Processed and Fast Foods
The industrialization of our food systems has resulted in major transformations in the way we eat and relate to food. Despite our overflowing supermarkets, many eaters in developed countries rely on processed and fastfoods and, therefore, diets that are dominated with high concentrations of refined sugars, salt, hydrogenated vegetable fats, and artificial ingredients. As a result, our diets are not likely as healthy as they could be and our food production systems are not as sustainable as they should be.
(CC Image by ebru (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons))
The effects of over-consuming these processed and fast foods has had a deleterious effect on our health, especially youth, as well as a nation (critiques) - with most evidence and studies showing a declining state of health in a wide breath of health indicators such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and more.
Moreover, the effects of processed and fast foods relates to sustainability on many fronts. For instance, social justice - in relation to access to healthy foods, and the unequal distribution of poor and minority groups
consumption of these foods - as well as, food systems, food deserts, food miles, food movements, basic human needs, genetically modified organisms (GMO's), and more.
(CC Image (left) by Christian Cable from Lancaster (Fast Food Uploaded by Partyzan_XXI) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons))
With the advent of convenience foods and their ubiquitousness around the country and the planet, the impact on the aforementioned areas is now evident. As generally lower income classes, more hispanic and other non-whites, are limited in their ability to purchase and access fresh, healthy, and nutritious foods. This social issue is pressing into the realm of a massive and widespread health issue as well.
Industrialized agriculture and their economies of scale afford those industries with the cheapest foods the most access to markets. That is, the cheaper and poorer quality the food, the more likely it will be distributed, especially among a growing population of poor and impoverished that can afford few other options.
While GMO's, perverse subsidies, critiques of modern economics, and market failures also play into the social side of sustainability in the context of fast and processed foods, it is also noteworthy to highlight the un-sustainable nature of this foods production, along with negative externalities inherent in the system outside of human health problems.
Generally speaking, most fast food meat comes from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) where animals live in cramped and un-natural living conditions. The level of un-sustainability and character of these operations vary widely, but as a system of production they are mostly un-sustainable and unhealthy systems for both animals and humans.
Beyond CAFO's, non-meat fast good products, oils, vegetables, fruit, sugars, and grains are almost ubiquitously not organically grown, as well as, not being grown in a socially, economically, or ecologically just manner. Industrial agriculture that drives fast and processed foods depletes the top-soil as well as the nutrients. It also heavily relies on fossil fuel inputs at every step of it's production from diesel fuel to pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, packaging, and shipping.
(CC Image of Florida chicken house by Larry Rana (USDA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)