Are we being forced to eat?

There are more than just marketing and advertising pressures at work. We are bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages every day and food manufacturers spend about $11 billion a year promoting their products.1 But there are other ways that we are “encouraged” to consume more.

Bigger and bigger packaging: Is there any other country in the world in which you can get a carton containing 32 6-ounce  frozen New York Strip Steaks or a crate of Mrs. Fields cookies, as well as pickles by the gallon and cereal boxes the size of small houses?

Rebranding and product line extensions: In with the latest, greatest, over-the-top breakfast cereal or the newest yogurt flavor; out with the old!

Use-by-dates: Are these dates – which are not required but used on nearly all food products – actually there to provide another level of food safety or, in reality, to sell more food?

The “haul” at the Chesapeake Auction House grocery auction.

Every year, US grocers discard $10-$15 billion in unsold products. Those items might be damaged, discontinued, seasonal or food that’s just close to its sell-by date.

A secondary market has developed to get just a little bit more money out of the food system: food auctions.2 Yes, that is exactly what they are: food – mostly processed, some frozen – sold to the highest bidder in large quantities.

Food auctions are advertised to be a great way to get lots of food cheap, but in reality they are the means to squeeze a little more money out of over-produced boxed, bagged, and bottled food-like substances that have little nutritive value.

The result? Perpetuating the ideas that food should be cheap and you should buy lots of it.

While food auctions may be promoted as fun and exciting events, they are mostly targeted to people who are low income or out of work. Nearly one in five families had trouble putting food on the table in the last year.3 Is it perhaps a perverted form of food justice, that damaged, discontinued, or food that is past its sell-by date is sold to the people that are most food insecure?


Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, Raj Patel (Second Edition, Revised, Melville House, 2012)

American Wasteland, Jonathan Bloom (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2010)