Neoliberal diet comes under attack

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      Simon Fraser University sociology professor Gerardo Otero has created a “junk-food-risk index” to determine the implications for countries that rely on imported fast food created by transnational corporations.

      “I’m calling this the neoliberal diet, which is heavy on what nutritionists call energy-dense diets—basically diets with a lot of fat and empty calories,” Otero said on February 8 during a panel discussion at SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business on Canada’s role in global food security.

      Citing data supplied by governments to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Otero noted that there has been a sharp increase in the consumption of vegetable oils. He argued that “most of these vegetable oils are produced through biotechnology, like transgenic canola, transgenic corn, soy beans, et cetera.”

      And he suggested that these vegetable oils are heavily used in the fast-food sector, whose growth has coincided with sharp increases since 1961 in obesity in many countries, including the United States, South Africa, and Brazil. At one point in his lecture, Otero displayed a chart showing that the largest rise has occurred in Mexico, the country of his birth. India, on the other hand, has only seen a two percent increase in obesity.

      His index, which he was revealing for the first time, is a composite measurement that distinguishes between “basic foods” and “luxury foods”. Those that comprise 50 percent or more of all caloric intake fall into the “basic” category and are included in the index.

      In addition, he takes into account the country’s rate of trade dependency, its degree of income inequality, and a food-uniformity index, which measures the number of food sources that account for more than 50 percent of the national diet.

      Otero explained that from the end of the Second World War to the early 1980s, food security focused on agricultural production within countries. He said that since then, the United States and “superstate organizations” have exerted a great deal of effort in opening up this sector to international trade.

      “So there was a whole change in rhetoric from self-sufficiency to comparative advantages,” he stated. “So presumably, countries would be better off by opening their borders to trade and achieve food security either through trade or through aid.”

      But he questioned whether this has actually led to people around the world enjoying more active and healthy lives.

      Otero closed his presentation with a quotation about trade from a Food and Agriculture Organization document published in 2003: “The claim that trade liberalization will bring net gains to the least-developed countries is, at best, questionable, and at worst, outright wrong.”

      “So my question to you,” he told the audience, “is what is to be done about this junk-food risk?”




      Feb 14, 2013 at 7:59am

      People stil smoke,drink,do drugs etc. even thogh its bad for them,junk food would not be here if no one ate it.We make choices goverments should advise not control.


      Feb 14, 2013 at 11:34am

      gaddam gov'mnt taxes


      Feb 14, 2013 at 12:41pm

      Ummm...before vegetable oil came along, we cooked everything in lard. Or we boiled our food until it became a flavourless mush. If we were rich enough to have an oven, we could roast and bake reasonably edible things (but a lot of it needed butter or lard).

      There's been millions of pages devoted to the risk factors of junk food and the Western diet. Adding a trendy political term like "NeoLiberal" to food smacks of a desperate, unimaginative academic struggling to get published.

      Very sad.


      Feb 14, 2013 at 1:04pm

      Really interesting comment about comparative advantage versus self sufficiency. This solidifies in my mind that everyone should try to grow some food for themselves, it's healthy and fun too.

      Gerardo Otero

      Feb 15, 2013 at 12:14pm

      The main point of the junk-food-risk index is to highlight the fact that low-income people do not have much choice in what to eat: The cheapest food is also the least healthy. There is plenty of research confirming a high correlation between low incomes and low education, on one hand, with the most "energy-dense", i.e. junk-food, diets. A similar comment applies to farmers: either they adopt the new technologies offered by large transnational corporations, or they risk going out of business. Those who make the argument around choice are really blaming the victims.


      Feb 15, 2013 at 3:07pm

      Always blame the the low income to fast foods,if you have a low buget dont go to a fast food joint,you can make a better choice by making your own meals.By the time you buy 3or4 fast food meals you spent20.00to30.00dollars ,now you can buy groceries for that and make a better meal for your famaly.I believe that lazines and not caring is a big factor.


      Feb 19, 2013 at 4:47pm

      this relates to the loss of agicultural land in Canada. In BC only 5% of land is arable, most of it in the Fraser Valley. Our govts, in service of multinationals, favour paving this over to satisfy the voracious appetite of Port Metro vancouver. if they have their way, we will have no choice but to eat imported food, with consequences for our citizens as well as countries who have no choice but to export food they need for themselves.