“The American Diet” fueled by Capitalism


Sarah Chen

Big corporations like Mcdonald’s contribute to the capitalist mindset that prioritizes profit over consumer health.

Sarah Chen, Copy editor

“My stomach problems disappeared!”

“All my food sensitivities went away in Europe!” 

Statements like these have been shared by TikTok creators regarding their health changes after moving outside of the US, sparking discussions around the unhealthy reality of the US food industry.

From deep fried butter to donut cheeseburgers, Americans are notoriously regarded as obese and over-eaters. Diet is a leading issue in the life expectancy of Americans, with obesity-related diseases at the forefront of health issues. In the United States alone, the percentage of people affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. 

With almost fifty percent of the US population projected to be obese by 2030, people are calling for an examination of the disease-promoting food environment. What’s different between the US food industry and those of statistically healthier countries, such as Japan and Spain? Why is it that Americans constantly find themselves surrounded by endless aisles of “junk”?

When it comes to choosing food in daily life, the decision ultimately boils down to cost, convenience and marketing: three areas that big corporations know all too well. The goal behind the brands on the shelves has rarely been to improve the nutrition of Americans; instead, it has been to maximize company profits. 

Processed foods that are so appealing to consumers are not only readily available at a cheap price, but also often contain ingredients that lead to addictive tendencies. 

Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness and Johns Hopkins faculty, Scott Kahan, shares his opinion on how the food industry has shaped America. “The food environment is a strong predictor of how we eat’ … ‘And in America, the unhealthiest foods are the tastiest foods, the cheapest foods, the largest-portion foods, the most available foods, and the most fun foods,” he voiced. 

How do US companies create such a dependence on low-quality nutrition?

Retaining little to no nutritional value, processed foods like chips and soda are mass produced with increasingly engineered chemicals to keep customers returning for more. High levels of fat, sugar, and salt in foods can lead to symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance, comparative to a drug addiction. 

Food additives such as titanium dioxide and potassium bromate that are commonly found in US manufactured foods are not even legal for consumption in the EU. Additional chemicals are loosely regulated in the US compared to the EU. Prerna Vanga, a sophomore, expressed concern about this issue. “There are so many dangerous food additives and food colorings specifically that are FDA approved. This is especially dangerous because people view the administration as omniscient, trusting any decisions they make” she shared.

The lack of laws and regulation in FDA Food Chemical Safety fuels food company tactics. The FDA allows manufacturers to self-certify that their additives are safe, which creates a complete lack of transparency between consumers and the producer. 

This lack of oversight makes it easier for companies to modify products as they wish in order to make more money. The FDA looks out for the companies’ wallets, but not for the consumers’ health. Although companies don’t start out by plotting the demise of Americans’ well-being, low quality food eventually becomes a by-product of the competing capitalist marketplace. 

As a result of the vicious cycle of profit-focused mindset by big name brand companies, consumers have become accustomed to this lifestyle. The diet that has become so familiar to us as Americans should not be the “norm”. 

Vanga has also become aware of the “Standard American Diet”. “Fast food has become a staple of American culture and is a big reason why so many people suffer from obesity related issues. It’s not just that Americans consume this food but that companies idealize and normalize it to the point where people don’t see anything wrong with it”. Duplicitous marketing ploys and commercials have consumed all facets of life, encouraging consumption of the unhealthy foods that are constantly displayed on our screens?

The recent rise of TikTok videos about the quality of US food shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how capitalism has become the foundation of the food industry. However, the food industry is just one facet of our economy whose problems can’t be dismantled without tearing down the entire capitalistic system. Although it’s unrealistic to fix the profit centered capitalist mindset, there are many steps that can be taken to better ensure a future for healthy food consumption in the United States.

For people who have the resources and money, gardening and incorporating whole foods into diets can be done to promote an opposing mindset not centered around mass-produced foods. Another step that can be taken at a national level is to hold the FDA more accountable with their regulations on additives. More regulations would prevent US corporations from promoting continuous cravings of processed foods. 

As the state of nutrition in America deteriorates, the line between ethics and profit becomes blurred. The food industry will continue to target Americns if consumers do not become aware of the intense promotion of unhealthy foods.