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Food and Environment

2012 June 4

After reading the article and viewing the documentary for today’s post, I decided to really make an effort in checking all of the nutrition labels on food I ate that day. It was incredible how many extra “things” go into foods you eat every day, that when home-made, only have a few simple ingredients. The “whole wheat” bread I had for lunch was not just wheat, flour, water and eggs. It had preservatives, guar gum, sucralose, and artificial red coloring. The fruit bars containing “real fruit,” had about 20 other ingredients as well, making real fruit probably less than 10% of their make up. It was incredible. The only foods I could find in my house without any added ingredients were raisins and natural almonds.

The quote in the opening scene of “Food Inc.,” -“The way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 10 thousand,”- really stuck out to me, and the point was shown even more after reading Guthman’s essay “Excess Consumption or Over-Production?.” The imagery of white picket fences, farmers, silos, and fresh, crisp produce with dew drops and sun rays shining down on them are still the same, although much of that has been transformed through our country’s history into large machinery, abnormally-large plants and animals filled with steroids and growth hormones, smoke stacks and plastic packaging. One of the worst scenes, for me, in the documentary, were the baby chicks being handled carelessly by glazed-over eyes of seemingly indifferent factory workers. The chicks were being thrown about, sent down shoots, and carried by machine like they were lifeless, plastic farm animals you buy to put in your children’s farmhouse play set.

Guthman wrote her essay to combat the viewpoint of obesity being linked to global warming. She too believed, like “Food Inc.,” that the environmental problems we face are not because of consumption choices, but political ones. Because of acts implemented by government that has given free plots of land to farmers and subsidized them for excess crops, and the introduction of machinery into the farming sector of our economy, overproduction has ensued. In our modern day system, we use fuel, which emits CO2 into the atmosphere, whenever we transport food by rail or automobile around the country, or by plane and boat when we import and export crops around the world. This coupled with the synthetic pesticides and decontaminants covering our food (70% of our meat is cleaned with ammonia to kill bacteria), which may have a direct relation to disrupting the endocrine system, leaves consumers at a loss of where they can get access to actual natural, local food to choose healthy options for themselves and their families. The American supermarket and its controllers, as seen in “Food Inc.,” have seemed to have taken the “natural” out of food. They no longer have seasons in supermarkets because of importing and extremely long travel distance for our food. Tomatoes, strawberries, zucchini and herbs that should only be able to be bought a few months out of the year, are now ready and available in an extremely large version of themselves, at any time of year.

The final section of Guthman’s essay titled “Beyond the Farm,” seemed to summarize many of the points made in the documentary. The extreme consolidation of industries in the chemical, grain, meat, and food processing sectors of farming (Monsanto, Conagra, Cargill, Tyson and Dole) have a very heavy role in the worth of seed and the low income farmers receive. The meat industry produces meat quicker and larger at the price of also being more prone to disease and animal cruelty concerns because of things like Confined Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOS). Substitutionism has led to the replacement of agricultural products with synthetic inputs (high fructose corn syrup for sugar) that have been proven to have negative effects on health. All of these things contribute to Guthman’s position of needed to re-think the relationship between food availability, consumption and body size.

With all the negativity in these two sources, it was nice that “Food Inc.” ended their documentary with a list of ways individuals can change the way our food industry is heading. They said the demand from the consumers for products is what ultimately makes the decisions, so if more people choose to buy foods in season, buy organic and local, plant their own gardens, and be more educated in what is actually in there food, there is hope for change.

I had seen “Food Inc.” before, but it was still just as unsettling and thought-provoking the second time around. I finished the film feeling a lack of hope in our political systems relating to food processing, sadness for the farmers in the country who can’t even choose their own seeds, and guilt for still eating meat and the hybrid fruits and vegetables I buy at the store. Although I think the documentary was a little biased in their intention to show the worst side of the food industry to the viewers, it worked, and they informed me about a lot of things that I was unaware of previously. Guthman’s essay tied in very nicely to points brought up in the film, and she did a really thorough job giving a brief overview of the American farming history since its birth.
Things to Think About-

