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July 11, 2022

Should We Eat More Processed Foods?

Processed food is bad for you, right? Well, there’s more to this story. As new technologies create foods that can’t be made in home kitchens, such as plant-based meats and dairy products made with plant proteins, the question of whether we should all be consuming more highly processed foods is up for debate. Advocates say a substantial increase in food processing is the best way to feed growing human populations while also reducing food waste. We should trust – and invest – in food technology that can make our global food supply healthier and more sustainable, including highly or ultra-processed foods. Opponents argue that these kinds of foods are often less nutritious, and are commonly linked to adverse health indices, particularly when it comes to ultra-processing. As this debate blooms, Intelligence Squared partners with the Institute of Food Technologists to debate this question: Should We Eat More Processed Foods?

Main Points

For The Motion
  • Increasing investment in food technologies, to include highly processed and ultra-processed foods, will lead to more sustainable food systems, as these techniques are not dependent upon weather or climate. 
  • Heavily processed foods are often given a bad reputation on health blogs due to this category’s inclusion of junk foods. However, highly processed foods can be just as healthy as their less-processed counterparts. 
  • A dependence on only mildly processed foods, such as locally grown or organic foods, exacerbates socio-economic stratification, as these so-called clean foods are often more expensive.
Against The Motion
  • Processed foods are often less nutritious, and have been linked to adverse health effects. This has been shown even when the macronutrients of the highly processed and lower processed foods have been matched.
  • More highly processed foods often have an indirect, but negative impact on the environment. Because these processed foods both account for such a large percentage of our diets globally and rely on only a small number of plant species for ingredients, the biodiversity of plants worldwide has suffered. 
  • The emphasis on highly processed foods erodes local capacities to produce sustainable foods that better fulfill the needs of local communities and shore up supply chain problems.

Pre-Debate

Against the Motion
33 %
For the Motion
49 %
Undecided
18 %

Post-Debate

BIGGEST SHIFT

Against the Motion
37 %
For the Motion
50 %
Undecided
14 %

Breakdown

Against the Motion
28% - Remained on the Against Side
4% - Swung from the For Side
5% - Swung from Undecided
For the Motion
3% - Swung from the Against Side
41% - Remained on the For Side
6% - Swung from Undecided
Undecided
2% - Swung from the Against Side
8% - Remained Undecided
4% - Swung from the For Side
ABOUT THE DEBATERS
For The Motion
Amy Webb
Amy Webb - Futurist & Author, "The Genesis Machine"
Amy Webb is an award-winning author and futurist. She is the founder and CEO of the Future Today Ins... Read bio
Michael Gibney
Michael Gibney - Professor of Food and NutritionFormer President, Nutrition Society
Michael Gibney is an international nutrition scholar and former president of The Nutrition Society. ... Read bio
Against The Motion
Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall - Nutrition & Metabolism Scientist, National Institutes of Health
Kevin Hall is the integrative physiology section chief at the National Institutes of Health, where h... Read bio
Marion Nestle
Marion Nestle - Author, "Food Politics"Academic
Marion Nestle is an American academic, author, and professor emerita of nutrition and food studies. ... Read bio

Main Points

For The Motion
  • Increasing investment in food technologies, to include highly processed and ultra-processed foods, will lead to more sustainable food systems, as these techniques are not dependent upon weather or climate. 
  • Heavily processed foods are often given a bad reputation on health blogs due to this category’s inclusion of junk foods. However, highly processed foods can be just as healthy as their less-processed counterparts. 
  • A dependence on only mildly processed foods, such as locally grown or organic foods, exacerbates socio-economic stratification, as these so-called clean foods are often more expensive.
Against The Motion
  • Processed foods are often less nutritious, and have been linked to adverse health effects. This has been shown even when the macronutrients of the highly processed and lower processed foods have been matched.
  • More highly processed foods often have an indirect, but negative impact on the environment. Because these processed foods both account for such a large percentage of our diets globally and rely on only a small number of plant species for ingredients, the biodiversity of plants worldwide has suffered. 
  • The emphasis on highly processed foods erodes local capacities to produce sustainable foods that better fulfill the needs of local communities and shore up supply chain problems.