So, I went to Canal Place with Kristy last night to see Food, Inc.. It is an extremely well done documentary, and I wish it were in wide release because this is something that everyone should see. And I'm going to experiment with myself and try to align what I eat with the things that I learned last night. I was just going to do an endorsement, but is it really possible to spoil a documentary? Either way, the message still gets out. From what I can remember:
! It used to be that the top five food companies controlled less than 30% of the food market. Now, the top four control what I believe was between 75% and 90% (my memory for numbers sucks).
! McDonalds is the largest buyer of potatoes, beef, and chicken, among other foods. When you are the largest buyer of such things, you control them and how they are grown.
! We, at this point, are creating chickens. They grow twice as fast as they naturally do and we give them hormones to make their breasts much larger than normal. Imagine stuffing double-D breast implants into a 10-yr old girl and making her grow into them as though they were naturally occurring. Horrible image, right? That's what we're doing to chickens. Many of them can only walk a few steps before they have to sit down because their weight is too great for their skinny chicken legs. They're also living packed into a, I think they were called grow houses, where there's barely room to walk anyway, they're being fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick since they hobble around in their own filth all day, but this just causes the potential diseases to mutate and become resistant (to the point where the farmer herself is now resistant to antibiotics).
! Cows are naturally supposed to eat grass. We're feeding them corn, because...well, I'm not sure why, because it doesn't make sense that it would be cheaper, since grass grows every-fucking-where, and cow poo serves as a natural fertilizer for it, so it will keep growing. But anyway, their stomachs are not meant to digest corn. We're forcing them to, and E. coli has mutated itself so that it can survive in animals that eat corn. Since the cows are living, once again, packed into stables and are standing ankle deep in their own poo, E. coli spreads to other cows. Since there are only a comparative few factories now that process beef, and these are very quick assembly line type places, inevitably feces ends up in the meat. In one package of ground beef, there are bits of thousands of cows. Then, there is the runoff of feces into our drinking water or into nearby vegetable crops, which can cause the instances of E. coli in our vegetables.
! Corn has taken over the world. No, really, it's in damn near every processed food that you can think of. Anything that has high-fructose corn syrup, xanthan gum, and other corn created chemicals (which are many) has corn in it. This is a testament to how lazy we are, that we're just searching for more uses for the same goddamn plant instead of trying something new. Should our bodies have this much corn inside of them? Every condiment, every snack food whether sweet or salty, every sugary drink including fruit juices, the farm-raised fish(!) are being fed corn...
! They used to hire poor blacks to work for the companies in their factories. Now they exploit undocumented workers, busing people in from 100 miles away to treat them just as bad as the animals that they've slaughtered. One town, Tar Heel, North Carolina, is home of the largest slaughterhouse in the world, operated by Smithfield Foods. They appear to have a deal with immigration to turn in 15 of their undocumented workers every...week, I think, so they will be deported and no one will fuss about their rights or fair wages or promotions. They just hire another 15 at the same rate, so they're not really losing anything. While working there, these workers inevitably get infections after coming in contact with feces, urine, and blood from the animals that they're processing.
! One thing that stuck out for me was how impersonal we've made animal processing. One of the first things that they showed was a woman killing baby chicks. They came down a conveyor belt and she grabbed them one by one and pressed their heads against what I assume was some sort of sharp protrusion at the end of her counter. Then the chicks stopped squeaking. No blood, no ickiness, just sudden quiet. Not an ounce of emotion on her face. These companies have made it so that no one has to rationalize killing animals or deal with the goriness of it. When they showed how they kill pigs, they just pushed them into a large metal box using a large sweeper, and when they came out the other side they were dead. On the other hand, when they showed an organic farmer, one who hasn't succumbed to these factories, the process of killing chickens was very unpleasant to watch, there was much blood, and where they processed the meat was outdoors. But, still, I bet a million farmers like him would make much fewer of us sick than the few large factories that we have today. The animals are living in sanitary conditions, eating what they should be eating, and not being fed hormones or antibiotics. And it would be easier to regulate. You could trace any sickness back to one farm, make them change what they need to change, and if it happens again, shut them down. In trying to get rid of the ickiness of farming and turning animals into food, we've made it even more disgusting by using completely unnatural methods.
