How Industrial Food Makes Us More Vulnerable to COVID-19

As Chuck D says, it’s ‘food as a machine gun,’ and that’s even more deadly in this pandemic

Kristin Lawless
Published in
7 min readApr 13, 2020


Credit: Enemy Radio, used with permission

When I finished working on my book, “Formerly Known As Food: How the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture,” in 2018 — after 10 years of research and writing — I was certain of two things: First, our industrial food system is decimating our environment. Second, our nutrient-depleted, and chemically saturated processed food supply is changing our bodies from the inside out. It was also clear how these two issues are deeply linked: What we do to our environment, we do to ourselves.

What I didn’t know was that the COVID-19 pandemic was just around the corner and would bring global attention to the grave risks inherent in our industrial food system.

All over the world, industrial agriculture has pushed small-scale farmers deeper into forests where these types of pathogens exist. The decimation of forests has also sent those who bring wild animals into city markets deeper into remote forest areas, resulting in human exposure to novel pathogens.

What’s more, animals confined in factory farms are perfect incubators when these pathogens spill over — unsanitary, cramped conditions among animals with near-identical genetics means that viruses spread rapidly and often become more virulent.

On the consumer end of the food supply, our highly processed and nutrient-poor foods are causing unprecedented numbers of people to develop diet-related chronic diseases. Six in 10 adults have one chronic disease and four in 10 have two or more — overall, more than 40 percent of the entire U.S. population has a chronic disease, and many of those diseases are directly related to our food: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, and various cancers.

These underlying conditions correlate with increased morbidity and mortality for those who contract the virus. Preliminary findings show that metabolic dysfunction is causing devastating complications from COVID-19 and, shockingly, only 12 percent of the entire U.S. adult population is considered metabolically healthy. Metabolic dysfunction has one primary source: our highly processed…