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. Kaci May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    I grew up on a farm and I didn’t eat anywhere near the junk I eat now. I’m trying to develop better habits and get back to my roots, and when I read posts like this it makes me realize how important it is. I didn’t know how lucky I was!

  2. Jennifer R May 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    It’s not impossible, but pretty hard to find out where the food comes from or even understand the indgredient lists … I don’t know that we can repeal the farm bill cold-turky but something truly needs to be done!

  3. Ronda R May 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I wished reading an article like this would change the way people eat, but I rarely find that. I encourage people to make small changes, and continue. When they see a difference, they are more apt to make other changes.

  4. Ellen May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    The numbers really spells out clearly what I’ve always kind of suspected. Way to start off with a bang, the dollar for dollar comparison between bad food and good food. Not really surprising, but it made me raise my eyebrows! Thanks for the evidence that even food is political!

  5. Linda May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    THANK you, Jillian! I say this stuff all the time, but no one listens to me. 😀

  6. Thank You! May 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this to light. I’ve been trying to improve my diet for years and it’s so difficult to identify, find, and purchase quality food and products in my area. And I live in NY, not far from NYC, so I DO have access, it’s just quite a hike to get to the “healthier” stores. Whole, organic foods are not prevalent in certain areas…there’s no way most of my friends and family would consider a half hour drive to go food shopping. And making multiple stops because some items are better from different places is time consuming. I can’t even imagine trying to find these products in more remote states. I hope we as humans can fix this huge problem.

  7. Jeremy May 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    spot on Jillian, I wish more people understood this!

  8. Ashley Hunsucker May 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    I’m so glad Jillian and others are bringing this to light. We need people on OUR side helping us get and stay healthy!

  9. Sabrina C. May 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Thanks Jillian. You are always an inspiration and tell it like it is. Thanks again for stating the facts.

  10. Cami May 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Well said!

  11. Cara May 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Supporting our local farmers is imperative to making a change. If enough people do it and there are spokespeople out there fighting for healthy natural foods (non of that genetically modified crap wtf) and educating people ,not only about the benefits of natural foods, but also one the shocking statistics then people will notice. The statistics involving the percentage spent on health care and food in the 60s vs todays expenditures are paramount when educating yourself and others about issues such as this.

    I think one great impact we can have is to keep in the forefront of our minds the idea that when we shop, we vote. When you buy that twinkie, you are supporting the twinkie makers 😉 When you buy organic, or you don’t shop places that don’t carry organic products, or even buy exclusively from local markets, you are voting. Supply and demand. We demand quality buy purchasing quality.
    Also being an example by doing what it is you believe in will gain you attention. Roomates will ask questions, people will ask questions, when they are around you enough to 1. see you shop or 2. see you eat. Don’t be afraid to speak up, that is your chance to educate.

    Something that I learned last year was that one must act and not be acted upon. So take action by making your vote at the store, joining an organic co-op, talking about it etc.

    Every little bit counts 🙂

  12. Denise Barcelo May 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    ridiculous and disgusting! Why is it so difficult to have affordable, organic, and non-GMO food????

  13. Holly May 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Great information – thanks for putting numbers to the madness. I get really frustrated when I hear people making comments about folks on government programs such as food stamps spending their allocations on unhealthy foods that are going to make them fat, or fatter, when the reality is that they are trying to make those dollars go as far as they can to feed their families and dollars go farther on the unhealthy foods.

  14. Christy May 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    If only I could get my husban to read this! I’ve been following Jillian’s message for years, but it can be a struggle when the food bills come in.

  15. Patricia May 12, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Very good article!

  16. O Hope May 12, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Only information like this, provided consistently and broadly, will effect any change.
    Thank you Miss Jillian for all the work you are continuing to do to bring about that change.

  17. colleen May 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Unfortunately the only people who will read this are the people that already know & practice this. Thanks for trying, and if you’ve only been able to change one person, you’ve been successful!