  • Are films like “Food Inc.,” that give you an up close and personal view to the hidden, unfortunate side of our food industry, shocking enough to change your eating habits?
  • In your opinion, which of the two sources provided you with the most accurate, informative explanation of the U.S. farming and food processing industry history?
  • Guthman made her opinion on obesity being linked to global warming very clear. Do you think the two are directly correlated, or was Guthman doing the right thing in rejecting these hypotheses?
  • Do you think buying organic can solve the ongoing problems associated with animal cruelty, hybridized seed, and synthetic pesticides that we find in our food system today? If not, what do you think needs to be done in order for us to healthier, natural eating?
15 Responses leave one →
  1. kikomr permalink
    June 5, 2012

    Great post. I watched Food Inc and thought it was a great film. Very informative and hopes to provide a non-biased view of the modern food industry. I agree with your statement about imagery change. I think that a lot of the imagery of great home-grown food production has changed to machinery and GMO’ed seeds that are feeding animals pumped full of antibiotics and such. Films like Food Inc. are shocking enough for me to change my eating habits. When I first watched this movie, I was already in good knowledge of the biology of carbohydrates and such. But after this movie I stopped going to fast food for a while. It was eye-opening.
    I think buying organic meat can help animal cruelty but it wont stop it. We need our food, and the process has evolve to what it is now. In terms of buying organic vegetables and fruits, I believe that if we all contribute, food producers will have to make a change.
    What needs to be done you ask? Everyone needs to make a change for themselves. Blame it on capitalism; its the laws of supply and demand. We should all just drink more water and exercise more. Problem solved.

  2. Emma Hubbard permalink
    June 5, 2012

    Films like “Food Inc.,” gives me an up close and personal view to the hidden and unfortunate side of our food industry. I definitely feel that this kind of information if shocking enough to change my eating habits. I have seen this movie before, and but I believe that it has made enough of an impact on me to influence and change my eating habits. I agree with you that once of the worst scenes was seeing the baby chicks being handeled so carelessly by the workers. It is shocking that plants and animals are being modified by stereoids and growth hormones, and vegetables are being engineered to not go bad.

    I agree that Food Inc. was a little biased as the film had the intention to show the most negative side to the food industry. However, I think the film provided information that was realistic, and it is what people need to hear and see in order to be impacted. Food Inc. is the source that provided me with the most accurate, informative explanation of the U.S. farming and food processing industry history. Visuals have more of an impact on me. If I am both listening and watching something, there is a much greater chance that it will have more of an affect on me.

    Guthman stated that she rejects the hypotheses that say obesity is linked to global warming. I do not think the two are directly correlated. I think Guthman was doing the right thing in rejecting these hypotheses. The hypotheses assume that overweight people drive more and eat out more, therefore use more fuel than thin people. Obesity is not necessarily due to a consequence of excessive energy intake relative to energy expenditure. This is a presumption which has not been well-established in obesity science. Some people are overweight due to genetics, and can not help the fact that they are considered overweight or obese. We must consider the various environmental causes of obesity, “such as the widespread use of agricultural and household pesticides which disrupt the endocrinal system.” The direct link between obesity and global warming suggests that excessive consumption drives food production and distribution. However, the problems in our food economy stem from excess production.

    I think buying organic can help the ongoing problems associated with animal cruelty, hybridized seed, and synthetic pesticides that we find in our food system today, but I d not think it can solve these issues. Organic food is pricey and is not affordable for everyone. In order for us to engage in healthier and more natural eating, advocacy groups must send their messages towards audiences. People must become knowledgeable that they can grow their own food through community or backyard gardening. Farmers must stand up for their rights and consumers must also stand up for their rights. Corporations seek to produce food at a low cost, but the government overlooks the health of the food, the animals that are being produced, the workers, and the consumers. Advocacy groups must make more campaigns, similar to the Eat Your View campaign which advocates for Slow Food. Our country must make social change in order to see environmental change.

  3. brubakra permalink
    June 5, 2012

    I did not know how much I was going to be moved by this film. I hate to admit that I even cried a couple times at how ignorant and unknowing I am about all this. Robert Kenner did an incredible job lifting the veil behind the real trouble with American food distribution and production, and what consumers don’t know is happening. My boyfriend watched the movie with me and we both were amazed, disgusted, and awed by how much these large corporations and the government is getting away with and enhancing the problem.

