Jillian Michaels: Our Food System Is Set Up to Fail

By guest blogger and leading health-and-wellness expert Jillian Michaels

Here’s a statistic for you: One dollar will buy you 1,200 calories of processed garbage that will likely make you fat or sick, or both. Conversely, that same buck will only nab you 250 calories of healthy food (fruits, vegetables, organic meat, whole grains) that can help maintain a healthy body weight and prevent disease.

Bummer, right?  What’s wrong with this picture? How did this happen?  While I can preach personal accountability until the cows come home with regards to health and wellness, the bottom line is that for most American families subsisting on 50K a year, 250 calories for a dollar doesn’t cut it.  Healthy food simply isn’t accessible or affordable to them.  It’s tough to blame people for not living a lifestyle that is simply out of their reach.

Here’s another stat for you: In the 1960s we spent 18 percent of our annual income on food. Today we spend 9 percent. But before you get too excited… In the 1960s we spent 5 percent of our annual income on health care. Today, we spend 17 percent. Yay? I think not.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend that income on broccoli and chicken than on chemo treatments, Lipitor, or gastric bypass surgery.

As a result of these statistics, obesity and disease in America have run rampant.  Two in three adults and one in three children are overweight.  Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer rates have skyrocketed over the last 30 years.  Our children are predicted to have a lesser life expectancy than their parents, for the first time in human history.

So what the hell is happening here?  How has it come to pass that our food system sets Americans up to become fat and sick?  Well, in large part we have our federal agribusiness policies to thank.

Although the USDA’s food pyramid recommends two to five cups of fruits and vegetables per day, its budget—mandated by Congress through the Farm Bill—encourages different behavior altogether.

Under the Farm Bill, the great bulk of USDA largesse flows to five crops: genetically modified corn, genetically modified soy, cotton, wheat, and rice. Of the $113.6 billion in commodity subsidy payments, a.k.a. your tax dollars, distributed by the USDA between 1995 and 2004, corn drew $41.8 billion—more than cotton, soy, and rice combined.  And, to point out the obvious, NONE of our subsidy dollars are going toward fruits and vegetables (with the exception of apples, generally processed into cheap sweeteners).

The huge corn and soy payouts encourage overproduction, and have helped sustain a long-term trend of falling prices. And cheap corn and soy, underwritten by the subsidy program, have subsequently changed the diet of every American. These crops in particular lend themselves perfectly to the processing of cheap consumables that are passed off as food. A perfect example of this would be the booming market for high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of the caloric sweeteners added to processed food, and is the sole caloric sweetener for mass-market soft drinks. Between 1975 and 1997, per-capita consumption of it jumped from virtually nothing to 60.4 pounds per year. Yikes.

Why would our government set us up for failure in this way? Simple. Because the special-interest groups who stand to gain from this policy, such as Monsanto, Liberty, and so forth, lobby our representatives in Washington and make generous contributions to their election campaigns. You see, companies like Monsanto own the patents on these GMO seeds. In addition, they sell the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers the seeds require to thrive. Without the Farm Bill, these guys would be in big trouble.

So what do we do, and how do we get out of this mess?  The solution is multifaceted.  First, grassroots, community-driven efforts are critical in fighting federal policy to transform the American diet. Make efforts to support your local farmers. Join a CSA. Grow your own. Reallocate your funds so that you stop wasting money on bottled water and toxic cleaning or beauty products, and put it into organics whenever possible.

Second, stay educated and aware of what’s going on, so you can fight back.  Did you know that President Obama has approved three new GMO crops in the last year, despite the fact that the garden in his own backyard is organic? Attend one of the anti-GMO rallies that are currently taking place across the country. Sign petitions to demand that GMO foods be labeled. Write your representatives and ask them to reverse the Farm Bill in 2012.  Demand that our tax dollars go to subsidize organic fruits and vegetables, so that healthy foods will be affordable and accessible to all Americans.

Here’s what you can’t do—bury your head in the sand. We vote with our dollars. We the people must reflect this change personally, and demand these changes from our government. With diligence and determination we will win this fight.  I’ll see you on the frontlines.

This contest has now ended.


