The map below elucidates fast-food restaurant density statistics in the urban center of St. Louis, Missouri based upon…

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