    This film was shocking enough that it inspired my boyfriend and I to change for sure. We made a plan to start shopping more consciously, picking foods that are in season, reading food labels, and buying meats and fruits that are organic or ‘grass fed’. We have already found two fresh markets in the area of Indianapolis that we can start pursuing our goal in. It might be an ominous task, but I want to give up unhealthy fast food starting today. Some fast food places, like Chipotle, are okay because they use as much locally grown produce they can as well as grow their own animals on grass diets and much more humanly. We also talked about starting a small vegetable garden in the backyard. This is one of the tasks that is going to take the most work, but we both want change and are willing to work, like many other consumers and farmers in America, for that change. I think “Food, Inc.” hit me harder than the article. Just seeing the animals and what was going on, as well as hearing Moe’s story and the push for Kevin’s Law, made me want to fight back. Halfway through the film, I mentioned that I didn’t know how I, a small person, could even try to make a change against the government and these powerful corporations that fire anyone who tries to talk. But one of the men in the video (I forgot his name, but the guy working with Wal-mart!) mentioned that it happened with the Tobacco companies, and it can happen again. That inspired me to make a change and to raise awareness in my friends, change my own diet to something healthier, and vote for change in government policies as much as I can. Who knows? It could very well make a difference, and I now know what is behind the veil so I will keep pushing to get it completely pushed away. These companies that are ruling for silence to cover their abuse, toxins, and unsavory actions need to be stopped, and the people must help get the government to take action.

    • tamulida permalink
      June 5, 2012

      In response to brubakra’s post:

      I really enjoyed reading your post and admire you for your determination. I think it is great that you want to raise awareness and change your eating style to be more healthy and have a well balanced diet. I also love the fact that you decided to grow a vegetable garden in your backyard. That is one of the many things I would like to accomplish this summer. This film inspired me as well and I plan to share it with my family, friends and co-workers. You are right that the government must take action. It disgusts me to see how much they are getting away with. Don’t they know they are just making matters worse?

      • scalesaj permalink
        June 6, 2012

        I think you guess are right on track that something must be done and it ties into Seana McCroddan’s question about whether documentaries are strong enough to actually create real challenges, I would argue that they are. I took a course on persuasion last semester, and I think that this documentary would fall into the category of fear appeals. According to what I learned in that class, the strongest fear appeals are ones that are immediate and create a high level of fear. This video, with its pictures of dead chickens, a cow with a hole in its stomach, and the child who died of E coli, definitely cause fear. In fact, it has a huge fear appeal, and I think that it can have a significant impact upon causing real change. However, I also think that there are two barriers to making large scale, national change. One is getting people to actually see this video, I think this is crucial because you can hear about all the problems of our modern food system from other sources, but the real understanding and fear can’t be experienced without actually having the visual arguments. The other key factor that must be met in order to make a real change is to have concrete ways in which to make a difference. Without a clear path set out for how to make changes, I don’t think that people will be able to see beyond the original problems so they can change their actions. I believe that the ending credits do a decent job of establishing such a path.

        • kikomr permalink
          June 6, 2012

          I am not sure about the crying part but I definitely was moved by Food Inc! I, too, am glad that you are motivated. It is interesting because I felt the same way after watching this. I began researching things and learning about nutrition. The way that people were moved by the rhetoric used in Food Inc was similar to how people were moved after watching the KONY 2012 videos, GasLand, and An Inconvenient Truth. All of these are documentaries that try to expose the bad side of something that we are unsure of or unaware of. I am fond of these types of messages because I am always open to new ideas.
          I agree with you: something must be done. And, according to AJ, these two barriers that he describes are key. I agree with him that we need a clear path!

