Posts Tagged ‘Food Inc’

When it comes to food, you get what you pay for

“How much do you spend on food?”

Lately it seems I have been reading this question all over the place, especially in the food blogosphere. Recently, Ryan at Greens for Good got real with the question on her blog and I wanted to speak my two cents as well. ‘Cause I’m startin’ to get a little fed up. No pun intended.

People (myself included some days) are complaining about the high cost of food, even though on average Americans spend less on food than basically all other developed and under-developed nations. When it comes to the percentage that Americans spend of their take-home pay on food, I have seen and heard figures ranging from 10 percent to 16 percent, but either way, this statistic is a far cry from the 40 percent that our grandparent’s generation use to pay for their food. Google-searching “how much do you pay for food each week?” led me to this discussion board, which is a telling account of what people are spending on food, and what they are getting in return. I especially noted this comment, from a “Kathy” from Minneapolis:

“I am in awe of most of you who can feed your families for so cheap. I too googled this because I am spending WAY too much on food for a family of 6. We never eat out, I pack lunches every day, and buy 90% organic, including household cleaners, meats, produce, etc. All that organic stuff is EXPENSIVE, but I feel worth it for my family’s health. A lot of our health problems have gone away since eating clean and healthy foods! Plus, we are all losing weight. I am not going to put how much I spend per month here, because I am embarrassed by how much I am spending. It is comparable to Lisa above who spends $400/mo on just herself… I can see that. x 6 and we are almost there. Grass fed beef, organic milk, whole grain breads and pastas, organic chicken, omega eggs, etc… it is just EXPENSIVE, and no coupons for that stuff! I cut back everywhere else, because I believe it is more important that we are fed healthy. It is paying off! I used to spend about $600/month… but that is what made us all in such poor health! It would be hard to go back to that.”

Tell me about it Kathy, I was in awe too. Some of these people are reporting that they spend $100/month on groceries for a family of two! Either they are grossly underestimating, aren’t including a LOT of eating out, are surviving on Ramen noodles, or are growing their own food in a garden or something. I just can’t figure out how two people could feed themselves for that little money. That is literally $12/week per person.

So, let’s talk about why this isn’t a good thing.

Last night, I watched King Corn for the first time, which I think helps to illustrate where our cheap food comes from, and what makes it so dangerous and necessary to avoid. Basically, this is a simplified explanation for how our food system currently works, with a little history thrown in…

“Get big or get out,” no ‘Butz’ about it

“What we want out of agriculture is plenty of food, and that’s our drive now. This year, 1973, we’re going to see the most massive increase in production of farm products ever in the history of this country and next year we are going for a still further increase on top of that, as we pull out all stops.” – Earl Butz

Basically it all started with this guy, Earl Butz, who became Secretary of Agriculture in 1971. He completely overhauled federal agricultural policy and many New Deal era farm support programs. He urged the production of commodity crops like corn, and rewarded farmers for growing more, which forced out small farmers and began this financial struggle of the small farmer operation.

Yeah. Way to go, Earl.

Downward spiral

The more corn we grew, the more we had to find something to do with it.

One thing we started doing was feeding it to cows, who were never meant to eat a primarily corn-based diet, and now it is often 60 percent of their diet. When they do, they put on a high amount of body fat quickly, becoming obese animals (which is desirable for agribusiness who want to create food as efficiently as possible, despite the fact that it is nutritionally devoid and full of saturated fat.) According to King Corn, “If you look at a grain-fed t-bone steak, it would have 9 grams of saturated fat while a comparable steak from a grass-fed cow would have 1.5 grams of saturated fat.”) That is why when you bite into a hamburger at McDonald’s, you are eating mostly fat (well, mostly corn) and NOT protein. But the cows also suffer from a completely separate condition aside from obesity from eating corn, they develop a condition known as acidosis. To combat this acidosis, the industry began mixing antibiotics in with their corn feed. This is why antibiotics are in the industrial meat that we eat (and if it doesn’t say antibiotic free, the cows the meat came from were fed antibiotics). In fact, 70 percent of the antibiotics that are produced in this country end up in cattle feed.

