Saturday, January 2, 2010

What's for Dinner?

I watched a film from Netflix the other night and have not been able to stop thinking about it since then. It was a documentary, actually, called Food, Inc. Before I get into my musings about the film, here's something you should know about me so that you can understand the context of my thoughts about the movie. I am very conservative, politically and ideologically, so I often view any movie with even a hint of liberalism with a wary eye. (Not saying that is the best way to approach things- just that it is true for me.) The premise of Food, Inc. is to investigate what is in the food we eat and how that food gets to the supermarket shelves. Because such a topic is wrought with controversial issues ranging from health concerns to politics to immigration violations to the environment, I expected to be inundated with overt and gratuitous bashing of big business, and radical environmental and animal rights agendas. While these issues do emerge in the film, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that they were raised only as they were relevant to the focus of the film, did not seem gratuitous and never overshadowed the main subject matter.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the premise of the film is to investigate what is in the food we eat and how that food gets to the supermarket shelves. It describes how most processed food found on supermarket shelves are made primarily from corn and it's chemical by-products. That's not so bad when you consider that corn is a vegetable. Sure, it is deceiving when you grab a box off the supermarket shelf with the intention of simply buying "mashed potatoes." And it was interesting to learn that the addition of corn and it's by-products to just about everything we eat has changed our taste preferences. The real thing, the whole food, just doesn't taste as good. So, while I was a bit surprised to learn this, I was not really alarmed.

It wasn't until the film began to delve into the way that meat and poultry go from animal to a product in the meat department of the local supermarket did my concern begin to mount. When I learned that 80% of the beef found in supermarkets today are processed by 4 beef companies and that their biggest customer, by far, is Mc Donald's corporation, I knew things were about to get interesting. (Please don't misunderstand me, I love me some Mc Donald's as much as any other red-blooded American!) Because McDonald's wants their hamburgers to be cheap and to taste the same no matter where in the world they are being sold, the beef companies have created a fool proof system to bring an inexpensive and tasty product to market. And they use this system on ALL their beef, not just the beef produced for Mc Donald's. In short, cows live in feeding pens where they are literally on top of one another and knee deep in manure. As a result, they are more susceptible to disease. They are fed corn and other grains not grass, the sustenance they were created to ingest and digest. Their digestive tract and its natural processes are therefore interrupted so the cows are more likely to harbor disease rather than clear their system of it naturally as they would more likely do with a grass diet. After the cows are slaughtered, the meat is all processed together so a product such a ground beef will always contain meat from many different cows. Finally, some companies "wash" the processed meat in ammonia to rid it of E. coli and other bacteria and disease. I was flabbergasted and horrified. I really did not know any of this.

Food, Inc. goes on to describe the process for chicken and pork as well. I'll leave that for you to discover after you rent the movie :) It also delves into the organic industry and how was birthed and has grown.

As I have thought about the content of the film these past few days, I've done a little research at my local meat market and online. I have found that making the switch from supermarket beef, for example, to grass fed, free range, organic beef won't be easy on our time or pocketbook. I am on a mission, however, to learn more and hopefully find better alternatives for our family. I'd love to hear if you have found some good ones!


Andrea said...

Nat--have you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan? It sounds very similar to this movie. I really enjoyed the book.
Really enjoying your blog!!

Natalie said...

Thanks Andrea! I will have to check it out. How funny is it, btw, that you just posted that veggie cookbook this week on your blog?


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