The modern consumer is on the one hand the easy target of advertising campaigns for food products whose consumption is not necessarily an instance of a salubrious lifestyle; and on the other hand he is often assailed by a sense of guilt regarding the anti-aesthetic consequences of a disorderly diet, and, if worse comes to the worst, he may regret compromising his very health.
And so in comes the ample offer of products or services, ranging from drugs, slimming diets, gym courses, you name it, that try to counteract the effects of fundamental errors in an earlier stage. In a word, we close the stable door after the horse has bolted. However, granted that whatever is marketed in respect of foodstuff or fitness counselling obeys to the same perverse economic system, there is hardly any contradiction between these two opposing trends: as long as something can be sold it makes the economy spin and a profit can be made. If the market doesn't have any scruple, it is only the consumer who, under the illusion he can indulge to gluttony at the same time as aspiring to having an athletic physique, falls victim to this paradox.
On the whole, we are all concerned with the quality of what we ingest, but we are also ready to make large concessions to the palate whenever temptation lures us, especially during holidays like Christmas. In fact, when it comes to high-calorie foods like matured cheese, producers leave no stone unturned in their effort to softly avert the consumer's attention from facts like energy value or fat content. Not providing dietary information on the package leaves the mind free to glide over trifling details, and the glutton can unreservedly give himself up to food.
On the other hand, snacks and soft drinks, the scourge of modern eating habits, are presented with all the relevant statistics in order to remind the possibly guilty consumer that the product is indeed a healthy one, and that the producer is vigilant on his health. Eating a snack is in most cases utterly unnecessary, but the buyer is not aware of this patent truth anymore, and he only gratifies greed proceeding from an advertisement-induced need.
Choosing how to eat is not entirely in our hands. We are made to believe we can eat healthy, but it is only a way for the market to sell more.
Lately, consumers have become conscious about the healthiness of what they eat. In an advanced consumer economy this need is catered for by a supply of organic farming produce, high-quality milk, free range eggs, and OGM-free products, just to name a few. I myself tend to buy organic eggs for instance, which are supposed to guarantee animal welfare as well as higher nutrition standards. But then I ask myself: how many eggs do I cook in a month? Five, six? And what about the other eggs that I eat in cooked food, cakes and pasta? They are the bigger share and undoubtedly come from the cheapest category over which I have no control. If my main motive is animal welfare, my hopes for a better world are shattered in a second.
If hens are the frequent object of animalist campaigns, few are sensitive to the dairy cows' life of torment. Again, intensive breeding keeps the bovines confined to a stable for their whole lifespan, not a different situation from hens cooped up in cages barely larger than their body. I once watched a video clip showing old cows let loose just before being sent to the slaughter house at the end of their career. Immediately they treaded real grass on a meadow they had probably never seen, they started to frolic uncontrolled. They were very funny, but how sad it was to think of their lifetime spent in a shed with fodder as feed. At least the owners were touched and decided against having them slaughtered.
To go back to the point, like in the case of eggs, I am not sure what difference it makes to buy guaranteed milk when the food industry, notably the dairy industry, utilises cheap milk from intensive farming. Our choice, if not prompted by the decision of drinking a better-tasting product, is not even a drop in the ocean.
We can feel snug with the conviction of eating everything healthy, but in the end we are all in the hands of the big powers. Food industry – read greed for profit – markets junk products on the one hand, and on the other makes us believe that eating higher quality food will bring about a change for a better world, when the scheme only aims at having better results at the end of the financial year.