The New Food Fight: Big Food Vs. Big Organic

Have the elite hijacked healthy eating?

By David H. Freedman from The Atlantic
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013

Craig Cutler for Reader’s Digest

Late last year, in a small health-food eatery called Cafe Sprouts in Oberlin, Ohio, I had what may well have been the most wholesome beverage of my life. The friendly server guided me to an apple-blueberry-kale-carrot smoothie-juice combination, which she spent the next several minutes preparing, mostly by shepherding farm-fresh produce into machinery. The result was tasty. But at 300 calories (by my rough calculation) for a 16-ounce cup, it was more than my diet could regularly absorb without consequences.

Nor was I about to make a habit of $9 shakes, healthy or not. Inspired by the experience nonetheless, I tried again two months later at L.A.’s Real Food Daily, a popular vegan restaurant near Hollywood. I was initially wary of a low-calorie juice made almost entirely from green vegetables, but the server assured me it was a popular treat. I could stomach only about a third of the oddly foamy, bitter concoction. It smelled like lawn clippings and tasted like liquid celery. It went for $7.95, and I waited ten minutes for it.

I finally hit the sweet spot just a few weeks later, in Chicago, with a delicious blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that rang in at a relatively modest 220 calories. It cost $3 and took only seconds to make. Best of all, I’ll be able to get this concoction just about anywhere. Thanks, McDonald’s!

If only the McDonald’s smoothie weren’t, unlike the first two, so fattening and unhealthy. Or at least that’s what the most prominent voices in our food culture today would have you believe.

Next: What the foodies get wrong »

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  • Your Comments

    • Caitlyn

      Here is the thing about food, it has a psychological effect as well as a physical effect. Are we really worried about being obese more than we are concerned about having mutated cells such as cancer and other illnesses because our major glands like the pineal gland and the adrenal gland are being put into sleep mode? For me not eating junk food, processed food, or fast food has very little to do with weight loss and calories. It has to do with with preserving the full function capabilities of my brain. High fructose corn syrup, TBHQ, colored dyes, MSG; these are the things that are most dangerous over time. This choice and understanding that I have adopted for my life is my choice. I sleep better, I look healthier, and I feel energetic and fantastic. I am genuinely happier now than I ever was eating foods full of chemicals I couldn’t pronounce let alone knew nothing about. This article upsets me but I understand. I used to be on that side of the debate. Defending that people have a right to eat crappy food and that there are no long term effects it’s all a conspiracy. But then I made some food changes. For everyone for or against this article challenge yourself.. Go an entire week without consuming chemically altered synthetic foods. The difference will speak for itself. You won’t need any other opinion other than the opinion of your own personal body. After that week go back to eating the “other” food. You’re body will let you know how it feels about it. Peace, light, and love.

    • Laura

      This article does a great job of comparing apples to oranges. Yes, you can find junk food at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. How does that change the argument against fast food? I like fast food, I eat it once a week, and allow my kids to do the same. But I’m not kidding my self about what it is and is not. I think I’ll go make a fruit smoothie now, without added sugar.

      • Paul

        Exactly! I had a spinach, carrot, banana, black grape and soy protein smoothie this morning and now I want some french fries! I know it is not good food so I limit it’s intake. I don’t want to get hit by a bus tomorrow and wish I had enjoyed a few more of life’s little pleasures. Moderation…

      • TyS

        You are kind of missing the point, though – that the “organic/locavore/organic/blah blah blah” movement cannot and will not feed the populous.

        • Sally Johnson

          All we need to do is grow everything organically again, as it had been for millennia. It’s certainly not difficult, and organic farming is continuously employing new tricks and technologies of its own.

          • TyS

            organic farming cannot and will not feed the world

            • Dawn @ Florida Coastal Cooking

              Hi Sally – I would be interested in hearing your argument as to why organic farming can not feed the world.

    • bill

      I think David Freedman is a f*ckin idiot.

