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America's Junk Food Dependence

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Our society has developed an obesity problem over the past several decades, and the solution seems simple: eat less junk food. But when it’s more affordable and more accessible than healthier options, it’s time we see the problem for what it really is: a dependence on junk food. It permeates our culture and is often the only option for a lot of people. The prevalence of junk food in our culture did not happen overnight, and the solution to obesity won’t happen overnight, either.

For the more affluent folks of our society, junk food is a guilty pleasure, not a way of life. But the majority of the people in our society neither have the time nor money to sustain a healthy lifestyle, so it’s safe to say that many of us actually depend on this fast, cheap fare to survive. And as journalist David H. Freedman points out in his essay ‘How Junk Food Can End Obesity’, “There is no reasonable scenario under which [wholesome foods] could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the obese population”. This seems really backward, considering how many steps go into producing processed junk food versus whole foods.

In addition to being less wallet-friendly, healthy eating can be extremely confusing. Fad diets like South Beach, Keto, and Paleo, are giving us the message that we should avoid certain foods, without the evidence to back them up. In his essay, David H. Freedman goes on to explain why author Michael Pollan, a key player in the Wholesome Food movement, is stifling Big Food’s efforts to slow the obesity trend. While Michael Pollan has some excellent points about why we should all switch to eating the way our Neolithic ancestors supposedly ate, he doesn’t empathize with the fact that we have created a dependence on junk food in our society.

Freedman points out in his essay that fat, sugar and certain other carbohydrates cause pleasure chemicals “placed in our brains by evolution over the millions of years during which starvation was an ever-present threat”. We no longer face hunger the way we did leading up to the industrialization of society, but we still experience the same immediate pleasure from eating quick-energy foods such as refined carbohydrates, fats, and sugars. According to an article from Healthline, junk food stimulates the reward center in our brains in the same way that addictive drugs do (Gunnars). Maybe it’s time we developed a methadone for junk food.

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Junk food is not always conspicuous; it can be really sneaky. By definition, it is food that has low nutritional value, typically produced in the form of packaged snacks needing little or no preparation (Oxford). Companies try to cover up unwholesome ingredients by adding health claims to their packaging, which cons people into buying something they think is good for them. According to Freedman, Pollan’s solution for changing our eating behavior is “through public education and regulation” and to replace junk food with “fresh, unprocessed, local, seasonal, real food”. The city of Seattle tried to change consumer’s eating behavior when it instated a Soda Tax back in January of 2018. The Soda Tax taxes the manufacturers and distributors of soda and sugary drinks, who then pass on the price increase to retailers, and in turn, consumers. An article from the Seattle Times explains that “the city collected nearly $17 million in the first nine months of the tax, surpassing its initial expectations, and officials now are counting on the money to keep rolling in” (Beekman). While the tax clearly worked to raise the money, the city had hoped it would, it also shows that people will still pay for sugary drinks, even when they cost more.

Perhaps it’s out of our control that people are dying of health issues related to dietary habits. Michael Pollan states in his essay that “a wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers”, which leads me to believe that most consumers lack the critical thinking skills to make good choices about what they eat. If we are heartless enough to watch people continue to suffer from the consequences of junk food, we might as well kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and just take the food away completely.

The Wholesome Food Movement, though reckless in its mission to convert the world, does have its up-sides. With farmers' markets a growing trend, the number of them has more than doubled in the past ten years (Pollan). They are a great way to diversify your diet, as well as develop relationships with the people who grow your food. Pollan also points out that by eating from the farmers’ market, you are eating foods that are in season and at their peak of nutrition. But for many people, it is more crucial that they eat than what they’re eating, so how can we handle this catch?

Since taking away junk food entirely will likely put a huge strain on our economy, as well as create more obstacles to get food to the people that need it most. Like Freedman says, historically humans have looked to technology to solve our problems. If we can compromise and use technology and science to make junk food less toxic, we might just be able to make a dent in obesity. Freedman explains that Big Food corporations are “already applying various tricks and technologies to create less caloric and more satiating versions” of junk food, which is a huge step toward a healthier population. As long as Whole Foodists like Pollan don’t overshadow their efforts, I think we have a chance.

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America’s Junk Food Dependence. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“America’s Junk Food Dependence.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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America’s Junk Food Dependence [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 Dec 2]. Available from:
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