June 12, 2024

The Great American Poisoning

or, wtf is going on with our food system

Justin Mares

Look at this orangutan.

A few things are apparent:

  1. That animal is not having a great hair day.
  2. That animal is much heavier than a normal orangutan.
  3. That animal must be in a zoo.

Why — just from looking at a photo — can one conclude that this orangutan lives in captivity?

Plain and simple: because it’s fat.

For a wild animal, the default state is health. In normal times, wild animals are an appropriate weight. In the wild, animals don’t become obese. They don’t become depressed or suicidal. They don’t exhibit behavioral disorders. Animals inhabiting their evolved, ancestral environment are healthy — by default.

Animals in captivity are another story. These animals are often obese, develop tics and other neuroses, and engage in self-harm. In the famous case of Hugo at SeaWorld, an orca repeatedly rammed his head into the side of his pool until he had a brain aneurysm and died1. This phenomenon (known as  “Zoochosis”) describes the unnatural coping behaviors that arise when you cage a wild animal.

The health of an animal reflects the health of its environment. One glance at a starving boar, ribs pressing through the skin, and you understand the boar’s environment lacks the food it needs to be healthy. When we see a sick or starving animal, we ask: “What’s wrong with that animal’s environment that has led to poor health?” But when we see a sick human, we don’t ask “What in this human’s environment could be causing disease?” Instead, we say “It must be genetics” or “Don’t fat-shame!”

Humans are animals too. We’ve evolved to exist in an ancestral environment where health was the default.

Today, as I look around, I see the opposite. Americans have never been fatter. We’ve never been sicker. Our kids have never had more cancer, more obesity, more diabetes, more behavioral disorders. The rampant chronic disease we see should force us to ask: why is everyone suddenly sick? Could it be that our environment is killing us?

Yes. We are being poisoned by our food and healthcare industrial complex. But there is a way out.

Time to break out of the zoo.

Part 1: As We Get Richer, We Get Sicker

For practically all of human history, one’s weight was naturally constrained by one’s environment. Food was not incredibly abundant, nor engineered to maximize palatability and profit. Humans ate what their environment offered, and prepared food to maximize nutrient density and health.

Today, our ancestral food environment has been replaced by one that favors crop yield, shelf stability, and convenience. And the outcomes are terrible. In the U.S., the wealthiest country in the world, we’re seeing record levels of obesity and chronic disease. As we get richer, we get sicker.  

How bad is it?

In 1990, zero states had obesity rates above 20%. As of 2018, zero states had obesity rates below 20%.

This is an abrupt and historically anomalous change. Between 1890 and 1976, obesity rates went from ~3% to ~10%. The obesity rate in most developed countries was ~10% until 1980, when it took off2.

In 1890, Chauncey Morlan was the world’s fattest man, enough of an anomaly to be part of the circus. Today, Chauncey would hardly stand out at your average airport.

The current health crisis goes beyond obesity. Rates of chronic conditions like heart disease, asthma, cancer, and diabetes have grown 700% since 1935. Today, 6 in 10 Americans have a chronic disease, and the numbers continue to grow.


For the first time in American history, our life expectancy is trending down, driven entirely by the chronic diseases that kill literally millions of Americans each year.

We have the fattest, sickest population of Americans that has ever existed. Today, 50% of Americans have diabetes or prediabetes (and 25% of kids); 73% of Americans are obese or overweight, (and 45% of kids). 93% of Americans have at least one marker of metabolic dysfunction that signals future chronic disease3, and chronic illness is up 200%+ since the 70s.

All this is happening despite record levels of healthcare spending. The richer we get, the more we spend. The more we spend, the sicker we get.


Your grandparents’s generation grew up exercising less, smoking more, drinking regularly, and without any special diets. Yet, by and large, that generation was healthy, because their food system wasn’t poisoning them. Americans don’t want to be sick, fat, and infertile (oh yeah, sperm counts are down nearly 40% in the last 40 years). And just 40 years ago, we weren’t.  

Why is this happening? Why are adults struggling with weight gain and sperm loss? Why are children dying of cancer at record rates4? WHAT IS GOING ON?!

