Monday, September 18, 2017

NYTimes Article: How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

The New York Times published an important article over the weekend on how Nestle is changing the food system in Brazil and the health effects those changes are having on people.  I appreciated the article's framing, which highlights how Nestle has exercised power to achieve its goals.  The focus on power is in contrast to how this issue is often discussed in relation to urbanization and the so-called 'nutrition transition.'  Rarely is the activist role by the food industry mentioned, and the nutrition transition is generally seen as a natural outcome of a developing food system/increasing incomes. As this article points out, however, Nestle used its considerable resources to mount a multi-pronged, all-out effort to crush or discredit any kind of obstacle that would limit its reach to the hearts, minds, and stomachs of the population.

The one complaint I have about the article is that the existing Brazilian food system is invisible. The local, small-scale food system, which is likely where most poor people still get the majority of their food, is not alluded to even once. That system is generally viewed by decision-makers and development economists as an 'under-developed' food system and therefore destined to disappear. People working in it typically receive no support and lots of harassment.  It's not a minor critique because so often the colonialist mindset sees anything 'pre-Western' as either a void, or as chaotic and inefficient. I've never been to Brazil, but I'll bet there's a thriving local food exchange system that employs many, many people, and though those incomes may be small, the work is valuable.

The article is here, and there is a video, too, which I've not yet watched (it may be that local food system makes an appearance there).


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