Now, the other thing we started doing was scientifically re-engineering our corn to make it into high-fructose corn syrup, which is used in processed foods. In fact, most of the corn fields of this country aren’t actually producing any edible food, they are producing a food commodity, the main ingredient of a chemical reaction. We all know about HFCS now, but 20 years ago, no one really did, no one asked any questions. But all the while, Americans were becoming more and more obese, and now we know why. But we are still eating this food. McDonald’s and Tyson and all the other huge agribusinesses out there (well, there aren’t all that many, actually) are still in business.

Not in Kansas anymore

“If the American people wanted strictly grass-fed beef, we would produce grass-fed beef for them. But it’s definitely more expensive, and one of the tenants in America is that Americans want and demand cheap food.” – Farmer in King Corn

Our subsidy program rewards the overproduction of cheap corn, which translates into cheap food, and translates into more calorically-dense and nutritionally deficient food, which translates into obese people, which translates into more diabetes and other health problems, and more medications and hospitalizations and health care costs.

But the thing is, we have this information now. In 2001, Eric Schlosser wrote the book, Fast Food Nation, which has been compared by many to the work of journalist Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle, investigating the conditions of factory workers in the early 1900’s. This book really paved the way for all the questions and investigation. Now, food advocates like Michael Pollan have taken this movement by storm. Omnivore’s Dilemma is now available for kids! Awesome! Millions of people know the Food Inc. story or have seen it. We are finally in a position to begin changing things. Which is great. And yet, not enough.

Yesterday, Oprah had Michael Pollan on again. I was working so I didn’t actually get to watch, but my sister basically provided minute by minute updates on my phone. Now, I know that Oprah is careful about saying anything to cross the line and land herself in another food libel litigation suit, but it pains me to no end to hear her saying things like, “But eating this way and spending so much money just isn’t realistic for most people,” (what is realistic? Spending hundreds of dollars per month on diabetes medication?) or “Remember, this is just the OPINION of some people.” (No. It’s not opinion. This is reality.) Don’t placate Americans’ fears about our food. We have salmonella showing up in our hydrolyzed vegetable protein for crying out loud. There is so much cause for concern it’s ridiculous. It is unfortunate that these multinational corporations hold so much power and influence (aka our money) that they are able to keep Oprah and other prominent figures from actually coming right out and saying what they already know to be true: that our food is slowly killing us. I consider Oprah to be a good barometer for what people in this country are thinking and believing, and I appreciate her giving attention to this topic. But we can’t let corporations keep this upper hand. It’s time to bite the upper hand that feeds us (and makes us sick).

Shifting Priorities

I’m not saying go out and spend a ton of money on your food just to say you did. But, we need to take more time to consider what we put into our bodies. Food holds so little value anymore. We aren’t caring enough about the food that we eat and it is reflecting in our poor health. We are caring much more about things that don’t really matter. What are we caring about instead? Our clothes, our cars, partying on the weekend, whatever.

So the question of, “How much do you spend on food?” really becomes, “Where do your priorities lie?” In your health? Or somewhere else?

In an effort to allow people who may feel sheepish about exposing how much or how little they spend on their food every month, I am putting up this poll. Please still leave me comments and criticisms or whatever, but also do the poll. I know it is hard to track how much money you spend, but make a rough estimate to the best of your ability. (I thought about putting up a poll asking, “What percentage of your income do you spend on food?” But I think that gets complicated. Based on rough figures in my head, and if I happen to go out to dinner that week, I estimate that I spend about $100/wk on food, less if I don’t eat out, more if I eat out somewhere fancy like last weekend. This figure represents about 30% of my ‘income’.)

I am going to do an experiment over the next week. I pledge not purchase or consume any products with HFCS, will purchase local and organic ingredients whenever possible, and will pay no attention to price. I will save my receipts/write down what I buy and report back next weekend.

In the meantime, what are some ways in which you manage to save money while purchasing healthy, local food that don’t involve sacrificing quality?


