Book Review || Eat Your Heart Out by Felicity Lawrence

I've been focusing very much lately on becoming healthier for myself and for the planet and while I thought turning to a plant-based diet was enough, Felicity Lawrence's frank book about the food industry, 'Eat Your Heart Out' was a wake-up call to commercial food and corporate interests.

I always knew that only a few companies owned most of the means of food production, thanks to widespread reports about them. But this meme is only the tip of the iceberg, because there are a few companies that control all the ingredients the companies in the reports use. I never suspected it was this bad - that everything came from these few suppliers. Nor did I expect the history behind our food system to be littered with human rights abuses, a disregard for animal and natural life, and political connections that should be making us shake in our boots from fear and anger.

The chapters of Lawrence's book focus on the basic foodstuffs we require to have a so-called 'healthy' lifestyle: cereals, meat and vegetables, milk, pigs, sugar, fish and tomatoes, fats, and soya. Every single chapter reveals the systematic takeover of a product by massive corporations who care nothing for the livelihood of local farmers and residents, the ecosystem, the treatment of livestock, the sustainability of the product, nor the manner in which it is produced. The products are relentlessly marketed to consumers, sometimes with no evidence that the product or its additives are really healthy.

Corporate interests focus on making the most profit by producing the cheapest items, and this means farmers, workers, and consumers suffer at the end of the day: farmers suffer as their cost of production can never match that of major corporations, they sell their land, and their own earning ability and living is taken away from them; workers (particularly migrants, and very often illegal migrants) suffer from poor wages, poor working conditions, and sometimes even slavery; consumers suffer because they are forced to pay for and consume foods that are made from food sources stripped of all their healthy aspects (because that is the cheapest way), filled with bulking agents such as water and the by-products of agriculture for the meat industry, and jammed with 'healthy' additives that replace what was stripped in the first place that have really left us unhealthier than ever.

The environment also suffers along the way, usually the environment where products are produced such as the Amazon for soya and Indonesia for palm oil, while the major corporations ship products to tax havens so that they pay minimal tax and taxpayers actually subsidise production and the way in which they work.

In the fish chapter (6) for example, Lawrence looks at Senegal, once a major exporter of fish. After independence, debt and the recession in the '70s forced it to open its agricultural system to importers (these major agricultural companies) resulting in farmers losing their livelihood and moving to the coast to make money from fishing. But the fishing waters are taken over by international entities who overfish the waters, destroy fish habitats while doing so, and fill their nets and trawlers with illegal, wasted by-catch while locals who bring in fish that do not meet the size or species requirements are penalised. Since the locals are not able to make a living fishing, they migrate to the European Union, usually crammed into ships in ways that resemble the slave ships their ancestors once travelled in, where they suffer from the new slavery of the minimum wage, the illegal migrant, and 'recruitment agencies' that continually negotiate lower and lower wages to match the needs of retailers and large corporations.

And every chapter has a similar story of agricultural systems in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America being forced open and filled with Western imports while the Western countries' agriculture is protected, loss of livelihoods, environmental destruction, and a decline in general health. Even retailers do not go unscathed: their power over the market is nearly unparalleled, forcing factory workers and local farmers to continually lower their prices and increase their production or face being disregarded as a supplier entirely.

If there is one book that you read this year, please let it be this one. It is truly an eye-opening treatise on the state of our world, our environment, and our health. 

{Image credit: Senegal Fish [By PIerre.Lescanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]; Migrant worker [By Sharon Ben-Arie - Photo by Sharon Ben-Arie, Attribution, Link]; Battery cages for chickens [By MyName (Ethelred) - Own work, Public Domain, Link]}


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