From health to hedonism: The way we eat is changing
Confusion about food and nutrition may be fueling our obsession with #foodporn and even raw foods, according to a new survey of nearly 12,000 people worldwide.
Unlike our early ancestors, whose diet was as instinctive as it was simple, ours is shaped by a more complicated array of factors including marketing, wealth and values.
“What we eat – and choose not to eat – is a daily testament to who we are and how we are choosing to live our lives,” reads the report, Eater’s Digest, by Havas Worldwide.
This may be, but many of us don’t feel confident about what we are choosing to eat.
“Whereas in the past the food industry created beloved brands that accompanied people throughout their lives, today the category is rife with distrust and confusion,” Havas reports.
“In our newest global study, fewer than 4 in 10 respondents said they trust the food industry to provide them with healthful food.”
Such distrust is making its mark; McDonald’s closed more stores than they opened in 2015, Kellogg’s sales are steadily declining, and consumers don’t know whether to believe the ingredient lists on products.
“Grocery shoppers have become conditioned to questioning food claims,” Havas states. “And who can blame them? That spaghetti and meatballs dinner you ate?
“Judging from news headlines over the past couple of years, the ‘beef’ in the meatballs may actually have been horsemeat, the ‘Italian olive oil’ you used may not have been from Italy or even predominately olive oil, and the ‘Parmesan cheese’ you sprinkled on top may actually have been wood pulp. Bon appétit!”
This sense we are being deceived is heightened by the discovery that we may be being tripped up by our own language.
“Popular products marketed as ‘all natural’ have been found to contain everything from artificial preservatives and thickening agents to potentially carcinogenic chemicals,” the report says.
“Unclear labeling, regulatory loopholes, and duplicitous practices have turned many consumers into food detectives – and BS detectors – and it’s beginning to have an impact.”
The impact can be seen in the shifting trends and the subsequent demands of the public.
For instance, the future of food is ugly and we are turning away from Big Food towards smaller, more local suppliers who we trust, who provide fresher produce and who help us feel more connected to the process.
“Buying local has another sizable advantage: It allows consumers to push back against the forces of globalisation and homogenisation,” the report says. “A majority of those surveyed worry that fast food has killed local food and culture. By going local, they feel reconnected to their local lands and weather patterns.”
Our confusion and disillusionment with food has also allowed us to realise that we vote with our fork and what we put on it has an impact beyond what we will swallow.
We are becoming more conscious consumers, with more than half the respondents saying they try to eat ethically (cage-free eggs, for example), reduce wastefulness and avoid producers known for poor environmental practices.
“When practiced without care, farming presents the greatest threat to species and ecosystems,” warns The World Wide Fund for Nature and, based on the Havas report findings, we are becoming more aware of this.
“Food concerns aren’t simply a personal issue, they’re a social one,” the report says. “Nearly three-quarters of our respondents believe that junk food and unhealthful diets are among the greatest threats facing our species.
“We’ve seen entire civilisations, such as the Maya and the Sumerians, disappear because their mistreated ecosystem could no longer support their populations. So it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that our poor diets and the harm modern food industries are inflicting upon our planet are cause for concern.”
Of course poor diet is also inflicting harm upon our waistlines too. Obesity figures have doubled since 1980 with about 40 per cent of the world’s adults overweight or obese (this figure shoots up to 63 per cent in Australia) and, apart from tobacco, “there is perhaps no greater harm to the collective health”, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
But, the sacrifice of 11.3 million people per year as a result of an unhealthy diet and the annual global cost of about $2 trillion from obesity, has made many of us sit up and pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies.
“Today, luxury in the food category is linked more to health than to hedonism,” the report says. “Freshly prepared wheatgrass juice, grass-fed beef, and the like have become the new indulgences, allowing people to feel good about themselves and even a little bit superior to those who consume only widely available, highly processed foods.”
Our focus on food, expresses itself in our titillation with #foodporn, cooking shows, Instagram and our desire to eat out more. In fact, 60 per cent of the Havas sample agreed that eating could be as pleasurable as sex, adding: “A third of our sample would opt for an excellent dinner at a restaurant over sex. At 42 percent, women were even more likely to choose dinner over sex.”
So despite the bleak picture being painted about our diet and our confusion with food, it is driving healthier, more ethical eating trends, trends we are totally turned on by and that is sexy.
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