Food Friday: Food Inc.

I just finished watching the movie Food Inc. In fact, the credits are still rolling! I am deeply saddened and frustrated and shocked. I don’t know how we let it get so out of hand.

The biggest shocker was the amount of control the food companies have over the farmers. In the US, 70% of the meat supply is controlled by only 4 large corporations. These corporations hire farmers, and then tell them how to run their operations, what equipment to use, what breed of animals to grow, what to feed them, how to medicate them… The autonomous business decisions have moved from the farmer, to the corporation. The farmer ends up very much in debt (upgrading to all the new equipment and technology), and makes a very low income at the end of it all, about $18,000 per year on average. Many farmers in the documentary did not want to talk about their operations, for fear of losing their contract. One chicken farmer did let the cameras into her operation, only because she was so fed up with the whole system that she wanted to take a stand. She was also one of the only farmers that had chicken houses with windows – all the other farmers in the area kept their chickens in the dark. The reason? I am not sure. Why would you keep chickens in the dark, and purposely not have windows? Perhaps we are not supposed to see what goes on inside? In the end, the one farmer that talked to the cameras did lose her contract, due to failing to “upgrade” her chicken houses to be window-less.

Gross.

Another thing that struck me was the corn. I knew that vast mono-cultures of corn were being grown in the US, but I did not know that 30% of land in the US is covered in corn crops. Shocking. According to the documentary, corn is so heavily subsidized by the government, that it is profitable to put it into almost every processed food in the grocery store. Y’know all those words on food labels that we don’t understand and cannot even pronounce? Apparently most of them are derived some way or another out of corn. We all know that the glucose-fructose in most processed foods is made from corn, and that it is making our kids obese and giving them type 2 diabetes. Why then is this subsidized instead of foods that are good for us?

As a result of the subsidization, the corn is so cheap, they feed it to cows.

Now, cows have not evolved to eat corn (they prefer grass) and that this is creating problems such that the cows have to be kept constantly on antibiotics to avoid disease. In the feedlots cows are creating massive amounts of manure that is toxic in such high concentrations, it can get into the water supply if not carefully monitored. I did not realize that the cows are standing ankle deep in their own shit, rubbing it all over themselves and each other, so if one cow has a disease or bacteria then they all have it. Then they are taken in for slaughter – and there is manure all over their bodies. How does shit not get in the meat? The sad thing is – it does get in the meat and that is why that little boy who was 2 years old died from eating a Jack in the Box hamburger.

Then there are the workers – I watched the movie Fast Food Nation a few years ago which also talked about the horrible conditions that meat processing workers endure, and the power that the large corporations have over them. Many workers now are immigrants (I guess no other Americans want the jobs), and the company controls their immigration status. It is pretty obvious that this gives the company a whole lot of control. Conditions are bad, and dangerous.

Now for the genetically modified foods, or GMOs. This is something I never really knew about until a few months ago. I would hear snippets about it, but did not know what foods were GMO and which were not. One thing that really stood out from me from this documentary is that 70% of processed foods in the grocery store contain some sort of GMO. Now I don’t mind the age old practice of grafting a pear branch to an apple tree, or creating hybrid seeds naturally. But when you get into the lab and mess around with the DNA of a cell, have we gone too far? What are the implications to nature? What are the implications to our health? Shockingly, 80-90% of corn, soybean and cotton in the US are GMO derived. I had no idea. In Canada, nearly all of our canola is genetically modified. This makes me sad. I love our beautiful canola fields, so bright and yellow in the summer. I wish they were not GMO, I wish they were natural.

So Canada, the US and Australia grow vast quantities of GMO crops, while Japan, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Ireland have banned them completely. Why do all these countries ban them while we grow them almost exclusively? What dangers do they see that we do not? Some African nations will not even accept GMO food as aid.

Then there are the GMO terminator seeds, which slap Mother Nature in the face by terminating fertility and producing only sterile seeds. What if that got out into nature?

