The idea for this column’s title came from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s latest book: “Fast Food Genocide.” We should be eating slow carbs—unprocessed vegetables, fruit, and whole grains that are full of health-promoting micronutrients. Slow carbs are digested in the part of the intestines where satiety (a feeling of fullness) is triggered, and where nutrients enter the blood stream slowly, keeping blood sugar and insulin levels in check.
We should avoid fast—also known as ultra-processed—carbs. Fast carbs require little to no chewing, and are digested in the upper part of the GI track, above where satiety is triggered, so people eat more and more of them. These essentially pre-digested foods enter the blood stream rapidly, causing disease-promoting spikes in blood sugar and insulin. Furthermore, food companies add salt, sugar, and oil to make these unhealthy fast carbs more addictive, so that people eat more, buy more, and profits increase. Examples of fast carbs are doughnuts, cakes, cookies, muffins, chips, most crackers, white bread, buns, energy bars, sugary drinks, white flour tortillas, and breakfast cereals sold in boxes.
How did we end up with a situation where the majority of calories most Americans eat every day are from ultra-processed fast carbs, resulting in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and other chronic diseases? In the 1960s a rise in heart disease caused nutrition experts and government guidelines to advise people to cut back on cholesterol-raising animal products and to increase carbs, including products containing processed white flour. To make up for the loss of nutrients due to processing, these products were enriched with vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, Big Food saw this as an opportunity to make higher profits, resulting in grocery store shelves filled to this day with addictive, disease-causing products containing fast carbs with added salt, sugar, and oil.
How does this relate to genocide and social injustice? Here’s an example: Before they were placed on a reservation in the late 19th century, Hopi Indians had no obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or alcoholism. At the end of the 19th century, the Hopi were forced onto a reservation, and were given government commodities: white flour, sugar, and shortening (butter, lard, vegetable oil), with “Indian fry bread” quickly becoming a favorite. Now 80 percent of Hopis have diabetes by the age of 30, and life expectancy is 53. A disproportionate number of American Indians are now dying from COVID-19.
In his book “Food Fix,” Dr. Mark Hyman says that “More African Americans, Hispanics, and poor people are killed by bad food than anything else. Drive-through fast food kills far more people than drive-by shootings.” He goes on to say that “your zip code is a bigger determinant of your health outcomes than your genetic code.” “Food Fix” discusses the science linking fast carbs to obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, dementia, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Studies also show a strong link between ultra-processed food and depression, anxiety, violence, ADHD, and poor school performance. Currently, poor people and people of color are dying disproportionately from COVID-19.
Unhealthy eating is the new tobacco. Dr. Hyman calls Big Food “food pushers”—like drug pushers. They shamelessly “selectively target the poor and minorities with junk food.” Furthermore, these disadvantaged groups often live in “food deserts,” where it is very difficult to find healthy “slow carb” food. Meanwhile, our government officials fail to stand up to Big Food and Big Ag. Why do tax dollars continue supporting soy, wheat, and corn crops—the main source of fast carbs–instead of slow carb crops such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, and fruit? Why do government-guaranteed loan programs support fast-food outlets, which as Dr. Hyman says are “far more prevalent in poor communities of color. Why should government loans pay for the expansion of food that kills Americans?”
Food companies are not only making Americans sick and killing them, but they’re now targeting people throughout the world and harming them as well.
There are a few examples of hope, such as the People’s Grocery in Oakland, the Black Urban Growers in the Bronx, and Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York. And maybe there’s hope in Britain, based on a recent newspaper article with the headline “Nation looks at limiting junk food ads.”