    • Maya Smith permalink
      June 6, 2012

      Your comment really turned on a light bulb for me. I immediately wrote off all “fast food” chains as soon as I watched the film, but I think that acknowledging the fact that some mass restaurants, such as Chipotle, have made the initiative to buy locally and organically. Just because a restaurant sells affordable and fast food does not mean it is necessarily participating in malnutrition. Sure, Micky D’s and Burger King aren’t leaders in selling good food, but if you do your research, you made be surprised at what you can find at some supermarkets and restaurants. It is also important to remember, however, that just because something is labeled organic does not mean it is great for you. I will remember from now on to always read the labels!

      • Katie Love permalink
        June 8, 2012

        Maya – I like you vowed to continue to stay away from any fast food chains after watching Food, Inc. I also LOVE the next thing you brought up – Chipotle’s use of organic and local ingredients and that just because something is labeled as organic does not mean it is. Chipotle is often forgotten about as the good child in the world of terrible fast food but Chipotle does need to advertise this fact more, I believe and use it to their advantage because I know a lot more people would eat there is they were aware of the local support the company provides. In terms of supermarkets – we need to all be more conscious of who we do and do not support as far as grocery chains as much as we do for fast food chains.
        It is really great that through these posts and comments we cover every issue and detail within!

  4. Emma Hubbard permalink
    June 5, 2012

    In response to brubakra’s comment:

    I was also amazed by the film Food Inc. Prior to watching the film, I did not know how severe the problem was with American food production. The film was also shocking enough for me that I want to make a change in the food that I choose to eat.I also want to start picking foods that are in season, reading food labels, and buying meats, fruits, and vegetables that are organic.

    The movie has inspired me to stop eating fast food as well. I agree that Chipotle is an acceptable place to eat because it focuses on using locally grown produce. I think it’s great that you have decided to start growing a vegetable garden in your backyard. Food Inc. also made more of an impact on me than Guthman’s article, because of all of the awful visuals that were in the film.

    It’s great that the film inspired you to raise awareness in your friends, change your own diet to something healthier, and vote for change in government policies. I think all of these things can truly make a difference. I agree with you that I didn’t realize how I could attempt to make a change in the government. If everyone becomes aware and fights against the government and the corporations, I believe change is possible. It is up to the people to force the government to take action and create positive change.

  5. tamulida permalink
    June 5, 2012

    Your post on Food & Environment made me want to look at the nutrition labels on what I ate today. I am glad you chose this quote, “The way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 10 thousand,” When reading, this quote sent a message to me as well. It amazes me that food has had such a huge impact on us over the years, especially with the cause of obesity. I enjoyed watching Food Inc. It definately gave me a different perspective on things. I found parts to be depressing to see how innocent aniamls are being harmed and to think thats because people need to eat. It makes me think changing my eating habits and becoming a vegetarian. It has been an ongoing issue that much of the environmental problems we face are due to the political choices and not just on what we choose to consume. Watching Food Inc. has made me want to buy more organic meats and other organic foods. I have overlooked the issue of animal cruelty related to food production and now understand its severity. The government needs to take action and make a change that will benefit all of us, not harm us.

  6. Seana McCroddan permalink
    June 6, 2012

    In response to tamulida:

    This documentary was actually one of the reasons I actually converted to vegetarianism for a little over six months. It definitely gives their general audience, people who only have basic knowledge of what goes into food production, an eye-opening new perspective. It has also made me think more about my food choices and look at labels. I am more swayed to buy organic food now, even if it is more expensive. I was talking about this with someone the other day actually. I am very pro-local and organic eating. The person I ended up having a pretty heated debate with was saying that as the overpopulation problem in the world gets worse, we are going to be forced to turn to hybridized seed just to make enough food to feed everyone. Local and organic farming are going to fade out because there is not enough cultivatable land around the world to support these more time consuming, space consuming processes. Any thoughts?

