Packaged food – is it worth the convenience?

Packaged food – is it worth the convenience?

The first humans were hunter-gatherers who survived by killing animals and birds or gathering fruits and nuts from the bushes. Then we created agriculture, a radical shift away from "gathering" food and toward "producing" it. The requirement for preservation only then became the primary responsibility. In today's technologically advanced world, both food production and our methods for handling produce have advanced significantly. We now have better nutrition, less food waste, and more leisure time thanks to advancements in food processing. Today, processed food dominates our kitchens due to shifting dietary habits, hectic lifestyles, growing urbanization, and rising costs. Without a doubt, the food processing sector is expanding greatly. Food has become more affordable thanks to processing and packaging.

Processing and packaging have various advantages, including: -

  • Preservation over time
  • Cooking the food till it becomes edible.
  • Increasing the food's shelf life
  • Ensuring availability and safety in various places and improving user convenience.

The problem however is not processing or packaging, but rather the way we process!

To make food more enticing, tasty, have a better texture and mouthfeel, and have a longer shelf life, additives and chemical preservatives are added to the food. Limits are always necessary in order to hide harmful side effects, such as when using salt, sugar, and other substances that have been the focus of public health campaigns for years. Studies show that consuming ultra processed meals has negative side effects such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.

So how can we reconcile the ease of preparing and obtaining food with maintaining and eating a balanced diet containing optimum nutrition? Making informed decisions when you buy for food is the solution. Knowing what is on one's plate can be much improved by just reading the food packaging labels to learn about the components. Experts advice staying away from "ultra-processed" foods like soda, chips, ready-to-heat or ready-to-eat meals and switching to less processed alternatives.

Another alternative could be having food products that are produced in a decentralized manner, produced locally with fresh ingredients. There is a growing need to have products that are made locally by the communities in small batches.  

To solve the crisis, we need innovations. Not in the area of chemical technologies but making supply chains more efficient for decentralized processing. Consumer awareness is another important factor which will create pull for new brands which are making products in small batches.

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