No Oscar for Food Inc. & a non-meat related food recall, this time in my kitchen

Hi. I am sad girl right now. I am also protesting the remainder of the Oscar’s because Food Inc. did not end up winning an Academy Award tonight. I am upset I even watched tonight, all I cared about was the Documentary category. Although, I did love seeing Avatar kick some major ass. Go Avatar. Freakin’ love that movie. One of the greatest of all time.

Blah blah The Cove won instead. Blah blah it’s probably a good movie. Wah wah, I’m bitter, I’ll get over it once I remember again that the Oscar’s don’t really matter, and it’s made it’s impact and we will move on from here.

OK, officially over it. Congrats to all the award nominees and winners.

Moving on.

Remember that post I did a while back about all the food in my kitchen and the Food Rules that I break and follow? I know you do, because it’s still my most popular post to date. Anyhow, remember that dodgy label on the vegetable bouillon cubes? The ones that said they have chicken in them? Well, my mother, who apparently is on the FDA’s listserv or something for some inexplicable reason…sent me this email this morning:

Creative Contract Packaging Corporation Recalls HERB-OX® Bouillon Products Because of Possible Health Risk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 4, 2010 – Aurora, IL – This action is being taken after Basic Food Flavors, Inc. (“Basic”) issued a recall for all Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (“HVP”) dry powder manufactured by Basic Food Flavors on or after September 17, 2009, due to a positive test result for Salmonella in a production lot. Our records indicate that some of the HVP being recalled by Basic Food Flavors was used as an ingredient in HERB-OX® items.

As a result, Creative Contract Packaging Corporation of Aurora, Illinois, is recalling specific code dates of HERB-OX® beef, vegetable, and chicken granular bouillon products because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications can include severe arthritis.

Read full text here.

I mean, what can I say really. I told me so? This is why that food rule exists. The more ingredients that end up in our food and the less you know about those ingredients, the worse they likely are for you and the higher the chance that one of them will get contaminated by harmful, potentially life-threatening bacteria. Luckily, I hadn’t yet opened the veggie cubes, figuring I would pawn them off on someone—I mean, they have chicken in them. (Now I can take them back to the grocery store and get my money back.)

Sometimes I feel like no food is safe to eat, and then something like this happens and I think I’m justified in feeling that way.

The point is, this is our food system. Here it is. Salmonella in my vegetable broth. Seriously, folks? Yes. Seriously.

ps. Check your cabinets and watch out for other foods that have hydrolyzed vegetable protein in them that you’ll want to throw out or return due to this recall.

I shook the hand of a (hopefully) future Academy Award winner.

“And that was when I realized, we weren’t just talking about food anymore. We were talking about our rights as human beings being taken away from us.”- Robert Kenner

So as I said last time, I got to hear Robert Kenner speak at my school Thursday night.

Apologies for this post being so delayed. Life is crazy. And thanks for alllll those questions, I couldn’t ask them all, there were just too many! Just kidding. 🙂 Obviously. But I had some of my own of course, and he was really great about staying after the presentation to talk with people one on one. Before Robert began speaking, he asked everyone if they had seen the film yet. I am pretty sure everyone raised their hand. There were probably 150-200 people there…though I am bad at guesstimating so don’t quote me on that. I was so pumped to see that so many people had seen it, although I guess it makes sense that the people who have seen it would be the most likely ones to want to go hear the director speak. While Robert was speaking, he referenced certain parts in the film and played those scenes for us on the screen behind him. He started off by showing the first opening piece of the film (below), which is hands down my favorite opening credits scene ever. I still get chillbumps when I watch it. Don’t make fun.

