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Food and Environment

2014 July 8
by Lindsay Kagalis

Hello everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your 4th of July weekend! So to begin this discussion, I must say that watching Food Inc. ended up being extremely difficult for me to watch, and was quite an eye-opener to where our food really comes from and the things that are within them.  And that’s where my first food for thought comes from: whenever you have bought food at a store or gone out to a restaurant, how many times can you really remember knowing exactly where your food came from?  When I began to reflect on this, I realized that especially when eating out, the majority of the time I had no idea where the food I ate came from.

The beginning portion of this video dove into the globalization and capitalistic nature of food within our society and the rest of the world.  I really enjoyed in the beginning when the commentator spoke about food being just the idea of food now, and that more and more food products sold in supermarkets contain so many hormones and pesticides, one cannot even truly call the product a chicken or a tomato any more.  Another major point to take away from this video was the major shift that society saw in the coming together of 4 major titans who now own and control over 80 percent of the meat products throughout the world.  Within this globalization of food products, we can also thank the McDonald’s brothers for bringing the factory-like assembly line to the realm of food when they introduced the first drive through restaurant.  As these companies continued to grow, they purposefully would price “bad” calories at a lower cost to consumers to help them make a decision for food when they were tight for money.  I personally can remember regretfully many times when my family did not have enough money to eat a healthy meal, or didn’t have enough time to sit down and cook a full dinner.  It is still a problem that many people, if not millions, still suffer, and it is all done purposefully in order for companies like Kellogg and fast food chains to maintain control and hegemony over consumers within our society.

 

The ending sections of this film were just as eye-opening, with one of the biggest surprises to me being that so many products that we know of today are make with corn.  I knew that corn syrup was a major ingredient in food products, but was naive to the fact that through corn, industry leaders were able to create other ingredients that are extremely common in foods such as xantham gum and malodexrin.  The biggest shocker was that batteries and twinkies have corn within them! I’m not sure about any one else, but this definitely made me scratch my head.  It is sad to see companies like Monsanto attempt to control farmers in their growing of corn and to throw them out of business through putting them through extensive court hearings.  I know there has been much more backlash against Monsanto, but it is still overlooked, and as the commentator stated, many consumers just continue to move through this revolving door and seem to forget about the issues that are still going on and are still important within our world.  I was at least proud to see our very own Shenandoah Valley make the proper moves to maintaining an environmentally friendly approach to farming, and shows that there can be a simpler solution to these issues of over production.

After watching this film, my questions for discussion include whether or not you think that there is any way that the food industry can take a step back from the assembly line without major consequences?  Another question I wondered about was whether or not the capitalistic nature will every be taken out of the picture within the food industry?  Especially when farmers such as the one’s for Tyson’s do not even make enough money to get back (only 18,000 a year when they are borrowing 500,000 dollars).  I also would love to just hear your opinions on the film in general.  :) I especially enjoyed this film because my paper will be centering around purchasing organic foods in comparison to conventionally grown food.

I know that the readings haven’t really been posted yet, but this movie was available online to watch for free! I just wanted to get the ball rolling with discussion this week.  Whenever the other reading gets posted, I will try and get some more questions out to keep the discussion going strong for the remainder of the week! I hope everyone’s papers are also going great!!

 

 

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Maggie Roth permalink
    July 8, 2014

    Great post Lindsay! After watching the film, your summary was helpful in remembering key points. Just like you, I was shocked by some of the information I learned.

    I think it is safe to say that drastic changes need to occur in order to fix our food industry. While this “assembly- like” system was developed in the 1950s, it seems as though the desire for faster and cheaper food products has only escalated since. Lindsay asks if moving away from this system is a possibility, but I think the more important question is what happens if we don’t move away from this system. How is our food supply going to look in 20 years?

    According to the documentary, 90% of processed food in the supermarket contains some type of corn ingredient– which is just insane. (Shameless plug for why we need more accurate ingredient labeling). Because of this enormous use of corn, more than 30% of viable American farmland is growing corn. This seems like such a waste, as the corn grown isn’t being used in healthy ways. This corn is also used to feed animals, such as cows, chickens, and pigs that are raised for slaughter. Not only is corn not part of these animals normal diets, but now we are also getting corn reside in our meat products as well.

