Some highlights from the Food, Inc. Documentary

If you missed the documentary Food, Inc. on PBS last week, don’t worry because I took notes on some of the highlights (below). You can also rent it through Netflix or Blockbuster.

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You now officially have no more excuses to not be enlightened by this movie!

Supermarkets and Corn –

  • Most people have no idea where their food comes from (do you?)
  • The tomatoes you buy in the grocery store are picked when green and then ripened with ehtylene gas
  • 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 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, 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
  • 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
  • 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

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 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
  • At a slaughter house their hides are caked with manure and if you are slaughtering 400 cows per hour how do you keep E. Coli from spreading?
  • E. Coli is even in spinach and apple juice because of the run off from factory farms
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 growth hormones, among other things)
  • 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 (with the help of growth hormones) 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
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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 carrots are more affordable than chips
  • 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!)
  • You can change the world with every bite