Kenner told us he isn’t a food advocate and never had really paid much attention to the food that he ate or where it came from before the film was made. In fact, he said he is stil

l not a vegetarian or anything (calling himself a flexitarian), but he does eat less fast food–and eats Chipotle. He basically just thought it would be interesting to make a film about the food industry, but had no idea what he would uncover or how controversial, groundbreaking and popular it would become. He said he wanted to make a film for people like him, that hadn’t though about their food. He focused less on appealing to the people who were already food and food safety advocates, as they already know a lot about what is going on. He tried to create a witty, creative, visually appealing, but still informative film that would shock you and maybe make you uncomfortable, but that would also not be so uncomfortable or biased that people wouldn’t want to see it. He isn’t a Michael Moore–he doesn’t pick and choose who to talk to and then attack them. He called over 90 food companies, and hardly any, besides Wal-Mart and Stonyfield, would even talk to him.

He told us a lot of interesting tidbits about the film that I had never known.

  • Wal-Mart asked if they could edit the footage of them that went into the film. HAH. (PS- According to his Web site, Kenner once made a Wal-Mart commercial, maybe that’s why they wanted to be in the film, they though it might put them in a positive light?)
  • The meat that killed the little boy of the mother in this film had sat on the shelf for 12 days after being recalled. They knew it was dangerous, but the FDA won’t send people out to take the meat off the shelves. That makes me sick to my stomach.
  • Kenner has been attacked by PETA for not promoting a strictly vegetarian lifestyle in the film. PETA needs to re-focus their efforts on a fight worth having. What a bunch of loonies.
  • In the scene where the classroom of students in the poor rural community out west is interviewed, the students were all asked if they or an immediate family member had diabetes, and all raised their hand. When the kids asked Kenner if he had, he said no, and they were shocked. Those kids had never met a person who didn’t at least have one family member with diabetes.

Now, in full disclosure of my personal feelings, while Kenner has done an extraordinary service for resolving the food crisis, this is because of what he knows about filmmaking, not about the problem. (OK. I just gotta say it. Kenner was drinking from a Dasani bottle after he spoke. I know no one is perfect, but that did hurt my soul just a bit.) You could tell by the manner in which he was speaking that what he knows is directly a result of having made this film. When he spoke about the food industry he sounded cautious, a tiny bit uneasy, perhaps a bit rehearsed. When he spoke about the film, he spoke right from his heart. Food isn’t his passion, filmmaking is—which is fine. Now, if you want to hear someone talk about food/farming/the food crisis straight from their heart, you should hear Joel Salatin speak.

Speaking of Joel Salatin. Kenner brought Salatin up at one point, so when I spoke to him after the presentation, I asked him what he thought about his views on the government’s role in all of this.Basically I asked a long-winded question that came out sort of like this, but probably less eloquent:

“There is this tension between holding corporations accountable for poor, unsustainable, environmentally destructive food production, and then the responsibility of the government to regulate the safety of that shoddily produced food. We have one school of thought (Joel Salatin’s) saying that the government needs to back off on their regulations and let small farmers do what they do best, but on the other hand you have people dying from foodborne illnesses, and the government is being blamed for not having enough regulation and control over our food. How do we reconcile these conflicting problems so that food is safe but also so small farmers are able to say in business and be able to provide it?” (OK so I really rephrased this, but that’s about what I asked.)

His answer was brief. And I think it’s not an easy question to answer, and he’s not really the man to answer it. But he stuck to his guns about his previous statements that our problems always trace back to the corporate control. He said, “Yes, there are areas that the government is failing, however, ultimately, the blame here falls on the corporations and the centralized control of our food system.” Until that changes, there will continue to be problems with food safety AND the government-small farmer tug-of-war. If not for huge agribusiness corporations, this problem just wouldn’t exist.

He also told me about how he and Salatin went on the Martha Stewart show together recently. I hadn’t seen this appearance, so I checked it out. Salatin actually said there that the government’s responsibility is to protect us, to protect our food and our safety, and its our duty to elect officials who will best do this.

In closing, and in my humble opinion, people like Michael Pollan, Salatin, and other people who were interviewed in this film, made it what it is, and they really deserve most of the credit. However, Kenner deserves the credit for making a film that moved people, and that is just as much a part of this battle. Pollan’s expertise coupled with Kenner’s extraordinary filmmaking skills, allowed for a truly great film to be produced, and for that I have a great deal of respect for the man.