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288 Responses to Jillian Michaels: Our Food System Is Set Up to Fail

  1. Johnny A. Sauter May 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    Excellent article, Monsanto and Syngenta are evil corporations. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas J. Vilsack supports large industrial farms and GMO’s.one of his campaign contributers when running for Govenor of Iowa was Monsanto. Our only hope for change of USDA policies is Kathleen Merrigan the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. She is for organic farming and small scale farms. Eat healthy, stay fit and become informed. Together we can defeat Monsanto and rid the world of GMO’s Peace to everyone

  2. Joan May 12, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    Thanks for the book, Jillian.

  3. Mary Katherine May 13, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    Your article hit the nail on the head. I joined a MOVE weight management class this week at my local Veterans Hospital and was amazed to hear just about the same thing you mentioned here. Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and the food pyramid along with the physical activity pyramid that is put out by the FDA is a goal, but not reachable for most Americans. Our RD did recommend that if we could not get all the fresh fruits, buy them in a can and drain all of the juices off and rinse them. It is better than the HFCS that is added to preserve and make it more appealing to the average consumer. My Mother and I have planted a quite large garden this year so we can have as much fresh, unprocessed, sodium and sweetener free fruits and vegetables as possible.
    As always, thank you for the wonderful information. You are an inspiration to millions!!! Keep up the good work.

  4. Elliott E May 13, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    Thank you, Jillian. Great perspective on value for calories.

  5. Christopher N May 13, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    Jillian you are an inspiration. Your words remind me of Food Rules by Michael Pollan and the great documentary, Food, Inc. You have the clout behind you to keep spreading the word. Thanks for all you do!

  6. Tabitha M May 13, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    Thank you for this imformation…I am planning my own vegetable garden very soon!!! 🙂

  7. Katie May 13, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    While this is not new news to me, it is still disenheartening. Thank you for being a loud voice in this battle for good health!

  8. Maria May 13, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    What’s really sad is the amount of sugar and fat in school lunches. We are teaching our children at a young age that eating crap is ok. We educate them in the classroom, then give them diabetes in the cafeteria.

  9. Kim May 13, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    I love how Jillian is so dedicated to changing our country’s health & wellness. As a mom, I’m trying the best I can with our budget to feed my family the best foods. My husband has the green thumb & will be planting our garden in the next few weeks!

  10. Leah Ann May 13, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    I’ve been on a weight-loss journey for two successful years and found that my car drives right by every fast food outlet now, without hesitation. Real food and exercise have changed my life. This year I will have my very first garden! I can’t wait until those tomatoes and fresh herbs come up.

  11. Debra May 13, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    We stopped eating fake food several years ago and found our grocery bill did not increase. Traded soda for water, chips for fruit, and no boxes allowed in our house. Cooking from scratch is actually easier than following the directions on a box, and cheaper too. I am aghast at how much money I spent on garbage food for years. It takes planning all our meals, but healthy eating requires that anyway.

  12. marisol a May 13, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    I’ve alwys loved Jillian Michaels, now I adore her!!! Thank tou so much for shooting straight from the hip, no BS and no sugar coating 😉 anything. She speaks straight so u know exactly wut she means. If i dont win the book, def buying it! I’m going to miss her when she leaves “the biggest looser”!!! Good luck with all your future endeavors!! God Bless you Jillain, ur gonna be a great Mom!!! 🙂

  13. Kim May 13, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I am a 49 yr. old mom of a 1 yr. old son and the thought of
    “Our children are predicted to have a lesser life expectancy than their parents, for the first time in human history” is an eye opening statement! I agree with Martha’s post (below) but the “big changes” need to start with the average person in this country not the top.

    “A good post with the facts we need to keep in mind. Yes, we need big changes in our country; starting at the top. Thanks for the update.”

  14. Tristann May 13, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Thanks Jillian. It’s time we commit to change.

  15. Kristi C May 13, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    I’m a holistic nutritionist and already know this info, but just reading it again makes my blood boil! I tell everyone of my clients, “We all make a political statement with ever dollar we spend at the grocer store.” It’s so true! Thanks for the post and keep spreadin’ the word!!!

  16. Ilyana May 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I agree with you Jillian. If “our system” were committed to our health the right way, would definitely put more money on making healthy food available to those with low income than on discovering more drugs to treat Diabetes, Cancer, and other illnesses that are taking away lives per minute. But i wonder if the “great interest” meaning those huge pharmaceutical monsters and doctors, candy and desert mega stores, and all those scam weight loss industries that sell all sort of pills to make you loose weight while you pay and pay dollar over dollar… will approve (or even like!) the idea of a Healthy America… Money is all that matter. You’ll have to BUY your health one way or the other.

