The Supermarket Handbook: Access to Wholefoods
was first published by Harper & Row in 1973 and was dedicated:
To the preservation of the family farm.
Excerpt from the Introduction to the Revised and Expanded Edition of The Supermarket Handbook (Plume/1976)
…An interest in diet and nutrition can be both a selfish and a selfless concern, for the modern techniques that are supposed to supply food for mankind now seem to be linked to many of our personal, social and economic problems.
Consider modern feed-lot techniques which fatten animals in less time but produce meat that contains residues of feed additives (particularly the highly suspect hormone DES), and meat so fatty that it is increasingly thought of as a contributor to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Consider white flour, pasta, bread, rice, and over processed vegetables and fruits; while these foods have been suspected for a long time as being a poor source of nutrition, they are now viewed with increasing concern because of their lack of fiber, a potential cause of digestive illnesses ranging from simple constipation to cancer of the bowel.
Consider a food supply containing artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives, and the like, whose safety is constantly in doubt and whose use allows manufacturers to employ inferior raw ingredients.
Consider the FDA and the USDA, the two federal agencies we have entrusted with the tough job of protecting and policing our food supply; both are so corrupted by the interests they are intended to oversee that the regulators are now controlled by those who were to be regulated.
Consider the “Green Revolution,” industrial farming techniques which use so much energy that our homes, factories, and cars must now compete with our stomachs for fuel. This agricultural situation is largely due to our dependence on artificial fertilizers – chemicals that require vast amounts of fuel for their manufacture. It is understandable that chemical fertilizers are needed to supplement the available natural ones, but at present we ignore 1.6 billion tons of animal waste and an equal amount of human waste – enough waste, once treated, to fertilize at least half of America’s farmland. “Farming uses more petroleum than any other industry,” state two Cornell researchers writing in Science magazine.
Consider the separation of suppliers, growers, processors, warehouses, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers, which adds an enormous surcharge to food costs and a needless drain on our limited fossil fuels. Several studies have shown transportation to be the second largest energy user in our food production system.
Because energy-intensive farming techniques were developed for large-scale farming, government farm policies favor the factory-farm. With lack of federal and academic support, more that 2,000 farms have been closing down each week since the 1940’s; farms that provide employment and high-quality local produce with minimum energy input. As one observer has put it, “… the small farmer is no longer an agricultural problem; he is a welfare problem.” Although a few states, including North Dakota, Kansas, and Minnesota, have laws that prohibit or curtail corporate farming, lack of public interest has kept a Federal Family Farm Anti-Trust Act in congressional committee.
In much the same way, our national encouragement of a diet high in meat has brought about inefficient use of our remaining farmland. Much of the valuable crops produced on the land, like soy and grain, are fed not to people but to cattle. Professor Georg Borgstrom of the University of Michigan estimates that the developed world, which makes up only 28 percent of the world’s population, consumes three-fourths of the world’s fish supply and two-thirds of the world’s grain – not as human food, but indirectly, through the meat we eat.
One reason why we eat what we eat is the tantalizing packaging that surrounds factory foods, nine-tenths of which you throw away when you get home. It is estimated that merely cutting packaging in half would save 200,000 barrels of oil each day.
America’s food advertising, which uses high-powered media techniques, exposes children to an average of twenty TV commercials an hour, half of which sell edibles on the basis of their “sweetened, sugared, or crisped quality.” The billions of dollars spent each year on public relations and advertising have so perverted our eating habits that many people now prefer the taste of factory-made food to their real counterparts. Dr Ross Hume Hall has written in his excellent book Food for Naught/The Decline in Nutrition:
“When food technologists began to separate nutrition from palatability, they also undermined the ability of the human senses to assess the quality of the food. Texture, color, odor, taste, and feel of natural food are all human guides, not only to the nutritional value of food, but also to its safety. At one time one could use one’s own senses to determine accurately the freshness of food, but man’s senses no longer guide him in his choice of food items.”
A U.S. Senate Report (1973) established that there were more than 12 million malnourished people in this country, spanning all economic sectors. This malnutrition can be directly linked to one of America’s most tragic faces, that of the retarded child. Because of improper diet during pregnancy and infancy, the national incidence of learning disabilities, social maladjustment, and neurological disorders is increasing rather than diminishing.
And, saddest of all, we are now in the business of exporting food technology, so that American cola drinks are available even in remote villages; improperly prepared infant formula is replacing mother’s milk in underdeveloped countries; and, in a attempt to emulate the American lifestyle, many nations are forsaking their traditional diets and are encouraging in its place a fatty meat regimen.
The unequal distribution of food t throughout the world, according to the noted biologist Dr. Barry Commoner, has had a significant effect on one of our most pressing problems: overpopulation. In his article “How Poverty Breeds Overpopulation (and not the other way around)” (Ramparts Aug/Sept 1975), Dr. Commoner explains that in poor societies children, particularly male children, are an important source of wealth, one of the only chances to advance one’s economic condition. However, when “quality of life,” of which food and nutrition are basic elements, improves, population growth levels off. “The sense of well being and security in the future” leads people “voluntarily to restrict the production of children ….” Think about it; if food is more equitably distributed, eventually it will have to be shared by fewer people.
We are convinced it is within our power as consumers to make whole foods available in our own areas; hopefully the information that the lists of Exemplary Brands provides can serve as a catalyst for improving the available food supply for us all. By selecting the unrefined, unchemicalized foods in the supermarket, you show the store manager and manufacturer your preference. By asking for those items you do not find, you encourage the store to order them. And as Marjorie Mohr of the Farmington New Hampshire News suggested in her review of the first edition of The Supermarket Handbook, we hope that this book will inspire supermarket owners so that “they may develop a sense of responsibility to make a positive contribution to the health of the citizens they serve.”….
© Nikki & David Goldbeck