  18. Kristnia May 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    As a single income family I learned ways to cut corners on buying organic foods. Go to your local Farmer’s Market & make friends with the Farmers and secondly, if you wait until closing time then you can ask for a discount on fruits & vegetables. Also shopping online has helped with my budget as well. I think that the wrong food in your body is a major reason why we suffer from so many ‘disorders.’ After learning my son has Severe Depression I made a huge change in our diet & it has worked. I usually stick with oatmeals, soups, and a few baked items; limited our intake of meats to twice weekly (more affordable that way). It has taken a lot of hard work but it has been worth it to feel better and see my son get better. If you pay $5 a gallon for premium gas why wouldn’t you spend that money on putting GREAT food into your body.

  19. Melissa Shernoff May 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    It is so frustrating how readily available (and cheap) fast food is, whereas healthy alternatives are so much harder to come by. Eating healthy and sustaining a healthy lifestyle is already hard enough without the added problem of having to pay so much more. Thanks, Jillian, for the information and for spearheading a campaign against this!!

  20. genesis May 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Amazingly said! As someone who is on a very tight budget ( especially for food) Something has to change. Prices are outrageous to eat healthy, and trying to set a great example for our next gen. is hard when its almost impossible to stay within that budget. I do try my best tho, and so should everyone else, even as we try and fight this to bring the price of a healthy lifestyle down. Again very well said.

  21. Tracy May 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    This info is awesome…so few people know about the chemical junk in not just our foods, but in everything else too! I make sure to teach my students about healthy foods and staying away from the dangerous chemical soup around us. I’ve personally never felt better since I started eating clean and simplifying my life. Keep up the good word, Jillian!

  22. Linda May 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    As a middle school teacher in a district that feeds crap to kids and just significantly cut the amount of phys. ed. the students will have next year, I am too familiar with the sad state of the youth of this country. Unfortunately, as many posters mentioned, you are preaching to the choir. My food priorities go like this: local organic, then local, then organic whenever possible, but always real, not overly processed food. I’m pretty sure I haven’t consumed HFCS in several years. But I’m a singer in the choir. We need to get this word out to a bigger audience. I think Jillian is just the girl to do that!

  23. Patricia Latimer May 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    It is truly a shame that those of us who subscribe to this page aren’t the ones who really need to read this and understand it. Well put, Jillian. Your dedication to a healthier everyone helps me with my quest to a healthier me. Thank you.

  24. Anna Wilson May 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    I am grateful that Jillian has written a book that will help parents address what they should be feeding their children and addressing that issue for themselves so our society can become healthier.

  25. Chasity H May 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    I wished I could win Jillian Michaels for a week but I guess her book will have to do. :-}

  26. Greg Lohr May 12, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    When looking at what has happened with our food supply, the FDA, the medical and industry, and the increase in major diseases, people are not asking the right questions…Why are they doing these things? The answer most people come up with is “money.” While that answer is partially correct, it is only a part of the equation. I’d love to talk with Jillian about this and how we can let people know what is really going on.

  27. Karen May 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    Food for thought! We have had a backyard vegetable garden for years.

  28. Erin May 12, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    I love how passionately Jillian writes/speaks about this. This is so important and I am grateful that there are people like Jillian who have a voice and are using it to inform people how to turn things around rather than act like the situation is out of our hands. Gotta love Jill! And Maria Rodale is a rockstar as well. In all seriousness, this needs to be understood by more people because it is significantly affecting our health and future as a country.

  29. Michelle May 12, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    Sad! We need to make a change! Thanks Jillian for all you do!!!

  30. Stacey May 12, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    This really has me excited that I’ve gotten into growing our own fruits and veggies when we can. I am glad I took the time to read this, I learned quite a few things that has made me think about our food. Thank you so much for the wonderful post.

  31. Kirstie May 12, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    I agree and I’ll be there in the frontlines, only eating the organic foods.

  32. johnny j May 12, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    It would be great if someone could set up a “click here” tab that made it simple for more people to get a message to their congress person like MoveOn has done in the past. Americans are lazy/busy/ feel powerless, you pick, but this message needs to get pushed up to Capitol Hill!

