When my daughter was born, I bought disposable diapers, proclaiming that I had earned my share of the landfill. Thus, I am an unlikely convert to recycling and caring about where my food comes from. Oh, I had heard snippets here and there – vague warnings and such. Then I watched the movie Food, Inc.
I’m not going the way of the recently converted – preaching and insisting everyone convert as well. I’m just sharing interesting, thought-provoking facts and a bit of recent news, which seems to confirm the movie’s premise – your food comes from a greedy corporate giant, not a real farmer or rancher and with that comes health risks. The clever packaging at grocery stores with pictures of farms and farmers leads you to think that you are buying farm fresh foods from, well, a farm. Not true.
Food Inc. shocks by showing cows crushed together and covered in their feces as they are lead to slaughter. The 2006 spinach e-coli breakout was caused by feces in the runoff from giant corporate run slaughterhouses. Chickens used to take three months to reach the size needed for slaughter. Thanks to corporate engineering, they now reach slaughter size in half the time – and they cannot walk because their bones haven’t developed enough to support their weight.
The US had thousands of slaughterhouses in the 1970s. Now the independent slaughterhouses are all but gone, replaced by huge slaughter houses controlled by 13 major corporations who care about making money, not about humane treatment of animals or workers, and certainly not worried about food safety. It costs less to clean up an e-coli outbreak than to change the system. Smithfield Hog Processing Plant in Tar Heel, NC, the largest slaughterhouse in the world, is located in an economically depressed area and actively recruits workers from Mexico. 32,000 hogs die each day with workers treated as badly as the hogs. Many lose their fingernails due to infections caused from dealing with pig guts day after day. It seems that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle remains relevant.
Corporations like Con Agra want it faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper. Why the rush? You can thank the fast food industry. McDonald’s alone is the larger buyer of potatoes and beef.
That beef isn’t really beef though. Beef Products, Inc. in Nebraska takes the inedible parts of animal carcasses, cleans them in ammonia (to kill e-coli), and makes filler. That’s right – ammonia! This ammonia-laced filler contaminates 70% of the burgers, (fast food and school lunches) to produce cheaper meat patties because they contain less real beef. A centralized control room in Nebraska runs all of their processing plants. The scariest part – the company goal is to have their filler in 100% of all meat patties.
One hundred years ago, farmers could produce 20 bushels of corn per acre. Now, with corporate engineering, land controlled by giant corporations can produce ten times that amount. That’s important because corn is a basic ingredient in most processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is a particular villain as it leads to obesity, especially in children, and diabetes. Corn quickly fattens cattle. Cows naturally eat grass. The corn diet results in e-coli outbreaks. Ironically, if cows are fed grass for just five days, e-coli reduces by 80%.
What about the FDA and the USDA
Thanks to lobbyists for the giant corporations that control our food supply, the FDA has no teeth, while the USDA is woefully inadequate to its task with inspections down to 1/5 of 1970’s levels. Consider the horrors found at the Bushway Packing Inc. in 2010.
In February 2010, the FDA initiated a recall of HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein – a flavor enhancer used in many processed foods) manufactured by Basic Food Flavors when salmonella was discovered. The recall affects over 10,000 foods, including soup and dip mix, marinades, snacks and snack mixes, frozen foods, and prepared salads – another reason to shun processed foods. Search the list here to see if any of your processed food is affected.
With the US getting more food from imports, the FDA cannot keep up. “While food imports have soared about 50%, the number of FDA food-import inspectors has dropped about 20%, the agency says.”1
What Consumers Can Do
Each time you purchase an item, you cast a vote when it is scanned. You are choosing organic or not, processed or not, etc. Think your vote won’t matter? Remember – demand controls supply and money is king. Wal-Mart shoppers didn’t like milk that had come from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The hormone poses serious risk to human health including cancer. Consumers stopped buying it, demand dried up, and Wal-Mart stopped carrying it. Of course, Wal-Mart didn’t all of a sudden grow a conscience – its profitability was threatened, but it worked and the consumers got giant Wal-Mart to concede. Where was the FDA during all of this and why didn’t it protect us from harmful milk, especially when it was being banned in many other countries? Good question.
Here are small, but important step you can take to help improve the quality of your food.
1. Stop buying food that isn’t food (processed foods). This eliminates the majority of grocery store aisles from consideration.
2. Buy from companies that treat workers, animals, and the environment with respect.
3. Buy locally grown, organic foods. Know where your food comes from.
4. Plant a garden and grow some vegetables yourself.
5. Yes, it can be more expensive to eat healthier food. It shouldn’t be. Every person has a right to healthy food. Make sure your farmers’ market takes food stamps.
6. Tell Congress to enforce food safety standards – give the FDA some teeth and the USDA a mandate to really protect us.
7. Read food labels and know what you are buying. If you see ingredients that you don’t recognize or cannot pronounce you’ve got processed “food” – beware. I used Egg Beaters to make my omelets healthier (one egg per ½ cup of Egg Beaters). Then I read the label. It should be just egg whites, but the list of ingredients took over an inch (in small print) on the carton. Now I buy egg whites and the carton has one ingredient – egg whites.
If we don’t send a message that we aren’t okay with major corporations controlling our food supply, then one day in the not so distant future, everything we eat will be “engineered.”
I am much more cautious about the foods I buy, yet one thing bothered me about Food, Inc. While it is truly a horror story, it is presented as strictly a black vs. white, good vs. evil story. I think most grownups realize there are invariably a few shades of gray.
Watching the film, Food, Inc.