Junk in our food: the ingredients for profit

This article was published in the latest edition of the US Socialist Appeal.

Look around and you will see the exhausted system of capitalism in an epoch of decay - all aspects of life are affected. From the war on Iraq to the clear-cutting of the rainforest, capitalism (a system based not on need, but profit) offers us only a general situation of poverty, waste, and despair.

One important aspect of life that has been affected by capitalism's state of decay is food production. The owners of the companies in this industry see fit to put low quality ingredients, and even ingredients that have been proven dangerous, into the food supply so as to be able to extract more profit from the commodities they put on the market for sale.

Now this is by no means a new thing. Marx in his work The Poverty of Philosophy explains the reason for this: "the use of products is determined by the social conditions in which the consumers find themselves placed, and these conditions themselves are based on class antagonism... Why are cotton, potatoes and spirits the pivots of bourgeois society? Because the least amount of labour is needed to produce them, and consequently they have the lowest price."

The capitalists of any industry cannot raise prices above their cost of production for very long, because by doing so they risk losing the markets they seek to gain. So in order to increase profits the capitalist must find another way to lower the cost of production. We know full well that wages and benefits are often caught in the crosshairs of this drive for profit, but by dramatically cutting wages the boss has then to deal with the reaction from the workers.

As a way of avoiding this confrontation (for a time), their only alternative is to continue to sell the same commodity at the same price with the same corresponding costs of production and gradually lose their rate of profit; or to sell a different commodity at the same price but with a lower cost of production by using similar but cheaper ingredients. In this way they can realize profits from a change in the components of production with no change in the product's essential utility in relation to other products of the same sort on the market.

What specifically have the capitalists done to the food supply in order to achieve this? Two major ingredients worth mentioning that have become pervasive in the food supply are "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" and "high fructose corn syrup". Both appear in otherwise "normal" foods as if the ingredients have not changed, but the actual qualities of the food have changed. The full effect these products have on our health and well-being is still open to debate and study, but both these substances are known to be linked to health risks.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil has been shown to be directly associated with heart disease, and since it has crept its way into 40 percent of the food in the grocery stores, it poses a serious risk to the population that goes relatively unnoticed.

High fructose corn syrup is a heavily refined sugar that has also made its way into many items on the shelf, mainly soft drinks and "fruit juices". The result of long-term ingestion of heavily refined sugars is diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.

Both of these substances are used so often due to the fact that they are cheaper to make and resemble the qualities or use values of substances of a generally higher quality.

The American diet is one of the unhealthiest in the developed world, and is encouraged by round-the-clock advertisements for candy, soda (which are essentially one and the same!), Big Macs and fries, and on and on. These have forced their way into popular consciousness and our diets thanks to millions of advertising dollars. Fast food restaurants are found just about anywhere you could put one. Feeding people junk is a highly lucrative business. McDonalds, Burger King, Coke, and Pepsi, are some of the bigger names that come to mind, but just about every manufacturer of food has cut the quality of ingredients in order to realize a higher profit margin.

Another example of corporations' disregard for health and safety can be seen in the use of pesticides and the wholesale application of cancer-causing chemicals to crops and its effect on water supplies. Due to space restrictions, we will deal with this problem in a future article and explain the overall political nature of its origins. With roots in the business of chemical warfare, this is another dangerous alley that the capitalists have taken us down in their quest for extending their long overdue stay as masters of society.

Why have these products entered the market? Are they better tasting? More nutritious? Healthier? No. Simply put, they are cheaper and mean more profit for the ruling class, and as far as being introduced into our food supply without notice or warning, well, so much for "savvy consumerism" and "informed shopping"! These products are forced on us by the capitalist system. Capitalism is a system in need not of reforms or "checks and measures" but of overthrow and replacement. Only with full democratic control in the hands of the actual producers and consumers of the world can we be assured that what we are eating isn't just fattening up the pockets of the capitalists!