retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times has a long and detailed story about how there is a broad transformation taking place “of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.”

This shift, some public health experts tell the Times, “is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago.

“The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.”

You can read the whole, Eye-Opening story here.

This is a complicated story, and it doesn’t just mean that big food is selling unhealthy food to poorer countries. That’s part of it, sure, but it also has to do with economics and aspirations - as people get more money, they see it as almost a mark of their prosperity that they are able to afford and eat the kinds of foods that they perceive as being American. Maybe the question that needs to be asked is why certain kinds of behavior are seen as being typical of our country and people. Maybe our common denominator ought to be a little higher?

It isn’t an entirely fair comparison, but it reminds me of what the tobacco companies have done as smoking has become less prevalent in the US, and in fact has become stigmatized. They decided that since they couldn’t addict Americans to their poison they way they used to, they might as well addict the rest of the world, especially folks who didn’t know any better.

(For new MNB readers, I probably should point out here that I have a major problem with tobacco companies - my mother died of lung cancer after having smoked for close to 40 years ands finding it enormously difficult to quit - and have a long standing belief that a special circle of hell is reserved for executives of such businesses.

I would make an exception though. If the tobacco companies are going to addict and poison people in other countries, you’d think they could do a better job in North Korea, where it would be kind of nice if the Supreme Leader would cough up a lung or two.)
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