The answer is simple. Our food system is poisoning us, and the institutions meant to keep us safe — our regulators, healthcare system, doctors, and researchers — are not incentivized to keep us healthy.

You cannot have a healthy society made up of sick people. In the rest of this piece, I’m going to show you what’s going on, and how The Great American Poisoning is a root cause of record healthcare costs, chronic disease, and mental illness.

Part 2: Food-Borne Illness

Everything is downstream of what we put into our bodies. “You are what you eat” is correct, but it doesn’t go far enough. What you eat is how you feel, too.

My freshman year in college was hard. For the first time in my life, I was living on my own, outside the confines of my very happy 9-person family. I’d broken up with my girlfriend, and gotten into a relationship-ending conflict with my best friend. Things were already rocky. Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, a friend got drunk and hung himself in our dormitory showers.

I was depressed, for the first time in my life. And in the depths of my depression, I was willing to try anything to feel good again. I started lifting, which I’d never done before. I tried meditation, joined a fraternity, and volunteered for Teach for America. And somehow, on my quest to feel better, I stumbled on Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health. And from there, found Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet and the Paleo diet.

Going from a standard American college diet of pizza, pasta, and Yuengling to a Paleo-like, slow-carb diet was transformative. Not only did I have more energy, sleep better, and my acne cleared up, but I also felt happier in a way I hadn’t expected. The only drawback was dealing with friends mocking me when I skipped the pizza and beer.

Changing my diet had massive, unexpected benefits on my emotional and mental health. It’s why I care so much about the chronic disease crisis: I know that when people eat better, they feel better.

Metabolic psychiatry is a field of study that explores the link between physical and mental health. Many in this field — Dr. Chris Palmer among them — have argued that many mental illnesses (such as anxiety, ADHD, and depression) are largely metabolic dysfunctions of the brain. Just as obesity is often a physical symptom of an underlying metabolic issue, anxiety is a behavioral symptom of the same underlying metabolic issue.

In short, what you eat is how you feel.

A common myth is that mental health is all genes and circumstance. That your physical health has nothing, zero, zilch, to do with your mental health. My perspective is that many mental health issues are food-borne illnesses. You can improve your mental health by improving your physical health.

It’s almost impossible to be mentally healthy while lacking physical health. Biology is the playing field upon which our mind and emotions exist: if your biology is in a bad place, it’s hard for good things to arise. It’s one reason why we’re seeing record increases in anxiety, depression, and ADHD at the same time we’re seeing record increases in chronic illness5.

We’ve known the link between physical and mental health for decades now. From 1927 to the 1960s, insulin coma therapy was widely used to treat mental disorders. At one point, insulin coma therapy was the most widely used treatment for psychosis and severe depression in the Western world. And when we observe hunter-gatherers like the Hadza in Tanzania, we find that “no child from the Hadza group met the criteria for an emotional behavior or eating disorder”6.

This is not just speculation. Dr. Chris Palmer has written an entire book on this topic, and there is study after study showing the link between physical and mental health. People with diabetes are 2x–3x more likely to develop major depression. Women with a BMI greater than 40 (“severe obesity”) have an 82% greater risk of having children with epilepsy. People with Type 2 diabetes have bipolar rates 3x higher than the general population. Mothers with obesity have a significantly increased chance of having a child with autism7.

Today, we have the physically sickest population of Americans that has ever existed. We also have the greatest prevalence of mental illness, anxiety, depression, autism, and ADHD. These facts, sad as they are, are mere symptoms of the underlying issue. It’s the biggest issue in America: our food system is poisoning us.

Part 3: The Grocery Store Is a Minefield

At this point, you may be asking “Why?” Why is this happening? Why is this happening now? Why, why, why?!

The short answer: incentives. Large players in our food system make money when people are sick and less when people are healthy.

The invisible hand of the market nudges food providers toward profitable, processed foods. Then our healthcare system sells (very profitable) pills and procedures when people inevitably get sick.