Despite all this, there was a glimmer of hope in the movie: an organic sustainable farmer that made all his own business decisions, held his land and animals in high regard, and farmed like we used to farm 50 years ago – naturally without chemicals, without heaps of manure, without corn as feed. He held true to his values, and was not held hostage to a corporate contract. He sold his food directly to people, and they came from far and wide to buy it. He had his chicken tested for bacteria and compared it to chicken purchased at the supermarket, and found that his product had 133 psu while the supermarket chicken had 3700 psu (I am not sure what the psu stand for, but a 300 fold increase in bacteria sounds pretty gross).

This movie just solidified for me that I must continue to prepare much of my food myself, from scratch, so that I know what’s in it. I will also continue to shop at farmer’s markets. Direct food from farmer to customer provides the best income to the farmers, I am sure of it. The food chain is shorter, and the influence that the food companies have on the whole transaction is nil. I am also grossed out by the meat; I am not sure how to deal with that at the moment. I don’t think I can eat the store-bought meat anymore. I don’t know. We will see.

In the end, we can all do what the movie tells us to do – vote with our forks… three times a day.

About these ads

18 thoughts on “Food Friday: Food Inc.

  1. Hi, I have been reading your blog and can relate to a lot of your concerns. My daughter did a term paper on factory farming and agribusiness one semester and shared a lot of the research with the rest of the family.

    Are you close to a large city? Seeing your post about getting the bus to work suggests that you are. You might try looking for a halal or kosher butcher. Some of the meat is factory farmed but much of it isn’t. Our local halal butcher gets all the fresh meat from local Vancouver island farmers so he knows what’s in it. Worth thinking about at least …

  2. Thank you SO MUCH for writing about this, Sherry. For all of the reasons you mentioned, and many more, I hold food and farming issues closest to my heart out of all of the environmental issues that outrage me. There are so many bad things happening and so few members of the public who know about them. It’s truly sad.

    But people like you and me can help spread the word and encourage everyone to vote with their dollars. Buying food is a political act! Thankfully, we have the power to do things like things like shopping at farmers markets or stores like The Healthy Butcher (http://www.thehealthybutcher.com/) here in Toronto and looking for certified local sustainable food (thanks to Local Food Plus http://localfoodplus.ca/). I know it’s pricier, but that’s only because all of the other food is subsidized, and the environmental, ethical, and social problems are not counted in the cost.

    Food nourishes us. We need to be picky and demand quality in the food that we choose to put into our bodies.

    • I am really gravitating towards the food issue as well. So much of our footprint is food related, and there is so much wrong with our global food system. Food related packaging also makes up so much of our residential waste… The list goes on.

      I am also reading the book “Locavore” right now, and learning about Toronto’s food terminal and Local Food Plus. I would love if we had that sort of thing here. I really want to be involved somehow, in making local food more accessible in my city. I really think there is such a high potential for it here! I am also going to really try to go hard core local next year, and am going to grow my first veggie garden and “put up” a lot of food.

      • I have yet to read the Locavore book, but it’s on my list. Have you read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma?

        If you want to get involved, a good place to start is the People’s Food Policy Project (peoplesfoodpolicy.ca). While they’re putting the finishing touches on the policy to be presented to the federal government this spring, volunteer opportunities are limited, but it’s a good place to start for information, resources, and links. I’ll also ask my network if anyone has connections to Ottawa-based organizations.

  3. Sherry –
    Believe it or not, we sat down as a family to watch Food Inc last night, too! I had seen bits of it, but to watch the whole thing was overwhelming, as you point out.
    And, like you, we were affirmed in our decision to eat as much as our diet as locally as possible, and to eat only meat where we are assured of the conditions.
    Also, we agreed that Monsanto was evil and needs to be stopped. It was heartbreaking to see what it has done to those farmers, in the name of Monsanto’s corporate greed.

    • Wow Christine what a coincidence! I felt sorry for those farmers too, epsecially the ones who were not using Monsanto seed but their fields were being contaminated by neighbours and then they were not able to save seeds at all.