  33. Mauricio May 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Maria & Jilllian,

    The two of you are incredible vessels of knowledge, that are educating and inspiring healthy decision making, when it come to all facets of healthcare. I hope that everyone that is informed from you and Jillian’s message, will pay that forward. Our society as a whole, and most importantly, our children, are in dire need of positive and informed decision making regarding food options and exercise. Let’s all do our part and help change the obvious flaws in the food industry. Also, I urge everyone that reads my reply, to incorportate exercise into their lifesyle. I think a lot of people, feel as though they may need to go to a gym or use fancy equipment, in order to work out. In addition, I believe, that a lot of people may think it requires more time to work out than they think. We have the most simplest tool at our disposal, which is our own bodyweight. The exercises are endless and very effective. More importantly, learning perfect technique and understanding why you are doing a particular exercise, with safety as your top priority is priceless. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to hopefully reached and helped at least one person in my reply.

    With Gratitude,


  34. Michele May 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    We will have our largest vegetable garden this year feeding a family of 5 and buying from the local CSA – wish our growing season was longer. Thank you Jillian for a great article.

  35. Edgar May 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Farmeers markets are springing up everywhere here in South Texas. But displacing the pet status of big agri will be challenging.

  36. Paola Navarrete May 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    One thing we can do is as much as possible creating activities, conferences, and symposiums to educate the public, One of the things I do with my patients is teach them about eating healthy showing them how to read all the ingredients. Teach them about how to eat healthy foods, sometimes I’ll give them the recipes and i’ll teach them, how to find and identify power foods. So I think these is another way to pay it forward to teach people everything that I have learn from Jillian Michaels.

  37. Vivienne Tullis May 12, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    Try eating good food living on unemployment. It sure does not go very far. But I try the best that I can. I am going to grow tomatoes this summer.

  38. Melissa Cameron May 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Wow! What an eye-opener. I’m actually disgusted and inspired all at the same time. Disgusted by our own government trying to sabotage the health of its people. I’m inspired to seek out locally grown foods in my area.

    Thank you Jillian!

  39. Linda May 12, 2011 at 7:58 pm #


  40. xena May 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Can you please add links as to where the “stats” come from? Thanks.

  41. Stacey May 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm #


    I so totally agree. We should not grow food to process it to a highly inefficient source of fuel for our cars. Instead, we should focus more on improving access to fresh, wholesome foods for all.

  42. Kathleen P May 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Thank you for taking the time to spread the word.

  43. Lynnette May 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Very interesting statistics. I appreciate you writing about this!

  44. Sue G May 12, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    It is absolutely insane that there are now patents on SEEDS! SEEDS! After watching Food, Inc., reading this great article and knowing what I already know about healthy eating I am more determined than ever to change the way my entire family eats. We are a family of 9. Eating healthy is expensive…but so are doctor bills. I’d rather spend my money on healthy, organic food. Thanks, Jillian, for all you do to promote healthy eating.

  45. Kristi May 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Thanks for the info. Always appreciate emphasis on good nutrition.
    Our nation’s “super-sizing” from processed foods is causing many endemic health issues, not to mention that adding ethanol to fuel has been shown to be ineffective, so you’d think we’d put corn back into the food chain.
    My company helps families come back to the kitchen table to create healthy meals: http://www.kristiw.demarleathome.com/

  46. Kristi Fetherston May 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    I totally agree with what Jillian is talking about! There is even legislation trying to be passed (funded by Monsanto) to regulate all home gardens…insane!!!! Not so democratic is it?
    This track that our country is on with our food has got to change directions soon!!!!
    Keep up the great work Jillian!!! ;~)

  47. Sandy May 12, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Great post! Thanks for your insight and solutions. Motivates me even more to do the right thing!

  48. Vicky May 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    The government pays farmers millions of dollars to not plant the corn and soybeans and the ground does not produce anything. The regulations should be changed that they should have to plant organic vegetables on those acres that have not had fertilizer put on them for years to supply more organic vegetables to bring the price down.

  49. Rinnie Kirk May 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    great article! We have got to keep this message open and honest!

  50. Linda May 12, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Why is this such a tough thing for our government to understand??!! No wonder the ins co’s don’t want a universal healthcare. It will cost them a fortune due to our inability to stand up to monsanto. Europe and even under developed India know Monsanto is the devil. Why don’t we!

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