! I was shocked to find out that the average farmer who's in business with a big corporation has to pay for upgrades themselves. Upgrades are constantly demanded by these large companies, or else their contracts will be terminated. An average farmer will take out $500,000 in loans over his or her lifetime. They will make about $18,000 a year. That means that I, in 2008, made more than the average farmer with a major contract made, while working at a store in the French Quarter. In so many ways, grocery stores would be better off buying from local farmers. They wouldn't have to deal with recalls and people getting sick from their products, and I imagine a farmer with a contract with a couple of stores would make more money.
! They also talk about the issues that most people already know about, like pesticides, cloned foods, the fact that it's cheaper to eat unhealthy than it is to eat healthy, needing nutrition labels on restaurant foods, the fact that for all the bullshit that we do to make more food for less money, there are still people in other countries who are starving to death, partially because we're out-competing their farmers.
! 1 in 3 children born after 2000 will have type-2 diabetes. For Black people, half will have it. Keep in mind, this is a disease that was almost exclusive to adults not so long ago. My future children will never know what a fast food restaurant is, not if I can help it.
That's most of what I remember, but there is much, much more and everyone should hunt down this movie in their cities and towns. With certain diseases on the rise, I've been wondering lately what have we changed in the past 50 years about the way that we eat and live. Cases of cancer have increased so much, and cases irritable bowel syndrome, the icky thing that I have, seems to have increased exponentially in the past 10-20 years. There are many digestive disorders that are becoming more prevalent, too, and while there is much discussion of how the way we eat is making us fatter, I don't understand why there isn't a national conversation about how something about the way we process food might be making us sicker and weaker. I'm convinced now, that this is the cause, because all of the changes that I've mentioned above? Made within the last 50 years. After thousands of years on this earth, I can't imagine that our bodies and digestive systems have decided now to fall apart without help.
What am I going to do? Well, for one, my visit to the Crescent City Farmer's Market last Saturday came right on time. I found a woman who sells fresh fish, shrimp, and crab meat, who told me that I'd be back, and since fish is the main meat that I cook for dinner, she was right (no more tilapia farm-raised in China). There's always produce there, but I wish that there weres a few more vendors who sell multiple veggies and fruits. There was only one who had a variety of things, the rest sold tomatoes. There was also a woman who sells homemade bread and pastries. A worker there told me that they're extending their food stamp match program through October 15th, which means that if you buy their tokens with food stamps, they will give you double the amount that you purchased. It's good enough that they take food stamps at all, since one of the main reasons that poor people don't eat well is that they can't afford to eat organically. Also, I'm looking forward to joining the New Orleans Food Cooperation by the time that they have a store location early next year. They hope to be able to take food stamps, as well.
If I cook for all three of my meals, going organic will be much easier. But obviously that also takes a lot of time, and the job I start September 1st is an 8am to 5pm (ugh). Still, I can at least try to cook my lunch and dinner, and the homemade bread that I bought at the farmer's market was filling enough to hold me until lunch. I'll have to figure out natural snack foods. I recently got turned on to Tostitos corn chips and salsa, both of which are all natural. But for my sweet tooth, I may look into local shops where I can buy their organic sweets week by week. La Divina Gelateria sells their gelato by the pint. It's not cheap, but it's organic, local, and delicious. There's also another place that I've been to called Bee Sweet Cupcakes on Magazine Street that, as far as I could tell, home makes the most delicious (and huge) cupcakes ever. I think I remember cakes being there as well. The good thing about such a large city that has a stake in remaining quirky and historic is that there are a lot of small businesses, and New Orleans is a food lover's paradise. Many of them make their items from scratch, I've just got to put time into finding them next week since I won't be working until September.
I'm very glad that I've already given up beef (going strong for a year and half, now). Pork may be next, but it's so hard in this city. If I were to rank meat usage in classic New Orleans dishes, number 1 would be seafood, number 2 would be pork, 3 chicken, and 4 beef. And I love breakfast sausage, ham, and bacon. What meat will I have when I eat out for breakfast? Maybe when I move to California, it should be easier there...eh, I'm still working on the pork thing. Chicken I don't cook much because I'm lazy and fish is easier, but when I eat out I enjoy it. I suppose I can give it up though until I find an organic farmer who sells chicken, then I'll learn to cook what I've been missing. I can't guarantee perfection: obviously, not eating out would end this internal conflict (and save me money), but I love the sesame chicken lo mien from China Wall and I'd hate to limit myself from trying new things. But cutting back will probably do me a world of difference, and maybe help me look better and live longer. Here goes nothing!