Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Difficult to Super Easy (Part 2)

Food ConvenienceLast week we had a look at the way in which our understanding of food shifted from a ‘resource acquired through hard work’ to an ‘easily acquired commodity’. I noted that it is very difficult to respond to this trend as cheap and easily available food is so ubiquitous. One, rather extreme, way of responding to this fact would be to move to the back of the beyond and recreate a kind of hunter gatherer existence! Those of us who are not quite ready to drop out of society will have to find other solutions however.

I believe that part of the solution lies in the (take a deep breath!) de-commoditization of food. Complex word, simple concept! Commoditization refers to the process where the internal differences and competitive advantages between certain products give way to a mass market where price is the only differentiating factor. A product is thoroughly commoditized when the only question that I ask is ‘How much does it cost?”. Gold, iron ore and copper are classic commodities. Buyers simply do not care where it was mined, or which company is marketing it, as long as the price is right.

Many parts of the food market (e.g. eggs, flour, sugar and milk) have been commoditized for decades. This is reflected in the fact that this is the products where buying decisions are typically the quickest. (When last did you hold a bottle of milk in your hands to study it from all sides!?)  What is really scary, however, is how more and more foods are joining the ranks of the ‘classic commodities’ every year.

Massively improved transports infrastructure, genetic modification, cooling technology, chemical pest control methods and super efficient distribution methods all combine to bring us foods that can often only be distinguished on one level: (you guessed it) price! “Where is the harm in that?” you may ask.

I have already explained in my article on superabundance that the ‘superabundant’ foods are often exactly those that cause the worst health outcomes if taken in excess. This superabundance is made possible by commoditization as it streamlines the delivery of vast amounts of products based on the lowest common denominator. More information about dealing with superabundance can be found here.

Another problem with commoditization that we will all (but especially those dealing with the effects of ADD/ADHD) have to address has already been hinted at above: Provenance. Another of those ‘big word/simple concept’ cases! In nutritional terms ‘provenance’ simply means: “Where something comes from”. The less commoditized a product is, the easier it is to determine provenance. Think of all the ‘Chateau so-and-so’ wine labels, or the well written ‘word pictures’ of where something was produced that you commonly find on high-end products. In a fully commoditized market provenance is virtually impossible to determine. Who knows, or cares, where the lump of sugar that you just threw in your coffee came from!?

Why is provenance important? Simply because where something came from will often determine what effect it is going to have on you. This is true in two ways (the second of which will somewhat expand the classical definition of provenance): 1) Production location can have a huge impact on the final composition of a product. For example, some countries will allow the use of pesticides and chemicals that have long been banned in North America. 2) Production methods can have a huge impact on the final composition of a product. This is not only true when talking about primary production (i.e. farming) but also when it comes to processing. Additives, cooking oils, sugar, fats etc. can all play a part in turning essentially healthy products into disaster zones. You should therefore always ask the following questions: Where was this produced? By whom was it produced?

Giving in to the easy availability of convenient foodstuffs by not asking the questions above is a very risky business as it could lead to exposure to the very factors (e.g. certain additives, High-GI concoctions etc.) that are known to exacerbate the symptoms of ADD/ADH.

My first piece of advice in dealing with the easy availability of food is to make sure that you play close attention to provenance. Doing so will allow you to enjoy the convenience of our modern food culture without being damaged by it. I will devote next week’s article to ways in which anyone dealing with ADD/ADHD can get serious about provenance. See you then!