“Food corporations have colonized the nutriscape, flooding the food supply with nutritionally engineered products and nutritional marketing claims and accentuating the nutritional anxieties and nutritional needs of consumers—needs that these corporations are well placed to commodify and exploit.”—Gyorgy Scrinis, Nutritionism
In Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice, Gyorgy Scrinis examines how the idea of “nutritionism” has altered our understanding of food quality and what is truly healthy for us. In the following excerpt from the chapter A Clash of Nutritional Ideologies, how food manufacturers have used the idea of nutritionism for their own gain:
Nutritionism has provided a powerful conceptual framework for transforming nutrients and nutritional knowledge into marketable food products and for further commodifying food production and consumption practices. Food manufacturers construct a nutritional facade around a food product, a facade for advertising some of the nutrients in the food product. This nutritional facade distracts the attention of consumers from the ingredients, additives, and processing techniques employed in the production of the food. For example, highly refined breakfast cereals with 38 percent sugar content, such as Cocoa Krispies, are advertised as a “good source of vitamin D,” a promotion of nutritional benefits common among cereal manufacturers.10 Since the mid-1990s, in the United States and in other countries, government regulators have also allowed various types of direct health claims to appear on food labels and in food advertisements. This includes functional claims such as “calcium helps build strong bones” and disease prevention claims such as that the soluble fiber in oats reduces the risk of heart disease. These health claims further exaggerate the role of single nutrients, or of single foods, in the cause or prevention of diseases and other health outcomes.
The introduction of reduced-fat, low-calorie, and vitamin-fortified food products during the 1970s and 1980s has since diversified into the production of a broader range of nutritionally engineered foods with added food components that target a wider range of health conditions. This includes plant sterol–enriched cholesterol-lowering margarine and probiotic yogurt that improves gut health. Nutrition experts and the food industry often refer to these nutritionally engineered and marketed foods as “functional foods,” since they supposedly enhance specific bodily functions or health conditions.
There is a deep complicity between nutritionism and the commercial interests of food manufacturers in the present era—a complicity that nutrition experts have been relatively slow to recognize. The food industry has certainly exploited nutrition science in various ways, such as selectively appropriating nutritional research, funding its own nutrition studies, and using government-endorsed health claims to market their products. However, the food industry has now also appropriated and taken control of the nutritionism paradigm itself and has become central to its maintenance, dominance, and public dissemination. Food corporations have colonized the nutriscape, flooding the food supply with nutritionally engineered products and nutritional marketing claims and accentuating the nutritional anxieties and nutritional needs of consumers—needs that these corporations are well placed to commodify and exploit. Yet many nutrition experts seem to ignore or be oblivious to this corporate capture of nutritionism, or corporate nutritionism.