    • thetruthhurts

      Whole Foods is a rip-off and I would never shop there, you can get healthy food at a regular grocery store for less. I do shop at Trader Joe’s occasionally because they have unique products.

      The golden rule for all packaged food is: read the label for nutritional facts!

      • Tom

        well this is where research and how bold of a stance you take on social issues comes in. Places like Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Sprouts cater to a certain demographic who enjoy knowing the food they buy is presticide, chemical and (in some cases) gluten-free. Because they are health- and earth- conscious, they are willing to spend a little more for their food. For people that don’t understand the economics food, it’s basic supply and demand. Farmers who grow genetically altered seeds, chemicals to speed growth and government money will produce enough food to allow them to make a profit at lower cost. Farmers who grow naturally, produce less food and have to sell a bit more. (Because of this, many farmers end up getting screwed and going under. See Documentary “Food Inc.”) What people are paying for at Trader Joe’s-type markets is the LACK of additives.

    • Doc

      Absolutely 100% correct – great article. The food monitors would have us eat only what they think is good for us, probably because they need some kind of public recognition. Years ago when this junk-in-print ‘health’ food nonsense all started I looked at ingredients and fat, carb, sodium content in ‘health’ foods and made a comparison with normal food. I do these kinds of things because I am a Pharmacist for 50+ years and comparisons are easy for me. Guess what? The ‘health’ food products, in the key nutrition claims, were so bad that to eat them was tantamount to eating you know what! Things in the ‘health’ food arena have slightly improved but ‘health’ food is NOT worth the investment. As Julia used to say; “All things in moderation” and “Bon Apetit” …..

      • educateyourself

        Doc, I question the fact that you’ve been a pharmacist for 50 years if you’re so ignorant to state that fat, carbs and sodium are ingredients. Looking at what ingredients contain (fat, carbs etc) is the very thing that is misleading in this article and the very reason that people get confused on what is healthy and what is not. There is a distinct difference to how your body metabolizes 40 grams of sugar from an orange or 40 grams of sugar from high fructose corn syrup in soda. This is the real distinction. The second difference is in the quality of food in respect to how it is prepared and where it came from. Judging by your statement you have no problem eating beef from a fast food restaurant which is guaranteed to be produced by a large company that injects their animals with growth hormones and reduces harmful bacteria by “washing” the same meat in an ammonia compound, yet I highly doubt if someone brought you a salad at a restaurant and poured ammonia on it right in front of you that you would eat it. But hey, you’re the expert with 50+ years of experience so knock yourself out by not knowing what the hell you’re talking about. Instead of “All things in moderation” you should have put “ignorance is bliss”

      • Robert

        You’re as clueless as the dope who wrote the article. Eating organic has NOTHING to do with “fat, carb, sodium content”. No one ever claimed that organic foods were healthier in terms of fat, carbs or sodium content. It’s about how they’re grown and processed! And about the fact that they don’t contain any pesticides. herbacides, fungicides, hormones or antibiotics. And about the fact that as their processed they have no added chemical preservatives, flavors or colors. The way “real” foods were meant to be. End of story.

    • Michelle Sneathen

      “Contains 1% or Less: Natural (Plant Source) and Artificial Flavors,
      Cellulose Powder, Peach Juice Concentrate, Pear Juice Concentrate,
      Citric Acid, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Xanthan Gum, Pectin, Fruit and
      Vegetable Juice For Color” this is from the McDonald’s website of the ingredients in your so called “healthy” shake at McDonalds. 300 calories for real food rich in nutrients and full of vegetables…the only consequences of eating that regularly would be health and a happy body. This is the most irresponsible thing I’ve read in quite a while.

    • david

      I strongly suspect that Freedman has a personal agenda and is not looking at the issue from an unbiased point of view. One needs to look no further than the subtitle which includes the word ‘elite’. Talk about a loaded word.

