The green blogosphere has been abuzz recently about the release of filmmaker Robert Kenner’s new film Food, Inc. The film hasn’t yet made it to Indiana, so we asked blogger and founder of CookLocal.com, Patricia Eddy, if she would be willing to share her thoughts on the film.
Do You Know What You Eat?
Food, Inc. tries to answer some of those questions by taking audiences on an in-depth tour of this nation’s food system. We see operations that produce beef, pork, and chicken, as well as farming operations for corn and soybeans. Much of what this movie shows us is disturbing.
WARNING: The next few paragraphs contain some disturbing and graphic information.
CAFOs vs. Joel Salatin
Have you heard the term CAFO before? A very high percentage of all meat you can buy in the supermarket and when eating out comes from CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). They are just about as awful as the name implies. Food, Inc. shows you just a peek into these operations. The scenes were disturbing.
Imagine chickens living their entire life never seeing sunlight. Chickens engineered and bred to be so large that their little legs can’t even support them. Many can take one or two steps and then just fall down. Some references compare the chicken’s quick and dramatic growth to a human child weighing almost 350 pounds by the time they are two!
Many die before they make it to processing weight. Chickens are collected at night, which supposedly helps keep them more docile and are crammed into cages piled high on a semi-trailer. Watching the operation was truly painful. The chickens are often mistreated during the collection process.
Now imagine cows standing ankle deep in their own feces. Cows, who are designed by nature to eat grass, who are fed exclusively grain, encouraging the growth of E-Coli. The cows are medicated heavily with antibiotics, which often give them painful gas and stomach conditions. At the slaughterhouse, forklifts are used to try to get sick and injured cows to their feet. If the cow can’t stand, it can’t be slaughtered for food. Yet somehow, getting a cow to stand with the aid of a forklift, just long enough for processing is considered OK behavior.
Lastly, we have pigs. CAFO pigs have to have their tails cut off because they are kept in such close quarters that by sheer boredom and lack of space they chew the tails of the pig next to them clean off. The pigs do not see sunlight, or even dirt. Yet the image we all hold of pigs is rooting around happy in the mud.
Pigs are born in a pen so small their mothers cannot even turn around. The waste, which from a wild or foraged pig would be merely waste and would actually be able to help the land, from a CAFO pig is toxic and is produced in such huge amounts, that it is contaminating the land around the CAFOs. If you want to know more about CAFOs and pigs, there is an excellent article in Rolling Stone.
I think we can all agree that the above information is disturbing. On the other side of the field, as it were, consider Polyface Farm. This is Joel Salatin’s farm, referenced often in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Joel’s chickens forage outside. They hunt and peck to supplement their feed. We see Joel’s chicken processing station. He processes chickens in the open air.
While I certainly didn’t like seeing the chicken slaughtering process, it wasn’t disturbing. It reinforced my belief that if you’re going to eat meat (and I eat meat and have no plans to stop), you should view a slaughtering operation at least once.
Joel’s cows move from one section of pasture to another through the use of only a small movable fence. They perform several key functions on the farm. They mow (eat the grass), fertilize (poop), and work the fertilizer into the soil (through their hooves). They never stand ankle deep in their own feces.
Likewise, Joel’s pigs are dirty, but they aren’t toxic. They just play in the dirt all day.
The Industrial Food System
One fact the movie pushes is how very few companies are responsible for the majority of the food we eat. They state that McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef, chicken, pork, and apples. Because of this purchasing power, they have a tremendous influence over the food system that produces these products. Smithfield owns the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world and slaughters 32,000 pigs a day. Tyson is the largest chicken processor in the world.
Even in the organic realm, many of the organic brands we know and love, like Kashi, Stonyfield Farms, and Tom’s of Maine are owned by huge companies (Kellog, Danone, and Colgate respectively). While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it was surprising to me just how many organic brands are owned by these large corporations.
The last major focus of the film talks a lot about Monsanto. Nothing I could say here would do this story justice, and honestly, after seeing the movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Monsanto owns the patent on the soybean that is used to grow almost all of the domestic soybeans in the United States.
Yes. They own the patent on a food. Not a food product, or a recipe, but a food. If you want to know about some of the consequences of this (and there are many), please, please see this movie.
Watch the Food, Inc. Trailer:
How Food, Inc. Affected Me & What You Can Do
I could probably keep talking about this movie all day, and I will talk more about it in the future. However, I really want everyone who reads these words to see this movie.
The most important takeaway that I have from the movie is that we need to vote with our shopping habits.
Do you want to eliminate CAFO meat from your life? How about eliminating CAFO meat from the United States? Then don’t buy that CAFO meat from the grocery store.
Shop the farmers markets, buy organic when you can, local whenever possible. Know what foods are in season. Don’t buy peaches in February. Read labels. Know what is in your food.
Check out Food, Inc.’s website and follow the links to the issues. Educate yourself. Educate your family.
Food Facts You Should Know:
- In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market.
- The average chicken farmer invests over $500,000 and makes only $18,000 a year.
- In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, the FDA conducted only 9,164.
- In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. coli 0157h7 so that if a plant repeatedly failed these tests, the USDA could shut down the plant. After being taken to court by the meat and poultry associations, the USDA no longer has that power.
- 70% of processed foods have some genetically modified ingredient.