Archive for January 4th, 2010
Tonight, my wife and I watched Food, Inc., a highly informative 90-minute documentary that takes a close look at the food we eat and where it comes from. We were expecting to see many revolting pictures of animals being butchered. There certainly were a fair amount of butchering scenes, although the creators of the film constantly focused on presenting useful information rather than trying to shock the viewer. This video was not made to appeal unfairly to the emotions. It was made to present compelling information about an important series of food-related issues. Watching this video reminded me of something that was quite disturbing. The mainstream media and our own government do not starkly peel back the happy veneer of the food production industry. Thus, Food, Inc. also serves as a meta-indictment of those failed institutions of government and the media.
Each of the eleven topics covered was compelling, and each of them was presented with a fair amount of balance, despite the fact that most of the corporations running factory farms refused to appear in the video. Consider that Wal-Mart (and a few other companies) was presented as a corporation that was actually trying to make some changes that would benefit the health of Americans-it was not presented as a perfect corporation, but it was given credit for trying to make some changes in the right direction. One corporation in the video was presented as notoriously evil: Monsanto, based in my hometown of St. Louis Missouri. What else could you say about a corporation that refuses to allow farmers to use seeds from their crops, and surreptitiously watches farmers with a team of 75 intimidating investigators, bringing many of them to court for daring to reuse their seeds. This has never before happened in the history of the world that a farmer has lost the right to use his or her own seed crop as he or she wants. If you’re thinking, “Well, they should never have signed up to buy that genetically modified seed in the first place,” the video will have you thinking again. Some of the victims are non-Monsanto-customer farmers in nearby fields, who were forced to defend themselves in court at great expense after Monsanto accused them of illegally using Montana’s product, whereas the seeds often blow onto their property from neighbors’ fields. The episode about the seed-washer sued by Monsanto is heartbreaking.
After watching Food Inc., you’ll never think the same way about corn. I’m not talking about enjoying a fresh meal of corn on the cob–get that image out of your head. I’m talking about highly processed corn. Almost anything you might purchase at a typical grocery store is pumped full of empty calories and questionable substances derived from processed corn (and soybeans). If you’re wondering why corn-based sodas and chips are so cheap, and broccoli and peas are so expensive, the answer lies in federal subsidies controlled by huge agribusinesses. Imagine a world where healthy foods were cheap and where foods injected with corn fructose were not subsidized– that’s certainly not the world in which we live. The video reveals that many of the purportedly great variety of fast foods are actually dressed up processed corn.
One of the most memorable lines for me was uttered by an especially articulate man who raises organic meat (you know, where animals were not confined in small dark spaces and forced to eat corn, but are actually allowed to eat grass and to graze). He suggested that if huge meat factories (chicken, hogs and beef) were forced to make their factories with transparent walls, people would stop buying their products. It was interesting that the only footage from inside the factory farms was through the use of hidden cameras. The big factory farms refused to give tours to the producers. One exception was a woman farmer who had had enough of it, and went on camera to give a tour of her chicken farm, which was actually run in a much more humane way than most of the dark enclosed factories where the great majority of America’s chickens are raised and slaughtered. Even her operation, considerably more humane than most factory farms (it actually was open to sunlight) still wasn’t a pretty sight.
Another thing I found revolting was the way that it illegal immigrants work hard to produce food for the rest of America, some of them for a dozen years or more, but they are unceremoniously rounded up from their trailers up in a constant stream of police raids. All of this while the companies that have made constant use of the hard labor of these undocumented people are left unscathed. There are very few raids for illegal immigrants at the factory farms-this would interfere with the profitable assembly line.
Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)
Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)
There’s a lot more to Food, Inc. then I’ve described in this brief post. I highly recommend that you watch Food Inc. if you care about what you’re putting in your stomach. Even if you think you have a cast-iron stomach, take a look at Food Inc. and you’ll be primed to start eating more smartly.
Although much of the information presented in this video is disturbing, the video is full of good suggestions for what you can do about these problems. So is the movie’s website (with regard to each of these topics, simply click the “Learn More” link).
The GOP is opposed to creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, a senior Republican on the banking committee is speaking his mind:
“That doesn’t mean we’re opposed to consumer protection, but a single agency whose sole purpose is consumer protection would be really bad news,” Bennett said. “I’ve served in the executive branch. I know what happens when the culture around a single mission takes over an agency. Republicans say that consumer protection has to be tied to regulation so the regulator who’s involved with regulation and consumer protection doesn’t go overboard in one direction or the other.”
Apparently the GOP doesn’t like the idea of requiring sellers and banks to provide full disclosure regarding products communicated in plain English. The GOP apparently likes those 29-page credit card contracts that no one can understand. It apparently likes the ideas of arbitration forced on consumers pre-dispute and 500% payday loans. Apparently the GOP approves of hidden fees that drive people into foreclosure and then bankruptcy. The GOP apparently tolerates the status quo because, in the absence of a strong federal agency that speaks on behalf of regular folks, we’re going to get a lot more of the same.