Why does 97% of all healthcare spending go toward treatment, rather than prevention8? Why do Americans get nearly 57% of their calories from ultra-processed foods?9


The ideal Coca-Cola customer drinks their sugary, addictive product multiple times a day, health consequences be damned. Coca-Cola’s incentives are not to create a product that leads to healthier customers; it’s to create the most addictive, cheapest product that doesn’t immediately kill their customers.

It’s not just Coca-Cola. Every large player in our food system is incentivized to create maximally profitable products with minimal regard for consumer health. Thus, we see the explosion of chemical additives, sugar, vegetable oils, and corn syrup added to nearly everything.

This is not an evil conspiracy. It’s simply the players in the market responding to incentives. Selling minimally processed commodities (vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat) is not all that profitable. What is profitable — what is very profitable — is selling cheap, processed, addictive, sugar-laden foodstuffs.

And why are these Frankenfoods so darn profitable? In large part, because we — the American taxpayers — pay for them!

Have you ever wondered why Coca-Cola uses high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in Coke rather than real sugar? It’s not because it tastes better; it’s because it’s cheaper, thanks to rampant crop subsidies!

Since 1995, corn subsidies in the U.S. have totaled more than $116 billion: an average of over $4 billion per year. Soybeans and wheat subsidies aren’t far behind, at $48 and $45 billion each, since 199510. And (shocker) because these crops are so heavily subsidized, they’re also by far the most abundant.

Farmers are incentivized to plant as many of these crops as they can, because they are guaranteed to make a profit. This profit guarantee means that farmers plant corn/soy/wheat in greater amounts than humans actually consume. In fact, less than 1% of all corn grown in the U.S. is the corn on the cob that’s eaten in its unprocessed form!

Most of the corn grown in the US — that taxpayers subsidize! — is used for animal feed, food additives (“residual use” in the graph below) and alcohol (for fuel use).

Because corn, soy, and wheat are subsidized and abundant, these crops are cheap. And because they’re cheap, they are in everything.

Subsidies have artificially made corn cheaper than sugar and soybean oil cheaper than olive oil, which means that Big Food companies can increase their margins by using these crops. That’s how, within just a few decades, HFCS and vegetable oils are now in everything, giving your mom and grandma diabetes.

I’ve talked before about the negative impact of vegetable oils on human health. Well, crop subsidies also play a role here. Before soybeans were so heavily subsidized, American consumption of soybean oil was negligible.

Today, after $45 billion of crop subsidies, the average American gets 20% of their calories from toxic, highly processed soybean oils! Again, not because soybean oil is delicious. It’s because —- thanks to crop subsidies — it’s cheaper for Big Food to spend a bunch of money turning dry, definitely-not-oily soybeans into oil for human consumption.

These subsidies also ensure that soybeans become animal feed, as about 70% of soybeans are used to feed chickens, pigs, and cows11. In their natural environments, these animals would never eat soybeans. Now, artificially cheap soybeans make their way into feed of all kinds: human and animal.

Amazingly, cigarettes (tobacco) receive four times more government subsidies (2%) than all fruits and vegetables combined (0.45%)!

Subsidies also ensure that many farmers specialize, planting only one kind of crop (i.e. corn, soy, or wheat). Where in nature do we see thousands of acres of just one species of plant?

Unfortunately, nowhere. You’d never see this in our ancestral environments. Nature abhors a vacuum, and monocropping makes fields more susceptible to pests and all sorts of environmental hazards. Fields with just one crop are not resilient, and can’t benefit from a mixture of plants (and their insect partners) to establish a balance… which means that monoculture crops are much more susceptible to pest infestation, and require vastly more pesticides and fertilizer than crops in a multi-species field.

Because pesticides are so widely used, you’re guaranteed to have them in your system. As of this writing, 92% of Americans have measurable phthalates in their body (linked to 25%+ decrease in testosterone). 80%+ of Americans have glyphosate in their urine12, which is linked to cancer, infertility, neurological conditions, etc. And as a society, we see the highest cancer rates for parts of the body that accumulate toxin exposure (breasts, testes/prostate, lungs, etc.)13.

In my opinion, these subsidies have directly led to the sickest, least healthy crop of Americans the world has ever seen. We’re overweight, we’re obese, and we suffer from chronic illness at a rate never before seen in history 🇺🇸. And the billions of dollars we, the taxpayers, pour into crop subsidies each year directly contribute to our sickness.

