Monday, February 4, 2013

The food Industry

Lately I have been on a big food documentary kick. Expect several future posts like this one in the future :) Food is fascinating to me. It is so powerful. The food industry controls so much more of our lives than we really know. I think about how much I have let food control me and I am astonished at how little I really know about it. This post revolves completely around the movie "Food, Inc." Everything below is paraphrased from the movie. I was just so intrigued by the movie, I wanted to share what I learned with you!
The way we eat food has changed more in the past 50 years than it has in the previous 10,000. The average supermarket has around 47,000 products. The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the supermarket. There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Tomatoes are available year-round: picked green, ripened with ethylene gas. They look like a tomato, so they are more like the notion of a tomato than the actual food itself. There are no bones in our meat anymore. Where our food is grown is no longer a farm, it is a factory. Food comes from assembly lines.
Fast Food: A handful of companies control what we eat and how we make our food. In the 1930s the McDonald brothers brought the factory system into the kitchen. The strategy was to have the worker do the same task over and over again. McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of ground beef in the U.S. They want uniformity- they want a burger bought in Nashville, TN to taste the same way as one bought in Los Angeles. Through this, they have changed the way ground beef is produced. McDonald’s is the largest buyer of: potatoes, chicken, pork, tomatoes, lettuce, and apples. So… even if you don’t eat fast food, you’re eating meat produced to cater to their system. In the 1970s the top 5 meat packers controlled 25% of the market. Today’s top 4 control over 80% of the market. This goes the same for pork. The food industry changed the entire way that chickens are raised. In 1950 it took approximately 70 days to raise a chicken for slaughter. In 2008 it took around 48. Poultry is now raised for slaughter in half the time they were 50 years ago but are now 2 times as big! People like to eat white meat, so they re-designed the chicken to have larger breasts. They RE-DESIGNED the chicken. That just doesn't even sound right! The processing system is highly mechanized because they’re not processing chickens, they’re processing food. This means that all those chickens on the assembly line have to be the same size so that the machines will work properly.
The decline of the tobacco industry in the south spiked chicken farming. Chickens don’t see the sun in some farms, they're crammed together in grow houses, walking amongst the dead. It’s not farming, it’s mass producing-- like an assembly line. When you grow a chicken from a chick to full grown in 7 weeks, their bones and internal organs can’t keep up with their rapid growth. A lot of then can only take a few steps before they have to plop down because they can’t keep up with all the weight they’re carrying. Antibiotics are put in the feed, which passes through the chicken, the bacteria then builds up resistance so the antibiotics don’t work anymore. One farmer became allergic to all antibiotics and can’t take them.
Corn: The grocery store seems like such a vast array of companies, but this is an optical illusion because there are actually only a few involved. 100 years ago a farmer in America could grow 20 bushels of corn per acre. Today, 200 bushels is no problem. Now, this is an astonishing achievement, for which they DO deserve credit. Farmers are now subsidized by the bushel. Congress has passed farm bills that allow farmers to harvest corn at a low price. We have engineered foods that won't stale in the fridge, don’t develop rancidity, and reek of high fructose corn syrup. So many products are made of corn. Plus, you can feed it to animals. They are now teaching fish to eat corn! This drives the price of meat down because corn is so cheap. Farmers are selling corn below the price of production. The average American eats 200 pounds of meat per year. Cows are not designed to eat corn. They are designed to eat grass. We feed them corn because it is cheap and makes them fat quickly! We feed corn to the cow. Then E.Coli forms. They stand ankle deep in their own manure. Their Hyde becomes caked in manure. 400 cows are slaughtered per hour- how do you keep that manure from getting on the carcasses? We have learned, for example how to plant, fertilize and harvest corn using global positioning satellite technology and nobody sat back and asked: should we be feeding cows corn? Basically, we gave ourselves E. Coli to save bucks and make cows fat. Spinach and other foods have had to be recalled because of E. Coli runoff from factories.
Here are some interesting facts: during the Bush administration the USDA Chief of Staff was the former beef industry chief lobbyist. The head of the FDA was former Executive VP of the National Food Processors Association. Regulatory agencies are being controlled by the same companies they are supposed to be scrutinizing. In 1972 the FDA conducted about 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006: 9,164. There has always been food poisoning. But an increase in technology should mean that are food system has gotten safer, right? But now it is more and more contaminated. In 2007 there was a huge beef recall. Enough beef was recalled to give every person in America a fast food hamburger. In the 1970s there were thousands of slaughter houses. Now there are around 10. Today’s hamburger has thousands of different cows ground up in it. This means that the odds increase tremendously that you could be eating beef from a cow carrying a dangerous pathogen. There was a little boy who died from a fast food hamburger- It took 16 days for the food industry to trace down the origin of the disease and enact a recall. In 1998… The USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. Coli. If a plant repeatedly failed tests, they would be shut down because that indicated they had an ongoing contamination problem. Companies immediately took USDA to court. Courts said USDA didn’t have authority to shut down the plants. So- you could have a pound of meat products that is a petri dish of salmonella and the USDA can’t do anything about it. Then a new law was created in direct response called “Kevin’s Law” after a 2 year old boy who died from eating contaminated meat. This gave back power to USDA to shut down plants that repeatedly produced contaminated meat. It still hasn’t passed. The answer to this is that it’s not because consumers would mind paying extra for a safety guarantee, but because of all the added costs this would tack on to meat companies. So… the industry is more protected that people getting sick and dying?
Ammonia kills bacteria, so it became a processing tool with meat. BPI is a company that makes hamburger meat filler that’s been cleansed with ammonia to kill E. Coli. So, we had to create an entire industry to kills contamination in our meat that is being mass produced. This product is in at least 70% of hamburgers in the U.S. At the time of this documentary, a company official said he expected it to be in 100% of American hamburgers soon.
Chips, sodas are cheaper than fruits and veggies. A double cheeseburger from McDonald’s costs less than a head of broccoli. We have skewed our food system to the bad calories. All these cheap, bad foods come from commodity crops- wheat, corn , soy beans. These calories are really cheap, which is why one of the biggest predictors of obesity is income level. At the beginning of the human race, we were fighting for enough calories to survive. Now there are too many. The industry wants to blame obesity on the personal responsibility, but they’re engineering foods to press our evolutionary buttons. Salt, sugar and fat. Sugar is lethal.A diet of high fructose corn syrup and refined carbs leads to spikes in insulin, gradually wearing down the system by which our body metabolizes sugar. Type II diabetes used to only affect adults. Now, it’s affecting children at epidemic proportions. One in three Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. For minorities, this is 1 in 2. Modern Agriculture's motto is: faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper. In the early 1900s, average farmer could feed 6-8 people. Now they can feed 126 people. Most productive people ever. 70% of processed food in the store has genetically modified ingredients. Not too long ago the California legislature passed SB 63, which called for all clones foods to be labeled as cloned foods. The FDA was against this because labeling would create fear. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. We have a right to know what’s in our food! When you run an item across the supermarket scanner, you are voting. You are voting for organic, or non-organic. Local or non-local.

1 comment:

  1. Since you're interested in this kind of stuff.. I recommend the book Wheat Belly by William Davis. It is really interesting!