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Does anyone actually eat this stuff?

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It was reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle that did it for me. His description of meat processing plants in Chicago in the 1920s meant that I could never look at sausages the same way again. In fact, the images of fast and ultra processed food that are used in advertising pretty universally look incredibly unappetizing to me. So it’s a little hard for me to understand their appeal, though I realize that they must appeal to someone—if for no other reason than that people can be highly susceptible to advertising. (If you don’t believe me, try watching a few of Jean Kilbourne’s fascinating videos.)

Tobacco, alcohol, junk food, sugary beverages—at least part of their appeal is how heavily they are pushed. Meanwhile, advertising for fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods is, to say the least, not exactly ubiquitous. It is unfortunate that what works for the giant food processing companies also works for the retailers: it is much easier to sell packaged food that is pumped with preservatives, flavourings, and artificial colourings, and that has a long shelf life, than fresh food that will rot.

Turning this situation around won’t be easy, and I don’t imagine I can convince everyone to read The Jungle, but I like to believe that the appeal of fresh, healthy foods sold in colourful, friendly local bazaars will eventually (with the help of some appropriate government policies) win out.

Read more about our work on healthy diets in our Livable Cities programme.