These subsidies are uniquely American. That’s why these fake, highly processed ingredients are only present in American foods. Look at the difference between Heinz Ketchup in the US vs. the EU:

Research credit to Jason Karp and HumanCo

These billions in subsidies have created a food system where practically everything at the grocery store is bad for you. It’s a minefield. Processed foods litter your local supermarket, and you are being lied to about what they’re doing to your health. We have the sickest, fattest, least fertile generation of Americans in history — full stop. And this is happening thanks to a web of policies and incentives that promote chemically intensive farming and ultra-processed foods. This lie is propagated by an industry that spends hundreds of millions of lobbying dollars to convince you that obesity is genetic and the chronic disease crisis is complicated.

It’s not complicated.

Part 4: You are Being Lied To

12 Big Food companies control 80% of Americans’ food intake14. These 12 companies are highly incentivized to convince Americans, doctors, and policymakers that their highly processed (highly profitable) food-like substances are, in fact, Super Healthy!

Big Food spends billions on “science” to convince people and policymakers that their Frankenfoods are not, in fact, bad for you. Let’s take a look at one of the most egregious examples. It’s called the Tufts Food Compass, touted as “the most comprehensive and science-based nutrient profiling system to date.” After 3 years of work and millions in NIH funding, the study found that Lucky Charms are healthier than whole milk, twice as healthy as beef, and better for you than a baked potato or cooked green peas.

No, I’m not kidding. See how your favorite foods rank below (100 is the top score, 1 the worst).

Source - Nina

Yes, you’re reading this right. A major university spent 3 years and millions of dollars of NIH funding to tell us Frosted Mini Wheats and Honey Nut Cheerios are health foods. As the excellent Nina Teicholz says on her Substack:

The Food Compass, which gives top ratings to Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, is absurd on the face of it. In all, nearly 70 brand-named cereals from General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Post are ranked twice as high as eggs cooked in butter or a piece of plain, whole-wheat toast. Egg whites cooked in vegetable oils are also apparently more healthy than a whole, boiled egg, and nearly all foods are healthier than ground beef.

This is, unfortunately, par for the course when it comes to Big Food and nutrition funding. On the ground floor, school boards across the country look to research of this kind to inform what’s allowed in school lunches. These are the same school lunches empirically linked to higher rates of obesity for kids — an incredible shock, I’m sure, to anyone paying attention to the happenings of Congress, where pizza was declared a vegetable. It’s the tomato sauce that does it, apparently (a fruit, of course, but at this point who even cares).

And while most Americans have long since given up on the idea that our nation’s chronically incapable school boards might achieve results that actually help children, we still expect a little more from our doctors. These people went to medical school, after all. But 80% of medical schools have zero required nutrition training or teaching15. That means that the Lucky Charms health guidelines made up at places like Tufts become the source material that overworked, nutritionally uninformed doctors and nurses reference when they make recommendations to their sick patients.

You may be wondering how a top-tier university comes to the shocking conclusion that sugary cereals are more nutritious than red meat, one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. You know, it’s almost as if these studies are funded by the companies selling sugary cereal! (They are).

Unfortunately, this Tufts study isn’t the first time Big Food has used this playbook.

In 1963, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) paid Harvard researchers the equivalent of $50k to refute sugar’s role in heart disease16, and researchers happily produced the results they were hired to produce. Instead of blaming sugar, Harvard and the SRF blamed cholesterol and saturated fat. Today, after 60 years of fat-is-bad food policy, Americans have never been in worse health, with no shortage of studies vindicating fat — including saturated fat17.

Big Food continues its tricks to this to this day. Their go-to tactic is to deflect blame: surely, Big Food says, we aren’t seeing historic rates of illness and obesity due to our highly processed food-like products! Surely, people just don’t exercise!

That’s a phenomenal piece of propaganda because it’s only partially untrue; exercise is important. It should therefore come as no surprise Coca-Cola has spent millions creating and funding the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN)18, which invented and promoted the idea of “energy balance.” Eat whatever you want — just hop on that bike after and you’re fine!  

