Thursday, April 22, 2010
Digesting 'Food Inc.'
Hopefully, you got a chance to catch Food Inc. on PBS last night. If you missed it, watch it on DVD. It will make you view the supermarket in a whole new, somewhat disturbing light. No longer will it appear to be a cornucopia of wholesome plants and meats. In reality, as the narrator states at the beginning, "it isn't a tomato, it is the notion of a tomato."
Food is manufacured like a pair of Nikes. Using the cheapest raw materials, lowest labor expenses, and fancy packaging, all to generate increasing revenues for a few corporate giants. And, it is the bottom line that drives these companies.
Conglomerates like Monsanto, Tyson, and Pepsi continue to increase their respectable market shares. Not with the noble goal of nourishing the growing American population, but producing more addicting, empty-Calories. What does Pepsi make that provides nutrition? They are now marketing the fact that they are cutting Calories in the beverages they are selling in schools by replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners (but still have all the other chemicals you have always enjoyed). Basically, lip service in response to Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity, IMHO.
The most important point Food Inc. elucidated was the 'hidden costs' of foods we buy and eat. Healthcare reform starts with your own lifestyle and choices. The Dollar Menu may appear on the surface to be a great value, but what are the health, social, and environmental costs associated with eating these foods? Economically, one dollar for a meal is a value. However, the cheap, unhealthy meals contribute to the cost of managing chronic diseases (like $150/month for Type 2 diabetes medicine), health insurance premiums, oil consumption (the average meal was said to have traveled 1500 miles), and supports the disrespectful treatment of workers, challenges small farmers, and encourages the unsanitary and inhumane treatment of animals.
The average American's disconnect with the food production process is another big issue. Quick, easy food is a staple in our culture. Heck, few people even cook anymore. Fast food outlets and large food processors like the idea that you don't know where your food came from or how it was produced. They don't want you to know that 90% of the soy beans produced are genetically modified. They spend millions of dollars lobbying against laws requiring labelling or that give the USDA power to shut down facilities that are repeatedly the source of E. Coli and Salmonella outbreaks. They want to 'keep the veil lowered'.
In spite of the depressing state of modern food production, the power still lies with the average American. You could vote against your representative that turns a blind eye to the greed of food conglomerates. Though, there is a more powerful way; vote with your dollars. It works. Why does Wal-Mart now sell organic produce and dairy? Because that is what their customers want. Take your money away from the General Mills, Coca-Colas, and McDonalds. Spend your dollars at the farmer's market. Plant a garden. Buy foods that label where it comes from and how it's made. Cook and eat a meal with your family. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of local food. Trade your Costco membership for a co-op membership. Explain to your kids why you are not eating certain foods.
The food you buy and eat goes beyond your own health, now. It affects the health of our families, our communities, and our planet. We have neglected one of the most vital aspects of our existance and food corporations have taken advantage of that. Time to reverse that trend, one meal at a time.