I am beginning to see a pattern. Every time I take my family out for a fast and cheap meal, I am left examining the flattened synthetic patty before me: I take a bite out of the Jumbo Nasty with cheese. The first bite isn’t too bad. Less than half way through the burger, disappointment wells inside of me. I want beef. Not just percentages of beef combined with some sort of filler. Why do I keep going back to this crap? And then guilt creeps in, “How can I be okay with feeding this to my family?” But hey, that’s what I get when I pay a dollar for a burger…
Then, I find myself and my half eaten hamburger at the cash register. “What kind of meat is in this?” I ask politely. A lady worker looks at me confused, “beef.” She then goes on to explain to me that the company has changed their “special seasoning” and therefore can affect the taste. “Well what exactly is special seasoning?” I ask. I can see her in the back frantically looking for the ingredient list and mouthing the words to say back to me. And then it dawns on me. I am wasting this woman’s time. The fast food restaurant is not the problem, I am. It is me that has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I remember the way fast food used to be. Oh the treat in ordering a Fried Chicken Sandwich with Large Fries and Coke (and never forget the McFlurry). My mouth even starts to water as I simply think of the fries. But I guess that is where the problem remains. Is in my mind. It is being pulled in two different directions: what I am familiar with, and what I now know.
Now my “knowledge” of what is good and what my body actually wants is taking over my tastes and cravings. Every time I consume something, I stare at the food wondering what it actually is. If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, then I shouldn’t be eating it. Yes many times I fail. And I carelessly indulge in something, or frankly we just can’t afford to always eat “right”. However, I am tired of eating notional food, I want real food. I see that there is a problem and trying to fix it, but it is hard.
Am I just being a snob? Shouldn’t I just be happy with the fact that my family is eating at all? Surely I would never reject food that is being offered. I am aware of the luxury it is to even have clean water . Every year 15 million children die of hunger. And I am here complaining. In no way am I comparing my family to the suffering people out there who would be happy to eat anything. We are a family of five, barely affording Walmart food. We are a family who know that our health is getting ripped off. It saddens me to know that others are getting ripped off too. After all if my son asks for a piece of fish I would not give him a snake (Luke 11:11) When the boys are hungry and I give them something lacking in nutrition…(for example those perfect kid sized cereal boxes are very good for a fast breakfast, but really is that substance? )
How is this happening? The American diet is not good for our health.“Of the 10 leading causes of death
in the United States, 4—including
the top 3—are associated with diets
that are too high in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium,
or too low in fiber-containing foods.
These conditions—coronary heart
disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes—account for over half (53.5
percent) of the deaths occurring
each year in the United States” (http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/foodreview/jan1996/frjan96a.pdf)
Some people question if caring about food is a waste of time. Or me blogging about this is a waste of time. Honestly, for the last month I have debating if I will even continue this whole thing. But then I remember why I started this blog. In the past, ignorance was a normality. I didn’t even know I was ignorant. But then something switched on. I found myself asking questions, desiring sincerity in what I believe, and pondering what food was intended to be like.
Is it possible that the food industry doesn’t want us to know what’s in the food? Because maybe if we were to ask questions and find out what’s in it we wouldn’t want to eat it at all? The lack of accountability in the food industry is in my opinion an act of injustice. Taking advantage of those who are too poor to question, too busy with life and paying the bills to care, or simply uneducated and unaware…
But tonight I had a major shift. Folding the laundry is a great excuse to watch TV, usually it is Chopped but tonight I chose Food Inc.
You see, I thought in watching this documentary it would give me a nice boost of remembering why I care about what is in my food at all. But now it’s not about trends or right choices, its about safety and health. If I saw my son near a busy road, I would surely save him. The horrific story of Barbara Kowalcyk and her two year old son, hit too close to home.
She was unable to save him. Her son was a vibrant healthy boy until he was sickened by E. Coli. It killed him in 12 days. Okay, a little dramatic right? Well not really, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Honestly, when I hear that number I am emotionally numb. But then I imagine my 3 sons faces. It could easily happen to them. Here is a great article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-kowalcyk/ground-turkey-recall-show_b_923838.html discussing food safety regulations.
How are the foods that I give my sons affecting their health now, their future health? Isn’t my responsibility to provide them with nutritious meals and stand guard for their safety? Okay fine, then I will just stop eating at fast food restaurants…however this is not enough. The conventional meat sold in super markets is manufactured by the same companies that demand cheap large quantities of meat. Then I will eliminate meat, but then I am reminded of the outbreaks of contaminated vegetables too…
“McDonald’s used to buy from over 100 regional ground-beef suppliers. But as McDonald’s got bigger and bigger, they reduced that number to five. So this had the impact of creating bigger and bigger meatpacking companies to supply the fast-food chains. And in a very short period of time, we got a very concentrated meatpacking industry.
