Sugar started becoming a problem in 1971. Then-US president Richard Nixon was facing pressure over his imminent re-election campaign. His approval ratings were trailing because of the Vietnam War, but perhaps more serious for his re-election chances was the problem of soaring food prices. Nixon appointed Earl Butz as secretary of agriculture to try to bring food prices down. Butz oversaw a major restructuring of farming in the US, encouraging a new model of industrial-scale corporate farm production heavily reliant on corn. These reforms radically changed the food that we eat.
This corn was also used as livestock feed, fattening up US farm animals, and the availability of cooking oil from corn saw the increasing popularity of fried food, while corn-based breakfast cereals, cookies and corn flour became staples on supermarket shelves the world over. Industrially produced corn made cheap food available. Butz introduced a free market in farming, and small US farms were transformed overnight into big businesses and international corporations.
By the mid-1970s, there was a surplus in corn production in the US, and Butz flew to Japan to learn about the newly created high fructose corn syrup. This led the way to mass production of processed food, and from this point, fructose started to be used in every imaginable kind of food product.
This was a silent food revolution that has led to all of the pain and expense of obesity and all its related health problems.
Chiang Sheng is an attending physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mackay Memorial Hospital.
Translated by Paul Cooper