Monday, September 13, 2010

Food, Inc.

I vividly remember sitting down as a young man for dinner at my Grandparent's ranch in DeRidder, LA. I could see the corn fields from the kitchen window as the smell of fresh green beans and grilled chicken filled the room. I can remember seeing the same potatoes my Grandmother and I pulled from the ground earlier that day being pulled from the oven just before dinner. And I remember seeing that glistening grilled chicken and realizing that its head was in my Grandma's hand after she had wrung its neck that very morning. There was no doubt where those wonderful meals came from, and that's kind of what made them so wonderful.

Saturday night after watching the LSU Tigers work over Vanderbilt, Kim and I sat down with some friends and watched a documentary called "Food, Inc." Something about the cover of the film caught my eye, and even though I knew the movie might change the way I looked at food, it still seemed like a worthy pursuit. I was right on both counts, and now I'm not sure what to do about it.

Food, Inc. tells the story of the food industry in America. It does not paint a pretty picture. It lifts the curtain between the bright and organized presentation we see on the grocery store aisle, and the rather dark and destructive process by which those items end up on the shelf. I had never really thought of these things before. How do we get our food? Who brings it to the grocery store, and how do they get it? How does all that nice white chicken meat end up in a shrink wrapped container without bones? These are just some of the questions Food, Inc. seeks to answer.

Here's an excerpt from the Food, Inc. discussion guide provided on the movie's web site:

"When most of us think of a farm, we imagine a place with a red barn, green

pastures, and chickens running around the yard. But the reality of most farms

in the United States today is far from that image. Farming has become so

industrialized and mechanized that many modern farms are like factories.

The poultry industry is an example of this change to factory farms. As depicted in

Food, Inc., chickens today are often raised in huge metal buildings with no access

to light or fresh air, confined together with thousands of birds in one building,

and made to grow so quickly that often their bones cannot keep up and they can

lose their ability to walk."

I didn't really think about that the last time I popped a chicken nugget in my mouth. The movie goes on to tell us that chickens grow to full maturity in about 6 months, but steroids and genetic engineering have altered the way our food grows. The food industry now grows huge chickens with large breasts (because consumers prefer white meat) to full maturity in about 48 days. I'm no expert, but that can't be good for the chicken or the consumer.

We also find out in Food, Inc. that most of what we like to think of as "fresh food", like eggs, vegetables and meat, travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to the grocery store. That doesn't seem real fresh! This is the first time in history that we aren't able to trace our food from its origin, and we don't really care.

In one particularly disturbing scene, the makers of Food, Inc. showed how 85% of hamburger beef is cleaned by ammonia before it is packaged. Apparently the scientists who came up with this factory-produced process thought that exposing the meat to ammonia would eliminate the risk of disease. The factory was big and metal and contained a seemingly endless labyrinth of pipes. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were building cars in that factory, not packaging meat!!

Now, I'll be honest with you... I don't know quite what to do about this. I'm far too busy (which is undoubtedly part of the problem) to raise my own livestock and harvest my own vegetables. Plus, I don't have any land on which to pursue such things. Going to McDonald's with 5 kids seems much more do-able for my family than stocking the freezer with grass-fed, free range beef, and cooking a bag of frozen beans in the microwave is much more efficient for a family of 7 than snapping, washing and cooking pees acquired from the farmer's market.

But going to McDonald's is no longer desirable, and the thought of continuing to fill my body with overprocessed, pesticide riddled, genetically engineered, ammonia doused, corn based food disgusts me. I hate it that I don't know where the food I eat comes from, and I'm bothered by the fact that huge, multinational corporations control nearly all the available food in the world. Clearly changes must be made. I'll update you when I figure out how to make them. Until then, I'll remember my Grandparent's farm and see if I can find a way to duplicate its wholesomeness on some small level.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Hello Steve!

I just read this post about your thoughts on Food Inc. As a resident of Berkeley, California, I have access to great grocery stores and farmers' markets, but this is not the case across all the U.S. as you have proven. Although It must be frustrating to not be able do anything about it right away, it is so important that you are aware and that you care about food. The kind of change we want to make about our food culture takes time and action. You can spread awareness across your town and maybe start an organic garden in your neighborhood. I know the problem is that you are very busy but just talking about this issue with friends and family and getting them to care as much as you do makes a huge difference. Many people are simply unaware of where our food comes from, so educating as many people as we can is a big step towards change. I truly appreciated your post, because you sincerely care about food. I wish you all the best and hope that you can encourage others to feel the same way as you do.