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

    • Nikki Thomas

      I cannot believe this article was even published!!! This is one of the most ignorant pieces I’ve ever read. How can you say that whole foods are not healthy and processed foods are really not that bad? Do you even live in the real world? Let’s get one thing straight, you can make anything unhealthy. It seems to me that he actually prefers ‘chemicals’ instead of something real. This is what did me in, and I quote…”I also visited Tic Gums in White Marsh, Maryland, a company that engineers textures into food products…Tic served me an under-development (an experiment) version of a low-fat salad dressing that was better than any I’d ever had.” Also, to put obesity in a box. According to him…overweight people must be in the lower classes, therefore they can only afford to eat fast food and processed food. Ultimately, he’s saying they have no other option! Then goes on to say mostly the privileged are healthy. Such ignorance and discrimination. I wonder of this article was a joke to get all of us riled up…this guy can’t be serious.

    • DJ Dell

      I agree – this is obviously written by someone biased for the junk food industry. Even if there were more fats in some natural foods they would be healthy fats our bodies need, not bad saturated fats which most people are consuming too much of. The person fails to mention the huge amount of processed sugar, for example, that goes into McDonald’s smoothies and is linked to weight gain and illness, and you could go on and on with the misinformation they spew.

    • Rob

      Obviously there are foods that are good for you and ones that aren’t. This article at the least, tells the familiar tale of media hype and reminds us to think for ourselves. As a scientist in the horticulture and crop science profession, I can say there are pros and cons for both. Organic farming, done improperly, can have very negative environmental consequences (excess manure runoff into bodies of water due to the fact they do not use chemical fertilizers). Conventional farming, if done improperly, can lead to herbicide resistance in plants and degraded soil. There are many scientists working on combining the best of both worlds. Also, one random comment about chemicals: the USDA sets limits on the amount that can be present in produce before it goes to market. The LD-50 is typically set by mice (how much of a chemical would kill 50% of a test population of mice). With “local” agriculture and farm stands, they are often not regulated at all by anyone except maybe the local health department in some cases. Many local farmers have been busted for selling produce or meat that contains higher than allowed limits of chemicals or bacteria. The bottom line is WE the consumers drive the industry. If you want to buy local produce and are concerned about its properties and the way it is grown, talk to the farmer about his practices. Write to your local representatives about legislation that may require regular inspections of farmers markets. But don’t go all one-sided. One-sided is simple minded :) and as always…PLEASE CONSULT SCIENCE before you make comments that are founded in raw emotion.


        you are a moron. do you work for Monsanto?

    • Sally Johnson

      Oh yeah, you cannot let the sTores/franchises themselves dictate what to eat, or make the decision for you based on what they are packaging. You must use your own knowledge to decide what to put into your body. Those inner peas are crap, but Trader Joe’s does have a few really good foods. I like Henry’s better. (“Wild Oats”). Making your own smoothies is cheaper of course. Ps my profile pic is not me lol it’s a work avatar. I’m a 40 year old guy often mistaken for late 20′s and shredded ;))

    • Dawn

      Dang. Guess it’s time to unsubscribe and stop purchasing ANYTHING put out by RDA. Anyone can spin things to their favor, good or bad, just ask the politicians. Not buying this article, author, or magazine anymore. Thanks for the heads up.

    • TyS

      Great article, but it tended to prevaricate – much of the “organic, local, etc.” arguments are heavily influenced by anti-corporatism, rather than health consciousness; much of their “argument” is luddite filler for their alternative agenda.

    • Sj

      I am not wealthy. I was not educated on the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet. Yes I was told to eat my vegetables but did not know how very important that really is. Nor did I know what eating processed food as the majority of my diet was doing or not doing for my health. I want to teach my kids to eat well. I don’t need to be rich to buy fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, whole wheat flour, nuts, etc. I actually save money by not eating at fast food places often. This article was so disappointing to me. While we cannot blame McDonalds for everything, it’s unbelievable that someone would so blatantly promote poor eating habits. Yes, trader joes is not the answer either…but that doesn’t mean fast, over processed foods is the answer. Teaching my kids to plant a garden, like salads and whole foods, and get some micronutrients is my goal. I do not need to be wealthy to do this.

      • Sally Johnson

        One of the most level headed comments on the page has no votes. Here’s one.

    • Duk3togo

      God I hate calorie counters because they’re morons. Yes!! I said it!!! I don’t care if a person gets 3000 calories a day from veggies because they will not gain weight. Yet someone eating 300 calories from a “big mac” will gain weight and destroy their health. Stop the calorie counting and use common sense. One has sugars, by products, high LDL, sodium up the wazoo, fats, oils, bread, cheese, omg I could keep going. Instead of counting calories use common sense (a steak with a baked potato) that’s a bad food combo substitute the potato with a salad. Stop eating dead veggies try eating more raw. Is steak good, hell no but at least stay conscious of food combos.

      • TyS

        yes, you will gain weight from 3,000 calories from veggies, you imbecile.

        • Duk3togo

          Your the imbecile you simpleton. How the heck would you gain from something that has no fat, cholesterol, or oils? Look, sit down before you hurt yourself…

          • TyS

            Says the f-cking idiot who doesn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”

            LOL tard

            • Duk3togo

              That’s write…

      • hagar2935

        MODERATION! Caloric intake DOES affect weight gain, no matter what the source. All foods (with few exceptions) convert to usable sugars within the body. That’s what your body does.

        Yes, a fatty steak and a potato loaded with butter and bacon will be bad for you, But SCIENCE (not junk science) has shown that lean beef and potatoes, prepared properly are actually GOOD for you and contain many essential nutrients. It is NOT what you eat, but how you prepare it and how you use moderation and limits to make healthy meal choices.

        Pure vegetarian diets CAN be harmful, if you do not get the proper mix of foods and supplement with necessary nutrients from some source.

        If you want to discuss REAL healthy choices, sit down with a REAL Certified Nutritionist who will show you what foods are good for your particular needs based on medical recommendations by your doctor.

        • MachineGhost

          Actually, all the “science” that allegedly showed that saturated fat, cholesterol, etc. was “bad” for you is turning out to have been the junk science all along. But to take such an objective position against Big Pharma and Big Farma and their regulatory captive agencies (i.e. crony capitalism) would almost always be a career-destroying move for people employed in a wide variety of fields, including certified nutrionists.

    • Nick

      A whole BIG MAC is not going to give you the energy that 1/3 of a grass feed burger will.

    • Paul

      As a huge proponent of personal responsibility I am always a bit miffed when people look elsewhere for blame. I don’t deny the less economically fortunate have a more difficult time eating healthy food. Good quality food is more expensive. But to blame an “establishment” or “big food” is to deny oneself the very great gift of autonomy and liberty. It serves to make one a victim and, therefore, helpless and powerless. That is not good for anyone. Don’t be a victim.

      Additionally, this is an issue of liberty. Believe me, it is. If the proponents of eating only whole foods could have their way, the government would be regulating more and more aspects of the food industry. Mayor Bloomberg and his attempt to limit sugar drinks in New York City to 16 oz is only one example. I would sooner live in country full of obese people who were free, than to live in a country filled with fit people who were not.