I hope we look back at this point in history as the turning point. One day, I’ll say to my kids or grandkids, “Yeah, we used to shop at huge grocery stores, we had no idea where our food came from, it could’ve come from another country! A lot of it was processed in factories, even animals lived in factories. Then they made this one movie, and it helped open people’s eyes.” And my kids will say, “Food used to come from factories? Weird!”

Here’s hoping.

Meeting Robert Kenner Tonight!

Image from: EPA

Robert Kenner, the director of Food Inc., which I might have a healthy obsession with, is coming to my campus tonight! I encourage you all to attend if you can. I think a lot of people are pretty excited about this one, so a special thanks to the Kennedy Political Union for bringing him here. KPU always brings the best speakers to campus.

So! Does anybody have any questions I should ask him? I assume we will get the chance to ask him questions, and if not, I could always try to talk to him after.

PS – Today was another one of those days I had to pack myself breakfast, lunch, and dinner since I probably won’t be home until 10 or 11. On these days, I basically just snack throughout. I hate having to do that. Mostly because I always underestimate how hungry I get. Today it’s whole wheat bread from Upper Crust Bakery (thanks to AU’s Wednesday farmer’s market) and hummus, along with vanilla yogurt, 2 huge delicious Honey Crisp apples from Agora Farms (also thanks to Wednesday farmers market), some pretzels from who knows where, and matzo crackers with that peanut butter I love.

See? In the time it took me to write this post I’ve eaten half my pretzels. Sigh.

See you tonight if you can come / send me a question!

PPS – I love the camera on my droid.

Food Inc.: Finally getting the recognition it deserves!

If there is one thing we know about creating social change, it is that you’ve got to either shock people, appeal to their emotions, or convince them that whatever is happening that you want to change is wrong. Food Inc. manages to do all three of these things. I feel like it’s taken Food Inc. a little long to get this recognition, (was released June 2009) but better late than never, I say!

Three major developments have happened with Food Inc. over this past week.

1 – Food Inc., along with Michael Pollan, appeared on last Wednesday’s Oprah. Everything that Oprah touches turns to gold. Mad props and a big thanks to the Big O.

2 – Food Inc. became the #1 selling movie on Amazon (get your copy here or find some other way to see the movie–it’s just fabulous) AND Pollan’s Food Rules became #1 selling book. It’s only $5. My copy arrived a couple days ago. I have already read it. I have also already started reading it to my friends. Like a bedtime story, only at all times of the day. In the kitchen. On the bus. Wherever. I will post a review of the book later on.

3 – and the big news of the day: Food Inc. has been nominated for an Oscar!! How fantastic is this? I might actually watch the Oscar’s this year!

But OK, here is my cynical take on all of this. I think it is great the movie and its message are getting out there to the mainstream, because the more people that see it, the more of an impact it can have. However, I am slightly afraid everyone will see the movie, think, “Wow, that really sucks that that is how things are,” and maybe talk about it for an hour, and then continue to carry on with their life. Let’s be real, Super Size Me was a HUGE hit, and McDonald’s is still selling Big Macs and greasy fries, because people are still ordering them.

BUT let’s think positively. Hopefully people will see it, be shocked, moved, and convinced, and then feel legitimately bad about continuing to support the corporate food system. Of course, we aren’t all going to stop shopping at grocery stores tomorrow, but, if people pay more attention to where the stuff they are buying comes from, the consumer’s message will trickle down to the companies, who will either be forced to change their ways, or go out of business. Consumers have the power to hold them accountable, we are who keeps them in business.

On a personal note, I’m currently on my lunch break, munching on carrot sticks from the farmers market. I could never go back to those slimy grocery store baby carrots. Blech. When you actually eat a real carrot that was grown like a carrot should be and not screwed around with afterward, you see those baby carrots don’t even taste remotely like carrots.

Also, please check out the enormous honey crisp apple I have to eat today. That’s my ipod touch next to it. Yeah, that’s big. And delicious. You’re jealous.

Congrats, Food Inc., I hope you win that Oscar for Documentary Feature!