      You don’t need to read any further than the first paragraph to see that his arguments aren’t worth reading. (yes, I did read the whole essay and no, his reasoning doesn’t get any better)

      He bought an admittedly nutritious shake yet pans it because it was 300 calories. The whole goal in healthy eating is to eat nutrient-dense food that satisfies one’s appetite. So how can he possibly justify his stance? 300 calories for 16 ounces of a nutrient-packed shake is about as healthy as you can get. Bad point, Mr. Freedman.

      His second argument against the shake is that it took ‘several minutes’ to prepare. Really? But his answer to the nutrition question is to get fast food.. where people sit in the drive-thru lane at McD’s for 10-15 minutes to get white bread and saturated fat? (No, Mr. Freedman, those pick-up trucks in the drive-thru lane are not loading up on parfaits)

      Finally, the price. Yes, $9 is steep so buy the ingredients yourself and make it at home for $2-$3. Btw – the choice of Whole Foods for comparison was a strange choice. Why not compare fast food to buying food at a regular grocery story or a warehouse? You can buy and prepare your own food and eat a whole lot better for a whole lot less than you can at a fast-food restaurant.

      My personal feeling is that this is irresponsible journalism.

      • KMC528

        300 calories of liquid does not fill you up as long as 300 calories of solid food. Just like with Chinese food, you drink the smoothie and an hour later you’re hungry again.
        Just because you bought it at the health food store doesn’t make it healthy, and just because you bought it at a fast food place doesn’t make it unhealthy. My favorite fast food place used to sell baked potatoes, which filled me up all afternoon for about 300 calories. Give me a 300 calorie shake or smoothie and it only serves the purpose to tide me over for a bit until I can get some real food, i.e., it’s not a meal replacement, it’s just extra calories.

        If you refuse to eat fruit and veggies, by all means, fool yourself into consuming them by drinking smoothies, but those of us who eat quite enough in their natural state are better off eating them whole, and benefitting from the fiber, than running them through a juicer and throwing away the pulp.

        • annonymous

          Hey just wanted to say that the nutrients of a potato are next to none. The reason you are feeling more full is because its hard to digest that much starch in one sitting. So while you feel full and satisfied, your actually not gaining that many helpful nutrients. The smoothie on the other hand provide the beneficial macronutrients that you need. Food is not just calories, just like your body is not just a furnace. If you eat just calories you are keeping the fires burning but not keeping your furnace intact. It is for that reason that kale and bluberrys are considered more healthy than potatoes. Calories honestly have nothing to do with it. If you have a high intake of calories, its easy to burn them off with some exercise. You also dont have to throw away the pulp of juices if you do it right, It can be a great snack to keep in the fridge. Hope this was informative!

    • Guest

      what happened to my comment?

    • Anonymous

      Mechanistic tautology at it’s finest. I see huge irony here.
      If we can’t “prove” (given an explicitly and extremely isolated variable, taken out of context, unraveled from it’s interwoven fabric of existence) one facet, then simply all other points of the argument are null and void. Right, because that is real “science”, and intelligent (sense complete sarcasm here?). No, it would be far too smart to take several seemingly unrelated pieces of an equation (only due to pure blindsightedness, tunnel vision, and unfitting paradigms), put them together and see how intricately and very complex, yet also simple they are. Wait stop there! That’s like saying ying and yang can exist at the same time. Impossible! (Again, sarcasm). But that’ also can’t exist within the petty miniscule paradigm and philosophy of the mechanistic people.

      • Sally Johnson

        It seems to me that a test of high “intelligence” would really be the capability of handling “Yin and Yang” at the same time all the whilst doing something creative or evolutionary with it

    • wookiecookies

      This is the biggest load of garbage I have eve read. Period. Misinformation and propaganda at its finest.

      • Troyjon

        I found your rebuttal to this article very well informed and full of useful information backed by absolutely zero evidence (which in it of itself can be classified as misinformation). Likewise your creditisls of ‘wookiecookies’ established a lot of trust and belief in your argument. Thank you for sharing.