A Processed-Food Year in Review: Looking back and looking ahead

At the end of another year, I look back to the road I travelled and look forward to the road ahead. Despite the prolonged pandemic, 2021 felt more normal than 2020. I returned to work at the food pantry. My wife and I, vaccinated and boosted, started eating some meals out. We welcomed our first house guests back to visit us. I returned to getting an organic veggie box once a week. I will keep you posted. Closer to normal, but not normal yet! Oops, here comes Omicron and the news that 75% of COVID-associated deaths were people 65 and older. Yikes!

Themes. During 2021 I introduced some new themes to the site. Food addiction gained traction this year. Is it real or a repackaging of eating disorders and other food maladies? Also, I questioned what the future of food will be post-COVID. I continue to pursue the interface between food and culture. This past year I extended the pursuit to Black food and its heritage. Topics that resurfaced this year were food pantries and ultra-processed foods. Obesity lurks behind every discussion of processed food. Who or what do we blame for its cause? What can we do to reduce it in the American population? Ingredients are the fundamental units of many manufactured foods and home-cooked meals. I focused on sugar, that much-maligned and much-craved food ingredient. Do its health effects differ when present in fresh fruit, added in the processing plant, or added at home?

Milestones. 2021 was the sixth calendar year of the blog. The 250th post appeared in July. After a doubling of views from 2019 to 2020, the number of views in 2021 only exceeded 2020 by 10%. Is the site plateauing? Has it past its peak? Time will tell.

At the end of the last year, I resolved to “stop referring to chemicals in food.” I also vowed to “try to be more sympathetic to other points of view.” I am doing better on both resolutions, but I am not there yet. For 2022, I resolve to resist the temptation to comment on Linked In. I become too rushed and too emotional to provide a reasoned response. I also plan to delve into supply chains in the coming year.

Best books reviewed in 2021. The most futuristic one, Uncharted, describes an uncertain future in a post-pandemic world. Big Hunger was the he most controversial book. Most influential for me was Seeds of Science. It proposes GMOs as the solution to Africa’s hunger challenges. The Book of the Year, Black Food Matters, shows the importance of culture in food choice. That is why the incorporating a client’s culture is so important in designing a dietary plan.

Books I will review next year include Food Routes, Pandora’s Lunchbox, and The End of Craving.

Top Ten posts viewed in 2021

  1. Veganism: The Good the Bad and the Ugly by Ari Kenney
  2. Fast food and its effect on regional cuisines
  3. My personal experience with Hello Fresh
  4. How Big Food hides undesirable chemicals in its clean labels
  5. Food waste from two different perspectives
  6. Challenges in handling perishable foods in small stores that sell food on the side
  7. Are we eating real food or edible food-like substances?
  8. Plastic versus Food Waste – Which is worse? by Susan Chen
  9. Why are foods processed? Extending shelf life
  10. Food deserts, food swamps, food apartheid, grocery gaps and other names for food maldistribution

Biggest surprise? None of the Top Ten posts came from this year’s offerings. The top post published this year was my tribute to Dr. Aaron Brody. Veganism topped the list for the second year in a row, and the margin between it and fast food was not even close. Only two posts broke into the Top Ten this year (both ones on food waste). It is obvious that my readers are not as obsessed with ultra-processed foods or climate change as I am. My book reviews are not that popular, either, but they set the tone for the posts that follow each month. Thanks to guest bloggers and commenters who either challenged or supported my viewpoints. On to 2022.

Breaking news: Linn Steward alerted me to a series of Great Debates in Nutrition published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The debate this year tackled food addiction and its possible role in obesity. Forthcoming is one on ultra-processed foods and dietary guidelines. Do these themes sound familiar?

Next week: Food Routes and how supply chains function in food networks

5 thoughts on “A Processed-Food Year in Review: Looking back and looking ahead

  1. Thank you for review. Chen and Brody are talking to different audiences. The big divide is not a polarization where you are at one or the other extreme, but rather a spectrum with no-one at the extremes, like the world population where the closer to the poles, the fewer people.

    One of these “poles” is the dependence on beliefs in impossibles (miracles) learned in infancy when all is miraculous and explanation is impossible. This comforting dependence lasts through childhood and pervades the rest of our lives to varying degrees, hence the spectrum. It is never completely unlearned despite needs to live with rational thinking, the other pole. Logic may make our lives longer and fuller, but the spectre of death and the comforting image of miraculous power support the need for impossibles.

    All this is rational as cultural evolution, but when you’re in it you can’t see it, and resist getting outside of your protective shell (package). This accounts for much resistance to vaccination as well as the fear of chemicals in our foods. It leads to the biologically impossible image of being poisoned by eating fish which have eaten plastics. (Plastics are not toxic, nor digestible by fish or human.) And to the avoidance of numbers such as energy which might challenge the sanctity of degradability and recycling. And to the “applause” we give (Chen) to using beeswax to avoid plastic when bees themselves are endangered by the need for more and cheaper food. But the images persist because humans tend to believe what they want/need to be true.

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    1. Hi Alan,

      Thank you for your comments. While I don’t agree with you on all that you say, I am in agreement that the world has become too binary–something is either all good or all bad. There is little room left for nuance and critical thinking. Wishing you the best as we head into 2022!

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    2. One more point. There is about a three-generation difference in perspective between Chen and Brody. Old timers like us need to appreciate the difference in the visions and ideas of younger generations. Likewise, the young should not be so quick to discard the dreams and information their elders have pursued. That is why I encourage a wide range of perspectives on this site.

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      1. I agree. I listen to my children (3) and even argue with one of them, but can’t interact with HIS children, now ages 13 and 15, who are too into the unreal and have little perceived need to develop themselves. Re food, it’s always been provided for them, they eat everything without images but in excess.
        As for the binary world, I use my image of the earth with no-one living at the poles, but now make it transparent, so anyone at any point can see through to those on the other side. Latitude matters.

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