    I was particularly horrified at what I learned about our meat industry– particularly that of beef and chicken. I can’t believe the conditions these animals live in and how little care the industry takes of them. The hormones injected into chickens and the unsanitary conditions of the cows not only affect these poor, innocent animals, but they affect the consumers who will eventually eat them. The food industry plays such a big part of daily life that it causes a chain reaction– which no one seems to be too concerned about.

    It seems wrong that the food industry is a monopoly. For example, only 4 meat packers contribute more than 80% of the beef in the USA. For a country that was created to be a free-market system and thrives off competition, it seems wrong that the government isn’t doing more to control the food industry. But as it became clear throughout the film, everything seems to be driven by profits, so even the government benefits off of this type of industry. The big take away point from this film is that the food industry is focused entirely on cheap food regardless of the health, environmental, or industrial consequences.

  2. Stephen Klier II permalink
    July 8, 2014

    Great post! So for the assembly line status, it will be near impossible for farmers and consumers alike to step away from the system. American has an incessant need for convenience and affordability (which I feel like I write about every one of these posts..maybe that’s a whole new class in and of itself!). And the assembly line is what makes that possible, and its giving rise to an “assembly line” mentality among our generation. I don’t want to go get a panera bread salad, I want it quick and I want it fat and I want a burger..now. I can really relate on the whole “bad food priced cheaper” topic. I feel that even in college, as a poor college kid, those unhealthy decisions are so much easier to make. I can go to Cookout and get a Big Double Burger, Chicken Quesidilla, Honey Mustard Chicken Wrap, and a huge sweet tea for $5.67 (don’t ask me how I know that). But its all done because unhealthy foods are so cheap and delicious that they yield huge profit margins. Its the same reason producers pump MSG into foods, to addict the consumer to the unhealthy food that slowly kills them.

    Growing up and living in a rural town where my high school borders two huge corn fields, I’ve seen first hand how hard farmers work and how little they are compensated for their efforts. Mass producing companies can produce 10x the product 10x faster, and I have seen in the past two years, two local farms sold due to their lack of profitability. It hurts to know that the people who are the real backbone of America are being pushed out of their homes by corporations that will never care to know the names of their customers.

    • Lindsay Kagalis permalink
      July 9, 2014

      I completely agree with you on the point about cheaper food. When I was watching this film I could only think to myself, that’s completely right. And especially being in college, like you said, the majority of us find ourselves shaving dollars and going to Cookout or Taco Bell instead of buying food that is beneficial and nutritious to us. It is really sad when I think about all the times I’ve gone to McDonald’s for breakfast instead of making something at home, when I even know that the food there is of such horrible quality. Plus with the point you made about MSG, I was absolutely shocked when I learned about the use of it in fast food products when I watched Super Size Me (I think that was the one). I think the saddest part of it all, is that there are so many people that are so naive to the facts about this topic. I tried to recommend this video to a few of my friends after viewing it, and all of them just said “No, I’m okay. I don’t want to know about these things.” This was kind of shocking that some people would rather stay naive and enjoy their food without really knowing the facts and issues that are surrounding it.

  3. Charlotte Harnad permalink
    July 8, 2014

    You had a really great summary of the movie and draw some really interesting conclusions. You ask a really interesting question: how many times can you really remember knowing exactly where your food came from? When I am home eating at a small place, I do have a general idea of what farm the food I am eating comes from. However, about 99% of the time I do not know where my food comes from and that has always freaked my OCD side out. It is such a shame and kind of disgusting how when the country first began everyone grew their own crops, and now a handful of factory farms produce a majority of the food in the country. This film really put into perspective exactly how the agricultural world has transformed from a lifestyle and daily staple to survive towards a business that is becoming increasingly industrialized. The movie really used examples to reinforce its points in a way that it really hit home, such as putting the factory farms into comparison with an assembly line. It also discusses how many companies save money by mass producing cheap food to gain as large of a profit as possible, which is an enormous issue here in the states.

    I do think that the country can step away from the assembly line. However, I do think that it is going to take quite a bit of time to lose some of the convenience and easy-going lifestyles that exist today. I also think that there are going to be some consequences, but in this scenario I feel as if the good outweighs the bad.

