Commodification of Food
Jonathan Wang '10

The advance of science and information technology frequently attempts to reduce aspects of the world into numbers and figures, into simulations and mathematical models that can be easily analyzed and altered. Food cannot escape this tendency. The basis of many laboratory syntheses is the breaking down of chemicals into their constituent parts, and reforming them into the intended masterpiece. Many foods are broken down into their individual, useful parts, and drastically altered to form or improve the latest flavor, candy, or packaged treat. At some point, food is no longer grown as food, but as a commodity; corn is not grown to feed people, but rather to fuel a great plant that breaks it down and forms it into even more basic components, such as gum, sugar, and vitamins. Much of the corn grown in Iowa is not even edible until it is processed, leaving the starving and destitute farmer in a sea of inedible gold, much like a dehydrated sailor lost at sea. It has evolved to such a point that it is interminably married to technology, and while it surrounds us, it is unavailable until companies take hold of it. Corn is grown for its chemicals, not for its nutrition.

Especially with the requirement by the government to add nutrition tables and ingredient lists to all products, consumers, as well, have begun to view food as less a meal and more of a system for nutritional input. Many view that slice of pizza not as a part of Italian-American culture and a product of a hard working chef, but as a lump of hundreds of calories, innumerable grams of fat, bubbling cholesterol, and an insufferable amount of carbohydrates. Yet people still input the delicious pizza into their system, feeling guilty about doing so (since the media has promoted such an attitude of misguided health consciousness), and turn to different, distasteful foods in the name of good nutriment. Essentially, manipulation of science to serve greedy palates and profits has broken food down not only physically, but ideologically; it has been separated into foods of nutrition and foods of pleasure, each side equally marketed as essential and desirable, with an extensively altered, hopefully positive presentation. This blurs the very definition of food, once used as both nutriment and nourishment as a natural product, as foods are constantly altered, adapted, and alchemized closer towards the ideal, futuristic Meal in a Pill. Some people have attempted to recombine the two ideals of health and nourishment in the organic food movement, yet most people, exposed to the numbers and concepts that corporations throw at them, see food as a dichotomy of delicacy and destruction. People eat candy, desserts, and fattening frozen foods in order to please their palates, and then later turn to vitamins and supplements to attempt a delicate balance between health and pleasure (ironically, each of the aforementioned foods almost assuredly contains corn, the most ubiquitous and changed food-commodity). Food has changed drastically, not only in its polymorphous physical existence, but also as a factor in the American consciousness. It has evolved beyond nourishment and into artificial nutrition, instant pleasure, and scientific frontier.