Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 258- Corn Sugar

Dear Mr. President,

"Corn Sugar" might be my new phrase for anything attempting to improve its image with a benign name. Like Blackwater becoming Xe or torture becoming "enhanced interrogation", the high-fructose corn syrup industry would like to have their product renamed into something slightly more suggestive of sunshine and real food. I'm not really a huge fan of marketing in general, but especially not when it comes to food. The deceptive practices many companies use to encourage consumption are incredibly manipulative. While ultimately we are all responsible for the food choices we make, I don't think companies should make it harder for a consumer to know what, exactly, is in the food they are consuming. That being said, I really don't care what HFCS is called.

HFCS is used primarily in items I don't consume; processed foods, sweetened beverages, and the kinds of candy I didn't even like as a child. I've still never had a Coca Cola, but popular opinion among my well-traveled friends is that Coke tastes better in countries where cane sugar is still used to sweeten it. While one might not have to look very far to see the potential health risks of HFCS consumption, my objection to the substance has nothing to do with it being better or worse for you than sugar. HFCS is popular with the makers of processed food because it is cheap and it is cheap because of the way corn is grown and subsidized in this country. HFCS's real danger is not in its consumption but its environmental, social and economic impacts. When it costs less and is more convenient for me to buy a jar of tomato sauce sweetened with corn than a decent-tasting tomato, well, that's when I get really angry. (Friends can surely attest that I take my tomatoes way too seriously.)

Our nation's health would surely improve if we lowered the amount of sweeteners we consumed overall. Our planet's health would likewise benefit from a complete overhaul in the way we raise our crops. If changing the name from corn syrup to "planet-killing cancer-causing death juice" is the way to accomplish that, well, I'll be the first to start editing the Wikipedia page. I think an informed consumer doesn't need to worry about what a substance is named, so long as they have all the information available to understand the impact their purchase will have on their own health and the health of the planet. What we need more than anything is a national food system that makes healthy food choices the easiest and least expensive options, that encourages sustainable agricultural practices and fair wages for agricultural workers. A food system that places the overall health of our nation above efficiency and profit. Until we change the way we produce and consume food as a society, we're just going to keep getting fatter and sicker while the planet gets hotter and the poor get poorer. Anything else is just corn sugar.

Respectfully yours,


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