In addition to starting questionable marketing organizations, Coca-Cola has been funding food “research” for decades. According to Food Fix, from 2008 to 2016 the company funded 389 articles in 169 journals concluding physical activity was more important than diet, and that soft drinks and sugar are essentially harmless. In total, Coca-Cola provided more than $120 million to American universities, health organizations, and research institutions between 2010 and 2015. And Coke is not alone.

Big Food has been playing similar tricks to muddy the waters on trans fats for decades, likely killing more than 1 million Americans in the process (as I wrote about here). “Research” is essential to the strategy. The food industry spends more than $11 billion a year funding nutrition studies — while the NIH spends only $1 billion — polluting and diluting independent research and confusing policymakers, the public, and most doctors and nutritionists.

Yes, for every dollar the NIH spends on nutrition research, the food industry spends $11. On “research.” “Research” from respected universities. “Research” that appears in respected journals.

It’s not just by funding “research” that Big Food puts its hand on the scale. Of the “experts” on the committees that create the nutritional guidelines that inform school lunches, prison food, and pretty much every food policy in the country,  95% have known conflicts with Big Food or Big Pharma companies. Only when regulators are paid by Big Food can pizza be a vegetable, sugar get recommended for babies, and Lucky Charms declared healthier than steak.

One might reasonably ask, why does Big Food do this? Why fund biased nutrition research and sway policy away from lettuce and towards Lucky Charms?

The answer is simple: money. In 2016, $7 billion of SNAP (a nutrition assistance program for low-income people) funds were spent on sugary drinks19. Revenue from taxpayer-funded SNAP makes up nearly 20% of Coke’s annual US revenue, and 75% of SNAP goes to ultra-processed foods.

Yes, in a government program specifically engineered to help lower-income people improve their nutrition, sugary drinks are the largest line item, accounting for almost 10% of the “food” purchased by the program. Legally, you can’t purchase a hot meal or rotisserie chicken using SNAP benefits because they’re not healthy. But sprinkle in a bit of lobbying and voila! $7 billion a year to soda.

For my money, this is the craziest policy in the U.S. today. Taxpayers fund SNAP, but 75% of those funds go towards ultra-processed foods. Then, when these poorer populations inevitably get sick and die (15 years earlier than their wealthier, healthier contemporaries), the American taxpayer again comes out of pocket to pay for their healthcare costs — 85% of which goes towards managing food-borne chronic disease20.

Eighty-seven percent of schools serve brand-name Big Food items (McDonald’s, Snickers, Coca-Cola) in cafeterias21. Eighty percent of schools have contracts with soda companies22. The reason monstrosities like the Food Compass get funded, and the reason Big Food funds fake research, is all the same. The government-funded piggy bank — across SNAP, school lunches, prison food, hospital food, etc. — is just too big to ignore. And if Big Food can shift even small amounts of federal spending away from lower-margin whole foods and towards higher-margin, highly-processed Frankenfoods like Lucky Charms, all the better for their bottom lines. And all the worse for American waistlines.

Part 5: Health Is Simple and Natural

This is simply a case of incentives. A consumer addicted to processed foodstuffs is the most profitable to Big Food. A chronically ill consumer is the most profitable customer in our $4 trillion healthcare system. Who does the system make more money from: your average sick American, the one who will be on 17.6 medications throughout their lifetime? Or someone without any medications, without a chronic disease to “manage”?

When people feel issues are simple, people feel empowered to solve them. A hammer is a simple tool, so everyone feels like they can use it. There are no hammering “experts,” no one that makes bundles of money teaching others how to put a hammer to a nail.

When something is complicated, the natural human reaction is to defer, to look for an expert. I’m happy to use a hammer myself, but when my car breaks down you better believe I’m taking it to a mechanic. And because cars are complicated, that mechanic can charge me pretty much whatever they want to fix it.

The more you believe that health is complicated, the more you become a consumer of the service of healthcare. You no longer own your health and health outcomes; you’ve outsourced control of your health to a system that profits from your illness.