If you were to go back to 1970, the top four firms controlled 20-plus percent of the market. And today, the top four firms control about 85 percent of the market. So we’ve gotten bigger slaughterhouses, bigger processing facilities, and really, really big meatpacking companies.” (Interview with Eric Schlosser on PBS)
The biggest concern to me is food safety problems in slaughterhouses. According to Schlosser, “The slaughterhouses that the United States have are pretty unique in terms of the speed of production. We have slaughterhouses that will process 300, 400 cattle an hour, which is as much as twice as many as anywhere else in the world. And it’s that speed of production that can lead to food-safety problems.” In 1997, approximately 35 million pounds of ground beef was recalled because a bacterium called E Coli was found in the food. However, after the beef was recalled, about 25 million pounds had already been eaten.
And here is when I get really honest with myself. I have personally known “those” kind of people who REALLY love animals. I think they are special too…however there has been a lacking in my sympathy towards animals. I have been raised in the mentality that God said it was okay to eat meat, and therefore I can. But didn’t He also ask me to have dominion over the land and animals, to consider others more than myself? To be a good steward? It wasn’t until I saw images of the abusive conditions chickens are put in (stuck in a house with thousands of other chickens never to see daylight) being kicked into the cages to be slaughtered, chickens being “redesigned” to contain bigger breasts which affects their body structure to the point that it can’t stand or walk, cows being hung and violently smashed against objects ready to be slaughtered.
It makes me sad to think how selfish I have been to the animals, to the farmers, to the earth. Is it really necessary for me to eat meat every night, sometimes even for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Eat two hamburgers a week — as the average American does — and in a year’s time the consumer samples a stampede: 5,200 to 10,400 cattle. I am NOT saying it is morally or ethically wrong to eat meat (this is a very personal choice) but what I am saying is to be conscious of the every day dietary consequences on other people and the planet. Every year, approximately 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the US. These industrial farms are hazardous for the workers, pollute neighboring communities, raise animals in inhumane conditions, and create a negative impact on the food system. These animals are completely disconnected with nature as well, when we think of animals you imagine them on a farm. Out in open land. Their home doesn’t resemble a farm. It is a factory.
And then there are people like Joel Salatin whose goal is not to make the most money or be the biggest meat producer. Polyface Inc. is ” in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture. Experience the satisfaction of knowing your food and your farmer, building community. We are your clean meat connection.”
Salatin sees it as his responsibility to honor the animals as creatures that reflect God’s creative and abiding love, and believes his method is to honor that of God. Salatin is quoted in the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (p.331) as justifying the killing of non-human animals because “people have a soul, animals don’t.” His farm is thriving, his animals are free to roam and his customers are satisfied.
And you know that “filler” taste I was referring to…it could very possibly be the filler from a South Dakota company Beef Products Inc. that ends up in 70% of burgers in the US. The company buys the cheapest slaughterhouse beef scrapings, grinds the meat, takes out the fat, and mixes in ammonia which is famous for killing pathogens. The food lab who refers themselves as scientists rather than food experts have created a filler to zap harmful bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella. This is their defense against food borne illnesses. Hamburger makers are drawn to this filler because it is cheap, sterilized, and kills other bacteria on contact.
What am I to do? Completely boycott the food system, move out to a farm and learn how to be self sustained. Return to the simple “old way living”. Although I would like to say yes to this idea (really) this is far from reality….
But there is hope for my family. In my fairy tale land, local and organic shopping would be an ordinary part of life. We would live off our land, and be self sustaining. But I can make a difference now. You can make a difference. And there is hope for the mega store shopper, every food choice counts. Each item scanned is your vote on what food will be provided to you.
Food, Inc.gives a few ideas on how you can make a difference:
- Stop drinking soda and other sweetened beverages
- Eat at home instead of going out.
- Bring food labeling into the 21st century
- Tell schools to stop selling sodas, sports drinks, and junk food
- Go without meat one day a week
- Buy organic/sustainable food with little or no pesticides (Full Sircle Farms!)
- Protect family farms; visit your local farmer’s market (Full Sircle Farms!)
- Read Labels
- Tell Congress that food safety is important to you
- Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors
See www.takepart.com/foodinc for more information.
- Essay 2 Book Review – The Result of a Hamburger: Living in a Fast Food Society (envirowriters.wordpress.com)
- Barbara Kowalcyk: Ground Turkey Recall Shows We Still Need Kevin’s Law (huffingtonpost.com)
- Do we still need Kevin’s Law? (pensci.wordpress.com)