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In Review

Appetite for Profit

by Michele Simon
416 pages, paperback
Nation Books, 2006

The battle of the bulge, being fought in all industrialized societies, is currently being lost. According to American Sports Data, nearly two thirds of all Americans are overweight, and childhood obesity in the US has more than tripled in the past two decades. And, according to the US Surgeon General, obesity is responsible for approximately 300,000 deaths every year. So who’s at fault for this public health crisis?

In her book Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, Michele Simon lays most of the blame on the corporate food conglomerates, claiming they have no interest in promoting healthy eating habits. Government programs, says Simon, are “woefully ineffective” in bringing about the kind of behavioral change that will reverse the negative health trend. It seems that government is just as vulnerable to the power of the food industry as consumers; the food industry has the ability to shape government policy.book cover scan, featuring a fork

Simon raises a valid point that Big Food promotes and generates unhealthy eating habits. Through expensive marketing campaigns, the leaders of the food industry steer our choices, leading us not only to eat what we shouldn’t, but to eat more of it than we should. Does it necessarily follow, however, that the industry should be condemned for its practices any more than corporations in other industries? Simon points out as early as the first chapter that the officers of any company have, by law, a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the interests of their stockholders. In making this point, Simon echoes the work of Joel Bakan, whose excellent book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, made it clear that corporations are, effectively speaking, pathological entities that externalize the costs of doing business whenever possible. Just as coal-mining companies prefer not to clean up the mess they make, food companies do not want to be held accountable for any medical costs associated with the food they produce and sell. So ultimately the question remains: What can be done about this problem?

It’s a pie-in-the-sky notion that McDonald’s, Kraft, PepsiCo, and others would ever foot the bills for obesity-related diseases. That would require an enlightened Congress and White House, something we’re not likely to have in the foreseeable future. But if you’re ready to take matters into your own hands and start making some changes at the grassroots level, Simon’s book is an excellent source for the knowledge you’ll need to make a difference, providing concrete tips on how to fight back against the greed of food giants and government indifference. Simon serves up all this the information in bite-sized morsels, making the information easy to digest. Will her plan work? Only if enough people step away from the table and step up to the plate.

   

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