  7. scalesaj permalink
    June 6, 2012

    I have heard a lot about “Food, Inc.,” and watched most of it before, but it was really interesting to see this movie again after reading Guthman’s piece. First off, I thought Guthman made a great point in the beginning of her paper by challenging Brownell, Blair and Sobal’s idea that a person’s weight correlates with the amount that they eat. Guthman does a good job of refuting this, but I thought I would add that in a study examining food consumption patterns, researchers found out that there was almost no difference in the amount of food consumed between normal weight and over-weight individuals, bolstering Guthman’s idea about endocrine disruption (Yannakoulia, 2012). This idea that obesity is driving production and environmental problems is somewhat disheartening (and in my opinion ignorant) when there’s so much information about reasons for weight gain, other than those involving eating. Not only this, but I would say I eat more than most people I know, regardless of their weight, which would make me a big contributor to global warming, yet I only weigh 200 lbs. Aren’t I more responsible for global warming than a woman who eats 1,500 calories a day, but weighs 260 pounds?
    For these reasons, I really liked, and understood how Guthman focused on over-production and our expansive post-colonial ideas of food travel. As I watched “Food, Inc.,” it was very easy to see how and why this happened. With the back story of how our grain became so cheap though United States policy, I could really see why the very country farmer in the documentary was so enthusiastic about his chicken facility. It was a way to make more money on his slice of land, and grow more food; now what’s wrong with that? Obviously, as the other woman chicken farmer pointed out, there was a lot wrong with that. In my opinion, it all comes down to money, and unfortunately, as both of these pieces show, large industrialized agriculture has a hold on our agricultural income. The industry doesn’t seem to want to let go of it or make it more moral, they want to completely capitalize on farming so that farmers don’t grow produce, but products.
    Yannakoulia, M., Brussee, S. E., Drichoutis, A. C., Kalea, A. Z., Yiannakouris, N., Matalas, A., & Klimis-Zacas, D. (2012). Food Consumption Patterns in Mediterranean Adolescents: Are There Differences between Overweight and Normal- Weight Adolescents?. Journal Of Nutrition Education & Behavior, 44(3), 233-239.

  8. Maya Smith permalink
    June 6, 2012

    It is funny because I had had Food Inc. on my Netflix Que even before I saw that it was on our syllabus. This class convinced me to move it to the top of my list and I am glad that I did! Wow, what a provocative and amazing film. It completely made me rethink how and what I eat. I thought back to what I ate earlier today and shuttered at the thought of eating deli meat again. Though I understand that Food Inc, though a documentary, is a piece of work that is able to manipulate what it shows, it has given me more incentive to go back to being vegetarian. I used to not eat meat but started to when I was in high school. The way the baby chicks, pigs, and cows were treated was horrifying and I am in disbelief that treating animals this way is legal. One part of the film that stood out the most to me was the very end, when the film tells us to make sure that workers, animals and the environment are treated with respect. It makes you reconsider the choices we make on a daily basis when it comes to what we put in our bodies.

    Unfortunately, I do not believe that buying organic items will make much of a difference long term in the produce industry. Though I would be all for paying a few extra dollars for better food and better conditions, there is too much demand for fast, cheap food. This demand is what is keeping the mass production companies open because they are the ones that will cut corners in order to make a better profit. They do not consider that the corners they cross are the reasons why people have gotten sick from e.coli and other diseases. If somehow our politicians can change the laws so that animals are all treated well and the food we eat is natural and fresh, maybe we can start to see a change.

    • Katie Love permalink
      June 8, 2012

      Another agreeable point to Maya here in that the greatest change will in fact come from the support of our politicians and laws to be passed. I believe the recent passing of the hormonal adjustment law in chickens is a huge step in this direction. I hope more laws like this are in the works because I believe Washington has the power to change anything. Perhaps we need more organic farmers as politicians than who we have at the moment.

  9. Katie Love permalink
    June 8, 2012

    What left an impression on me and I agree, with Seana, was “nice” about Food Inc. was the ending where solutions were proposed. It must confess that oftentimes my eyes glaze over when I head or see another campaign about how to change the way food is produced chemically while I agree a change is needed, what holds up in court are proposed solutions.
    For the aforementioned reason as well as psychological hold that films often have over the viewer. I believe Food, Inc was a more successful piece in this weeks reading. It was in fact a bit biased but I believe we should all remember that is extreme portrayals that shock us into making a changes.
    Buying organic, I believe in the right step toward battling obesity, animal cruelty, harmful pesticide use and improve health all in one swoop but it needs to be more available to the lower income consumer at lower prices and more prevalent in the media.

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