  17. Vanessa May 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Thank you for this insightful article. I am aware of most of the statistics you have sited and do my best to stay informed.

    The biggest problem I’ve had is that everyone says “here’s what’s happening and we have to fight it”, but no one ever gives any concrete actions that the average person can take. I truly appreciate that you gave us some actionable steps. Now I feel like I can DO something more than just stay informed.

    Thanks again. We all need more information of this caliber.

  18. Karla May 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Very thought provoking, and sad at the same time!

  19. Karla May 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Very thought provoking and very sad as well. How many people know nothing about this?

  20. Elizabeth May 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Thank you for speaking to one of the most important socio-structural roots of obesity.

  21. Beth May 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Ever since I watched Food Inc., I find myself standing in the market and consciously thinking about which food I want to vote for with my purchase. I’m glad to watch as more organic choices become available, but we still have such a long, long way to go.

  22. Joelle May 14, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    Thank you for the information. I have been changing what I eat, purchase and I have even started to grow some of our food. Thanks again Jillian!

  23. Kate May 14, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Great article so interesting and offering some great solutions Jillian – power to the people!

  24. Therese May 15, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    Additional information about eating locally and organically and to find farmers and CSAs near you, follow http://www.localharvest.org.

  25. Victoria Bilano May 15, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Very informative. It just shows us how vigilant we have to be for our health indwell being. Keep up the good work and education you provide. Thanks!!

  26. Barbara May 15, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    If the farm bill is up for review, and our government is scrambling to reduce spending, the obvious place for reducing spending is the farm bill. Stop subsidizing big business and fine those that pollute, and make them clean up their mess with their own funds (even if it makes them bankrupt) instead of using tax payer money. Reward truly sustainable, less toxic practices, and lets get healthy. Start writing to your congress reps now and get them thinking about it. Help them stand up to big business and the chemical/pharmaceutical companies by letting them know how many are behind the right decisions. Encourage them to put consumer HEALTH in the forefront of every decision and the economy will likely soar on its own as people will have less health problems and be able to spend more on other things. And so on….

  27. Martha Royer May 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks for this; you clearly laid out what’s gone wrong. This upsets me so much. We JUST “re-started” eating healthy as a family, and our food budget tripled! 🙁 My kid just asked me: why does it cost more to eat food that has LESS chemicals in it…shouldn’t it be cheaper? Good question. Our kids’ future health depends on good, organic vegetables & grains being affordable. There’s no good reason we as taxpayers should be paying to subsidize GMO crops!

  28. Rose May 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Let’s start a grassroots movement to repeal the farm bill and replace it with subsidies for small, local organic farms.

  29. Catrina Neumann May 17, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Our family has started to buy grass fed beef, pork and pastured poultry & eggs from local farmers – as well as planting our own garden and buying produce through a local organic grocer. We are thrilled to be able to do our part in supporting local farmers!

  30. Betsy May 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I would love to win this! I read Jillian’s Master your Metabolism books (yep, the cookbook too!) and loved them. I’ve had my eye out for this one. Thanks for a great giveaway!

  31. Debbie Roberts May 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    I just finished reading “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins and it speaks a lot of these topics. The companies that basically control the food production. Also after reading “Master Your Metabolism” it totally changed my view on food products. Now, the majority of the time I am eating organic fruits and vegetables and have went vegetarian. Reading these types of books are real eye openers to what is really going on in our food industry. I have almost become obsessed with being as educated on the topic as I can. It’s addicting! I love my new diet and health and would love the opportunity to read this book as well.

  32. Julie May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    We are the change, “I am”.

  33. Allison May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    I adore Jillian! Thanks for this post!!

  34. Pam May 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    thanks for alerting us to this. So important!

  35. Martha May 19, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Great article and information Jillian…Love you…

  36. IVONNE DELGADO May 19, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    love this article…all your info is so helpful to me!!

  37. Elena May 20, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Interesting article. No wonder food abroad tends to be so much healthier and less fattening, though I think preservatives and additives besides caloric ones play a big effect too.

  38. Wind June 22, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Geez, that’s unebliaevlbe. Kudos and such.

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