Within the scope of this research, we will analyze the role of high fructose corn syrup on Americans. “Most people would never open a bag of sugar and then feed themselves 10? teaspoons of the stuff. But that's exactly what you're doing if you drink your average can of soda pop.” (CBC News) It is apparent, as most nutritionists have claimed, that high fructose corn syrup plays a major role in obesity epidemics that currently overwhelms the United States.
“Fructose, as the name implies, is the sugar found naturally in fruit. It can be extracted, turned into granules and used like sugar in the kitchen.” (Sugar Coated) In modern commercial corn syrup manufacturing, after the corn starch is separated from the gluteus corn material using methods similar to those used in late 1800s (only now used on much larger scale) and converted to corn syrup, some factories now take corn syrup production one stage further. Today, when glucose in corn syrup is converted to fructose enzymatically (derived from Streptomyces bacteria), the resulting corn syrup is much sweeter. This refined product is known as High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS.
“Loading high fructose corn syrup into increasingly larger portions of soda and processed food has packed more calories into us and more money into food processing companies, say nutritionists and food activists.” (Sugar Coated) Modern corn products made during and after cornstarch conversion to corn syrup are laundry “starches” (made from dextrin), refined corn oil (made from germ separation), molasses or hydrol (made at the same time as corn syrup), lactic acid (made from glucose), sorbitol and mannitol (made from glucose/dextrose), and methyl glucoside (also made from glucose/dextrose).
Today, well over one hundred years since Kirchhof, Le Duc, and Jones performed their experiments, corn syrup may not have totally replaced imported cane sugar; nonetheless, if you look on any food label (and on some non-food labels) at your local supermarket, you will notice that corn syrup, if not the first ingredient, is a close second or third. Today, Le Duc's predictions would not be considered too far off the mark. Corn has come a long way from an indigenous plant and has become a primary source of human and animal nutrition, sugar, and non-edible products, all of which are made and used throughout the world.
However, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have also seen an increase in the genetic modification of crop plants. In an effort to increase crop yields and crop strength (resistance to diseases, pests, and weeds), agricultural scientists have been directly manipulating the genetic makeup of corn and soybean plants in particular; for example, to develop maize that is herbicide-resistant or resistant to pests. Bt corn is corn modified by the addition of a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to produce a toxin in the pollen and corn tissues that makes the hybrid resistant to the European corn borer and other pests. The resulting products, collectively known as transgenic plants or GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms, have led to controversy. “Studies by researchers at UC Davis and the University of Michigan have shown that consuming fructose, which is more readily converted to fat by the liver, increases the levels of fat in the bloodstream in the form of triglycerides.” (Sugar Coated)Want an expert to write a paper for you Talk to an operator now
As “Fat Land” makes clear, Critser's culprits are the generation of baby boomers and their alleged attack on moral standards and boundaries that, he argues, had previously kept America thin.
This is a daring argument because historians have argued that American history has, if anything, been marked by open hostility to frugality and dietary restraint, notwithstanding the periodical proliferation of 'experts' - both religious and scientific - who have been convinced that gluttony was everywhere. But what of the specifics of this argument? What are 'these things' which many researchers see as 'morally wrong' and what are the 'moral absolutes' he wishes to defend and 'educate' people about? (“You Want Fries With That?”)
The answer to these questions are not, at first, all that clear because American obesity is partly the result of increased use of high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil in processed foods. We will not attempt to evaluate this claim here except to point out that critiques of the basic assumptions - that saturated fats and cholesterol cause obesity, atherosclerosis and heart disease - exist and are not addressed in the vast body of research that was produced on this topic. While the truth or otherwise of this causational claim remains at least an open question, it is certainly not settled on the strength of the research presented here.
However, let us assume, for argument's sake, that the critics are correct to draw our attention to corn syrup. Having accepted this point, we might then justifiably ask what more needs to be said? After all, the researchers point out that increased usage of this product closely coincides with increases in American overweight and obesity. So are they suggesting that this is an important causative factor or an unimportant one? Could the corn syrup factor be the 'obesity epidemic's' 'smoking gun'? If not, why not?
While Eberstadt's 'The child-fat problem' is unambiguously and unapologetically conservative, there is a sense that many researchers want to avoid criticisms of being overly partisan. So even though Critser's final moralistic 'take-home message' is scarcely different from Eberstadt's, he chooses not to let fast food corporations completely off the hook. (“You Want Fries With That?”) Having dealt speedily with corn syrup, he considers the 'supersize' phenomenon - the aggressive marketing of oversize portions in order to boost the profits of fast and convenience food manufacturers and vendors. As with corn syrup, Critser fails to address the significance of this phenomenon. Instead, the author makes brief mention of it and then has nothing more to say on the matter in the remainder of the book. (“You Want Fries With That?”)
“At the American Chemical Society conference in August 2007, U.S. researchers suggested soft drinks containing high fructose corn syrup may be linked to the development of diabetes, especially in children.” (CBC News) These are important omissions because research into the question of whether Western populations are actually eating more is equivocal - it is not at all clear that we are consuming more calories. Furthermore, many 'obesity epidemic' commentators see people's personal failings - gluttony and sloth - as the problem. So in terms of explaining why the 'obesity epidemic' has happened, how does the strategy of drawing attention to the behavior of governments and multinational corporations, on the one hand, sit alongside the story of personal (and yet apparently population wide) moral decline, on the other?
Certainly, in the absence of any further research or analysis, these two sets of factors could either be seen as perfectly compatible - working together to produce the same outcome - or incompatible - offering completely contradictory explanations - depending on your point of view.
In Eberstadt's analysis, for example, the tactics of the fast food industry are dismissed as largely irrelevant and as simply satisfying the appetites that people already had. Critser takes a different path, suggesting that all these factors need to be considered, employing what we have called the 'shopping list' approach. (“You Want Fries With That?”) However, Critser's 'shopping list' seems designed more to create the impression of ideological even-handedness rather than a serious empirical exercise. Rather than attempting to sort out the strong arguments from the weak, he simply lumps them all in together.
Once again, a reasonable question might be to ask who is to blame here? Although we might wonder about the role played by corporations who both supported legislation to restrict school funding and who profited handsomely from the resulting school funding situation, or the converging neo-liberal economic policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations - policies that were strikingly similar to those being enacted by conservative and social-democratic governments alike around the Western world - Critser blames what he calls 'Me Generation' citizens who voted for these policies. (“You Want Fries With That?”) High fructose corn syrup, as well as many other similar products that have detrimental effects on human health, continue to prevail in the diet of most Americans.