Sunday, August 14, 2022

Some Highlights from the Food, Inc. Documentary ⋆ 100 Days of Real Food

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When the documentary Food, Inc premiered on PBS in 2010, I was able to watch it live and I took notes on some of the highlights, which you can read below. If you missed it back then, you can stream it with Amazon Prime Video or purchase it on Amazon. You officially have no more excuses to not be enlightened by this movie!

If you aren’t completely familiar with what it is, Food, Inc was created by director Robert Kenner and narrated by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), and also features commentary from Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

It explores how the food industry has been consumed by corporations and how that impacts the farms where our food comes from, the supermarkets where we buy our food, and the restaurants where we eat that food. It tackles the FDA, food safety, food production, factory farming, and other food matters. If you are at all concerned or curious about the state of food supply in America, you should watch Food, Inc.

Supermarkets and Corn

  • The tomatoes you buy in the grocery store are picked when green and then ripened with ethylene gas
  • The food industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you are eating because if you did you might not eat it—it is a world deliberately hidden from us
  • Most people have no idea where their food comes from (do you?)
  • The fact that people need to write a book (and a blog!) telling people where their food comes from shows how far removed we are
  • The average grocery store has 47,000 products which makes it look like there is a large variety of choice—but it is an illusion—there are only a few major companies (like Monsanto, Tyson, and Perdue for example) and a few major crops involved
  • So much of the processed food is just clever rearrangements of corn (here are just a few examples of the additives that are derived from corn: cellulose, saccharin, polydextrose, xanthan gum, maltodextrin, and my favorite—ha ha ha—high fructose corn syrup)
  • 30% of our land base in the US is used to grow corn because thanks to government policy farmers are paid to overproduce this easy-to-store crop
  • Farmers are producing so much corn that food scientists had to come up with uses for it—just like some of the additives listed above
  • Food scientist have also spent a lot of time reengineering our foods—so they last longer on grocery store shelves and don’t get stale
  • A food scientist in the movie said he would guess that 90% of the processed food products in the grocery store contain either a corn or soybean ingredient and most of the time they contain both (so you may be eating less variety than you think)
  • Plus they are now feeding corn to animals like cows who, by evolution, are designed to eat grass and in some cases farmers are even teaching fish how to eat corn because it is so cheap
  • At the supermarket, candy, chips and soda are all cheaper than produce
  • A double-cheeseburger from McDonald’s is 99 cents and you can’t even get a head of broccoli for that price
  • Those snack calories are cheaper because the commodity crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans are heavily subsidized
  • This is why the biggest predictor of obesity is income level
  • Type 2 diabetes used to only affect adults and now it is affecting children in epidemic proportions
  • Modern agriculture is all about doing things faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper…no one is thinking about the health of our system
  • People are so disconnected and ignorant about something as intimate as the food that we eat that food producers have been given a high level of influence.

Cows and Beef

  • McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of ground beef (and potatoes, apples, pork, and even tomatoes) in the United States, and they want their food to taste same everywhere, so they have great influence on the system—so even if you don’t eat at fast food restaurants you may be eating meat produced by this system
  • What it comes down to is that, similar to the meat industry, only a handful of companies are controlling our entire food system:
    • In 1970 – the top 5 beef packers controlled 25% of the market
    • Today – the top 4 beef packers control 80% of market
  • You start feeding corn to cows, E. Coli evolves and a certain mutation occurs which is very harmful
  • Animals at factory farms stand ankle deep in their manure all day long so if one cow has E. Coli others can get it too
  • At a slaughter house their hides are caked with manure and if you are slaughtering 400 cows per hour how do you keep it from spreading?
  • So this harmful strain of E. Coli, that didn’t used to be in the world, is now a problem
  • E. Coli is even in spinach and apple juice because of the run off from factory farms
  • It doesn’t help that the Chief of Staff for the USDA was a former lobbyist for the beef industry
  • Regulatory agencies are being controlled by the very companies they are supposed to be scrutinizing
  • There has always been food poisoning, but food is not getting safer it is becoming more contaminated because with the bigger factories it spreads the problem far and wide
  • There are only 13 slaughterhouses for the majority of beef in all of the US
  • Ground beef from the grocery store has thousands of different cows mixed up in it so the chance of one of those cows in your meat having a disease is increased
  • After eating hamburger contaminated with E. Coli 0157:H7 a woman’s 2-year-old son went from a perfectly healthy boy to being dead in 12 days
  • In the 90’s some industrial meat factories were tested for E. Coli 0157:H7 and if they failed they were supposed to be shut down—but there was not enough authority to close the contaminated plants
  • Some companies are now using a hamburger meat filler cleansed with ammonia hydroxide to help kill E. Coli (mmm…that sounds tasty)

Chickens and Industrial Chicken Farms

  • Chickens are being raised in half the time they were in 1950s (49 days vs. 3 months), but even in half the time they are ending up twice as big (thanks to antibiotics, among other things)
  • People like white meat so scientists have managed to redesign the chicken to have bigger breasts
  • Today’s industrial chicken farms produce a lot of food, on a small amount of land, for a very affordable price
  • A Tyson Chicken farmer says the chickens never even see sunlight—they are kept day and night in chicken houses with no windows
  • When chickens grow from a baby chic to a 5.5 lb chicken in 7 weeks the bones can’t keep up with growth—which means some can’t handle weight that they are carrying so when they try to take a few steps they fall down
  • Corn is cheap (and also helps make the chickens fat quickly) so it has allowed us to drive down the price of meat—over 200 lbs of meat per person per year would not be possible without this diet of cheap grain
  • Is cheapness everything there is? Who wants to buy a cheap car?
  • It is actually expensive food when considering the environmental and health costs

Pork and Hog Processing Plants

  • Those who work for a Smithfield hog processing plant say the company has the same mentality towards workers as they do the hogs
  • They slaughter 32,000 hogs per day (2,000 hogs an hour) and employees get infections from handling the guts so much
  • Meat packing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the US and it is done by a lot of illegal immigrants

The Government’s Role

  • The Government is dominated by the industries it is supposed to be regulating (via the way of former industry execs that are now government regulators)
  • 70% of processed foods have some sort of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)—the food industry fought against having to label foods as GMO and won
  • It is also against the law to criticize the food industry’s foods—thanks to the “Veggie Libel Laws”
  • The food industry has different protections than other industries (remember how Oprah was sued after saying she won’t eat another burger)
  • In Colorado it is a actually a felony and you can go to prison for criticizing their foods
  • The “Cheeseburger bills” make it difficult to sue them, but these companies have legions of attorneys and they may sue you (even if they can’t win) just to send a message

What We Can Do to Change things

  • The average consumer does not feel very powerful and it is the exact opposite because when we buy our food we are voting for local or not or organic or not
  • Individual consumers changed the biggest retailer’s milk options to now offer organic (Wal-Mart)
  • We also need changes at the policy level so organic foods are more affordable than junk foods
  • The tobacco industry had huge control over public policy and it is the perfect model on how an industry’s irresponsible behavior was changed
  • The food industry will deliver to the marketplace what the marketplace demands—so if we demand good wholesome food we will get it
  • You can vote to change the system 3 times a day
  • Choose foods that are in season, local, organic and read the labels when you go to the grocery store (which is what this blog is all about!)
  • Cook a meal with your family and eat together…everyone has a right to healthy food
  • You can change the world with every bite

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