Have you even seen a movie that keeps you thinking for days on end? Or one that actually modifies your behavior in some way (hopefully for the better)? I saw one this weekend that fits the bill – Food Inc. Sure, the movie had its flaws; but it uncovered some truths about food that were previously unbeknownst to me. And truths I think many people could benefit from hearing.
I don’t intend to regurgitate the film; rather, I’d recommend you rent it (after all, it’s nominated for an Oscar). But here are a few points that keep whirling around in my mind.
1) Food is big business. Without bashing corporate America as a whole (something an entrepreneur would never think of doing!), the movie asserts that the food industry is controlled by a powerful few, with deep pockets to lobby their cause. Though the movie calls out Tyson, Perdue and Monsanto, in particular, I’m sure there are others who largely control how our food is produced. Many former execs at these companies are now in powerful positions at the FDA and USDA, so consumer interests may not always be #1 on the list (remind you of our healthcare debate or even our banking collapse?). By the looks of the chicken farm they showed in the movie, in which they were grown faster and larger than by natural means, I’m not so sure what I’m putting in my system.
2) Government is contributing to the problem. No, I’m not pointing fingers at Obama or even Bush or Clinton. Subsidies actually started back in the 1930s during the Roosevelt days. However, when crops such as corn are heavily subsidized by the government, farmers are able to produce and sell it at a very low cost. The result? We end up with enough corn to feed all kind of creatures, literally! Not only do humans end up eating more of it, but so do cows, chickens and pigs. The movie suggests that fish are being taught to eat corn.
3) Sugar, sugar everywhere! A startling statistic: Nearly one quarter of the food in an average grocery store is made with corn derivates. And here’s some products you might not even realize contain corn: peanut butter, bread, yogurt, nuts, ketchup, beer, wine, infant formula, deli meats (and even batteries, though I doubt you’re eating too many of these). Today, thousands of foods contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, an ingredient known to have not-so-healthy side affects. And at a time when children and adults are adopting more sedentary lifestyles, we are consuming foods high in sugar and low on nutrients. No wonder there’s an obesity problem.
4) It’s cheaper to eat bad food. Not only is it cost prohibitive for many families to afford organic, whole or natural foods, but for low income families, it’s not in the cards at all. In fact, many people are forced to purchase fast food and/or processed foods laden with HFCS as the alterative – because these foods are much less expensive. The government subsidies make their way downstream to people’s pocketbooks. This is especially disillusioning since we know that minorities and low income families are already predisposed to chronic conditions like obesity, especially children.
5) We fix problems without looking at the root cause. Check out this video from Food Inc., showing how ammonia was used to kill E. coli in hamburger filler. While this makes the beef safe to eat, it’s not preventing the true culprit of the problem. Besides that, who wants dabs a little ammonia on top of their burger, alongside ketchup and mayo? According to the movie, as well as an article by Kathy Freston, there is E. coli salmonella and other deadly bacteria in our food system because of the increased numbers of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In fact, factory farms produce 99% of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat. The problem with this scenario is the accumulation of massive amounts of fecal matter, all concentrated in a small amount of space (the movie actually showed pigs and cows knee deep in manure). According to the interview Freston conducted, dairy cow and pig factories often dump millions of gallons of putrefying waste into massive open-air cesspits, which can leak and contaminate water used to irrigate our crops.
6) Consumers have a voice. The movie cited an example where Wal-Mart is now selling its own brand of hormone- free milk because this is what customers wanted. I’m not a huge Wal*Mart fan, but perhaps their foray into organics will make healthy products more affordable for low income families (hopefully not at a cost that will put farmers out of business). Food Inc has a blog which suggest ways consumers can take part in positive change. And though I’m still a meat eater, I’m going to try to eat a little less of it (and a little more tofu), thanks in part to this informative post.