This is one of the most pernicious myths in the US today. That health is complicated, nutrition is confusing, and no one individual could possibly hope to understand it. Trying a keto diet is dangerous, please check with your doctor before opting out of the very system that’s killing you and everyone you know.

Confused people look to experts to solve their maladies. These experts are incentivized to suggest highly profitable pills and procedures to manage “complicated” conditions, not to share simple cures. The end result is the system we have today. One where heart disease goes up as more statins are prescribed. One where both depression and SSRI prescriptions are at record levels. One where the average American is both sicker and more medicated than ever.

Health is not found in the doctor’s office. You don’t need permission from a class of experts — 80% of whom have never taken a single nutrition class — to be healthy.

Part 6: Live and Eat Like Your Ancestors

Health can be simple. Eat real, nutrient-dense foods. Move, exercise. Avoid toxins, get sunlight. Sleep.

As we’ve discussed, animals do best in the wild, not in captivity. Humans are no different. Biologically, we’ve evolved to live the way we lived hundreds of thousands of years ago: living outside, in community, with no toxin pollution. Walking, moving, eating seasonally and organically by default.

These are the conditions in which humans physically and mentally thrive. Now let’s talk about how you can get as close to these conditions as possible in our modern environment.

Health issues arise the further an organism is from its natural environment. When you take a fish out of water, the fish suffocates and dies almost immediately. As soon as it enters an environment different than the one it evolved in, health issues arise.

The areas where health issues are most likely to arise are those where our current environment is the most different from our ancestral one.

Seed + vegetable oils are a great example. Today, seed oils make up nearly 20% of the average American’s caloric intake. Even 500 years ago, not only would these oils not have existed in the human diet, but they would have been literally impossible to make.

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Therefore, we can imagine that when we introduce these novel oils to the American diet, well, there’s a good chance of disease.

This principle applies across all dimensions of health: look at the areas of your life that are furthest from the environment you were evolved to inhabit, as those are most likely to cause disease.

For most people, this boils down to 5 areas: food, movement, sleep, light exposure, and toxin exposure. Let’s talk (briefly) about each one.

With food, the rule of thumb is to eat like your ancestors ate. Avoid ultra-processed foods, and avoid (or dramatically cut down on) the big 3: corn, soy, and wheat. These crops are in everything and are often the most processed, most pesticide-laden, and most fertilizer-intensive crops in our entire agricultural system.

Move, aiming for 10k steps per day and at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. For the longest time, I never exercised, thinking I didn’t like it. Truly, after 4 years of getting (mildly) serious about my training, it’s one of the best habits in my life and I’m much happier for having it in my routine.

I’m increasingly convinced that light exposure is critical. The more we learn about circadian rhythm, the more we realize that the amount, duration, and type of light you get has all sorts of signaling and hormonal effects on your body. The Sun is not toxic, but most sunscreen is carcinogenic. The light you’re exposed to throughout the day and night impacts all sorts of processes in your body. It’s why eating later in the day leads to more weight gain than eating the same calories earlier in the day23.

Sleep is also critical, and has a lot to do with your daily light exposure, circadian rhythm, and the like. Most sleep issues will sort themselves out if you get outside when the Sun is rising, do one workout during the day, and avoid eating and blue light exposure within 2 hours of bedtime.

Avoiding toxin exposure is important today, and will be increasingly important in the future. We are surrounded by toxins and compounds never before encountered by human biology: 92% of Americans have measurable levels of phthalates (toxins linked to 30%+ decreases in testosterone levels) in their blood; and 97% of Americans have measurable amounts of PFAS in their blood, which have been linked to cancer, infertility, and all kinds of neurological conditions. Glyphosate is the most common pesticide in the U.S. (though it’s banned in Italy, Germany, France, Austria, and 28 other countries), and has been linked to cancer, infertility, and a host of other maladies.

Toxins are hard to avoid, but getting a good water filter, buying organic and local foods, and swapping your socks and underwear for PFAS-free materials like cotton or linen are good starts24.

If you can take steps across each of these 5 areas (sleep, sun, food, movement, toxin exposure), you will be among the healthiest Americans that exist today.


