the word “processed” It has become something like an insult.
When we say “processed food” most of us think of cheap and unhealthy ingredients. Fresh food straight from the garden or farm is good. When we put it in a processing plant or laboratory, we have removed its aura quality and added a bunch of bad stuff. This means that meat substitutes are no better than junk food.
But this view is short-sighted. We are not going to sustainably feed billions of people with a nutritious diet Without Food processing. The growing backlash against processing is one that neither people nor the planet can handle.
Benefits of processed foods
Processed foods are more like Coca-Cola, milk chocolate, and convenience foods. Most plant and animal products undergo some form of processing to turn them into something we can – and want – to eat. To make bread, we grind grains and make flour. We butcher animals and remove bones to make meat. We pasteurize the milk.
Processed foods have brought us countless benefits, many of which we quickly forget. Iodized salt is just one example. Iodine deficiency was common worldwide in the past, leading to an increased risk of stillbirth and miscarriage, a significant reduction in IQ, and reduced cognitive development. Currently, most countries in the world consume salt with added iodine, and many countries have eliminated this deficiency. By adding nutrients to food, we have been able to address a number of other micronutrient deficiencies.
We have been able to preserve food and increase its shelf life and reduce food waste. We have reduced the incidence of foodborne illness. Those with food allergies and intolerances can now have a balanced diet. We don’t need to spend days preparing food – this has been especially important for women’s educational and career advancement. Last but not least: taste. Our shelves are now full of great tasting foods.
Of course, when people talk about “processed” food, they’re often talking about ultra-processed food (UPF). These snacks and ready meals are designed to last longer and be more convenient and tasty. Companies work hard to find that “Goldilocks” taste that we can’t resist by adding sugar and fat to make food tastier. Many describe these regulated combinations as addictive.
It is true that increased consumption of highly processed foods is associated with adverse health outcomes. It is associated with lower intake of essential nutrients such as vitamins C, D and B12. The more we eat of these foods, the more likely we are to be overweight or obese. This puts us at greater risk of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. It is easy to consume highly processed foods.
The problem with most UPFs is that they are high in calories, sugar, and fat. And they are low in protein and fiber, nutrients that keep us full.
But this is not inherent in food processing itself. What matters is what companies add to our food. They can produce healthier foods if they want to – or if we want them to.
Growing backlash against meat substitutes
One of the areas where I see the most backlash against processing is in meat substitutes.
These products try to mimic the meat experience and include plant proteins such as soy-based sausages. Impossible burgers and beyond meat; Fermented proteins, such as Quorn, and lab-grown meats.