  4. Back in the day Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’, about the meat canning industry, and it was so shocking for people to read about how awful the canning industry was that the book instigated a lot of reform, and started the first food inspections. It is sad that today so many are so focussed on profit that documentaries like this do not have the same effect!! Why is it so hard for the government to step in and do something about this..isn’t that one of the reasons we have them???

    • It is frustrating that we have to worry about food safety. In the movie it indicated that the number of USDA inspections dropped from 30,000 in 1970 to about 9,000 today, despite a massive increase in production… It makes no sense.

  5. Food Inc. was such a incredible documentary. Some of it was not new info for me but it really lit a fire under my husband. We’ve now watched it a number of times and keep recommending it to friends. So many of us just don’t know what we are buying and eating. Thanks for about it and for stopping by my place!

  6. I haven’t seen Food Inc. But all that stuff you said about the meat above is precicely why I switched to organic meat. I didn’t know about the corporations basically running the farmers… just gives me even more reason to keep doing it, and to buy direct from a farmer.

    I need to learn more about GMO though. I’m not sure I believe it’s unsafe just because it was modified. I don’t know. Will research!

    And “upgrade” the chicken houses to be windowless? WTF? A chicken leads such a miserable life. I just don’t understand it. If you beat your dog, you get criminally charged with animal cruelty. Yet you can put 1000 chickens in a space the size of my garage in cages the size of their bodies stacked upon each other, with no windows, and you’re not breaking the law. How is this ok? It makes me sick. Free range only for me, since last fall. I hate paying the $5/dozen instead of $2/dozen eggs, and twice the price for chicken meat. But it’s the only way, it just costs more to give the chickens a decent life where they can walk and cluck and hang out in the sun. It takes space. So I figure the premium I’m paying on my eggs and chicken is kind of like rent for the space for them to live. Cruelty is cheap, compassion is expensive.

    • The animals are not respected at all. The chickens can barely hold themselves up on their feet because their breasts are so huge. The workers have to wear face masks in the chicken houses because the air is so bad…

      I have found $4 a dozen, even $3 a dozen for free run at the farmers market! Sometimes Sunworks has 2 dozen for $5.

    • GMO – I don’t have all the facts either. The one thing I don’t like is that they are genetically modified to resist pesticides (heard of “roundup ready” canola?). So does that mean that really harsh chemicals can be sprayed on them that would otherwise not be used, and what are the health impacts of THAT? Plus Monsanto is really pushy and not nice to farmers. :(

  7. I came to Food, Inc. fairly late, after I had read Omnivore’s Dilemma and a few other books on the subject, so it didn’t hold too many surprises for me. I still thought it was a great introduction to the issues, paired with the more accessible medium of film. The problem is, a lot of the people I think would benefit from watching it are not interested in finding out what’s wrong with their food. Even my mom, who is usually fairly open minded, doesn’t want to see it because she might have to change. How do we get away from preaching to the choir? I wish I knew…

    • I know I know, I hear you. However, movies like this have reached some people, especially those who were on the edge, questioning things, but did not have the cold hard facts to back up a lifestyle decision on the issue… Like me! I do think there is a growing movement towards eating local and organic, but there is still the vast majority of people out there that have no idea nor care to learn more about it… But today at the grocery store I saw something new – a whole row of organic spices! That row was not there last week. Things are slowly changing…

  8. I’m really behind in reading blog posts but I just have to share that I totally agree. I attempted to start eating better in late 2009 and last year I started to read about it and went so far as to watch this movie. I’m so glad I did. It really helps me know what is going on and make wiser decisions in the grocery store. While I haven’t changed all eating habits, some I tried and Husband refused, others I’m just slow in doing..I have to say that I do buy as much as I can organic now. I also bake from scratch, I did this anyway, but have working on getting my husband to cook as much as possible from scratch. It’s slow going..but we’re doing it. I find that even though buying organic is more expensive, cutting out all the processed crap, er, food, helps lower the cost. I find that I don’t spend any more than I used to, yet I’m buying better products.

    I can’t wait for the farmer’s market in my area to start up again now that it’s Spring.

  9. Pingback: Blogiversary | One Earth to Live

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s