When an animal is in its natural environment, the natural state of that organism is health. Wild animals don’t do cold plunges, they don’t diet, they don’t take 18 supplements every morning. They simply live as nature intended, and health is the default outcome.

Fifty years ago, the average person in the West was healthy. Today, we’re being poisoned by our ancestrally inappropriate environment.

It’s hard to appreciate the truth of this when surrounded by unhealthy people, but obesity, chronic illness, poor health...all of this is incredibly unnatural. Your great-grandma didn’t fast, didn’t think about keto vs. vegan vs. Atkins. She simply participated in a food environment with no toxin exposure: one that was local, seasonal, and organic by default. And — by and large — she was healthy. Naturally.

Today, we are in the midst of a crisis that is crippling the country: The Great American Poisoning. Record levels of chronic disease, record levels of healthcare spending, and no clear consensus about what’s going on. Rather than a frank conversation about what’s going wrong with American health, we are told that nutrition is “complicated,” that disease is “genetic,” and that depression is due to “unfortunate brain chemistry.” We’re told that our record levels of obesity have nothing to do with our environment. Never mind that Japanese people in the US are more than three times as obese as their (genetically similar) counterparts in Japan. Genes, huh?

Just 50 years ago, health was the default outcome. And when you got sick (pneumonia, a broken leg, whatever) you’d go to the healthcare system which would patch you up and exit you from the system. You’d go from sickness back to health.

Today, 85% of healthcare dollars are spent managing chronic conditions and chronically ill patients. It’s a sick-care system: one where the majority of time, energy, and money goes towards managing sickness indefinitely — instead of having your malady cured and exiting the system.

Our healthcare system was not built to create health. It was built to address acute illness, and then return someone back to a baseline level of health. Health is not found in the doctor’s office: it was presumed a natural, God-given right that most people had.

Today, in an era where the average outcome is that you (and your children) will be overweight, on 17+ medications during their lifetime, and managing multiple chronic diseases, this approach no longer makes sense. What we urgently need to do as a country is to start investing in keeping people healthy.

I’ve dedicated my career to this, by creating better products within our food system (like Kettle & Fire) and by making lifestyle interventions more affordable with Truemed. You can contribute to the cause by following the principles I outlined above, and by opting out of a food environment that profits from addicting you to their toxic foodstuffs. Stop being a consumer of the service of healthcare and our broken food system. Start investing in your own health and wellness.

This is a problem we can solve. Together, we can escape the zoo.

More from Justin on the Food System


  1. One Dolphin's Story: Hugo
  2. A Chemical Hunger: Part I - Mysteries
  3. 93% of American Adults Are Unhealthy: A Deeper Dive
  4. Nature Article
  5. For 80 Years, Young Americans Have Been Getting More Anxious and Depressed
  6. Hadza Children Study
  7. NCBI Article
  8. Public Health Funding 2020
  9. NYU Study on Ultra-Processed Foods
  10. Agriculture Subsidies and Their Influence on U.S. Food Supply
  11. USDA Soybeans Factsheet
  12. CDC NHANES 2013-2014
  13. NIEHS on PFCs
  14. 12 Food Companies Own Almost Every Grocery Store Item
  15. Harvard Doctors' Nutrition Education
  16. Sugar Industry Paid Scientists to Point Blame at Fat
  17. How Did We Come to Believe Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Bad for Us?
  18. JECH Article
  19. Food Stamps for Soda: Time to End Billion-Dollar Subsidy for Sugary Drinks
  20. Equality of Opportunity Project - Health
  21. Big Business and School Meals
  22. Schools Limit Campus Junk Food, Have Lower Obesity Rates
  23. ScienceDaily Article
  24. Bayer/Monsanto recently settled an $11B+ lawsuit for those who got various cancers from glyphosate exposure, though the use of this pesticide continues. In fact, glyphosate has been found in 93% of American blood samples, as well as 100% of cereals tested. Commonly used pesticides like atrazine have been shown to chemically castrate frogs, create hormonal issues, and stunt sexual development in humans.

Justin Mares

Founder at Kettle & Fire. On a mission to make food healthy again.

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