  4. Maggie Roth permalink
    July 9, 2014

    I really agree with both Stephen’s and Charlotte’s assertions that big industry is at fault for compromising and negatively affecting America’s food industry. While mass production and unsustainable farming proves to be cheaper and quicker than sustainable farming, its consequences are catastrophic. Instead of trying to fix the environmental damages after they have occurred, preventative actions such as changing the farming practices would actually be easier to and less costly to implement than reactive measures.

  5. Carolyn Girondo permalink
    July 9, 2014

    I agree with what is being said above. I liked your post/summary. I actually watched this film another time back in high school and decided to try out vegetarianism and paying more attention to where my food came from. It only lasted about a year because I found it difficult at JMU and I also hate asking for something different when eating at a friend’s house. Now that I’ve graduated I’m hoping (when I have a littleeee more money) to be able to re adapt that healthier lifestyle.

    The film is definitely an eye opener to the world of agriculture and farming. I was so naive to these things back in high school that everything was shocking to me. I remember especially hating that they grow crops for the cows to eat (which isn’t even natural for them) and they are wasting the space growing the crops too! Watching it now, sadly, wasn’t as shocking but I am just as angry. I agree that changes could be made but I am afraid something really bad will have to happen first for change to truly take place. Some people will voluntarily change but others will resist and ignore the problems until it’s absolutely necessary and I’m just wondering when that will be. For the time being, at least we can try to better our own habits and encourage those around us- that’s a good start for change!

  6. Lindsay Kagalis permalink
    July 9, 2014

    I agree with everything you all have said. Just from working closely with JMU dining services in the last year, it does make me feel better that JMU has taken great initiatives to have food products that are grown locally and to support the farmers market here by having them come to campus a few times a month. I think having initiatives like this will also help to work towards having better quality food and also opening up discussions about what we are actually eating.

  7. Robert Bamsey permalink
    July 9, 2014

    I feel that the only way we will be able to move away from the assembly line production style of food that we currently have will be a complete change in culture and lifestyle. The majority of Americans either don’t have enough time or enough money to cook an organically grown meal every day. Until we stop needing everything around us in an instant and stop choosing convenience over quality, millions will continue to pay for the processed factory style foods. Our diets drive demand and until everyone can afford only to shop at their local food market that sells organic food, we will all be slaves to mcdonald’s dollar menu or wal-mart’s frozen food section that continue to make poor quality food because people still buy it.

  8. Cassidy Clayton permalink
    July 9, 2014

    Great post Lindsay! Watching Food, Inc. was for sure the most eye-opening documentary I have ever sat through. The big food corporations are absolutely killing the healthy food structure of America. I think that Food, Inc. is such a genius and extraordinary documentary because it is taking the first step in combating these giant food corporations. It is easy to place blame on these giant food corps, and while it is mostly their actions that has us in the place we are in, we as consumers have a HUGE say in their survival as companies. By simply buying local and organic foods, and proving to the corporations that consumers are not interested in buying meat and other products from the assembly lines, will force the corporations to meet the demands of the consumer.

  9. Alina Clark permalink
    July 10, 2014

    I feel like I always approach these discussions strictly from the business side, but I don’t think the food industry will ever step back from the assembly line. It’s simply not a smart business decision. They will lose their competitive edge. They will lose money. Etc. That being said, I do think that someday the government will have no choice to get involved and potentially set limits on assembly lines in Food Corporations among other restrictions. However in regards to companies themselves taking in initiative to step back from using assembly lines and fillers like corn in their products…they won’t. The thought process is something similar to the following:
    *There is an upset about the way our food is made: do we change? do we pretendd to change? do we do nothing? lets look at the big picture.
    *It is then usually predicted that this ‘upset’ will pass and it will cost more money to implement a change compared to the money they lose for a brief period of time from upset customers.
    *They also look to see what competitors are doing – no one wants to be the first – therefore no one does anything.
    *Therefore: Nothing Happens.
    It’s the vicious cycle of the fear of losing money [aka greed] that paralyzes companies from making a change for the better.

    To reiterate on the second question you asked, money runs the world.

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