I just finished watching “Food, Inc.” for the first time. It’s a pretty good shock film that will certainly get you thinking about where your food comes from. It’s also a bit over-dramatic and hypocritical. I’m just going to hit the high points.
Your Food Supply Is Industrial
Most of the food consumed in the United States is produced by a handful of multi-national corporations. It is massive in scale, assembly line driven, and not at all the picture of idyllic farm life. Staple crops are grown on massive tracks of bleak land dotted by huge planters, fertilizers, and harvesters the size of small apartment buildings. Cattle are fattened on crowded feedlots standing ankle deep in their own feces, and chickens live their entire lives without seeing the sun.
Government Intervention Has Skewed Production Incentives
Corn is the number one produced crop in America. America produces over 40% of the world’s corn. Why? Because the US Government pays farmers to grow it. In fact, we spend billions of tax dollars every year paying farmers to grow extra corn so it can be sold more cheaply. This allows farmers to receive much more for their corn than buyers have to pay for it. As a result, the demand for corn is artificially raised, due to its artificial “cheapness” on the market (never mind that we pay for the difference in our taxes). Due to the massive availability of super cheap corn, corn byproducts are in nearly every processed food on the shelf today. Cows and chickens are fattened on cheap corn, rather than their natural food source (grass), and develop health problems as a result, requiring huge doses of antibiotics to survive until slaughter. Humans are fattened on high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and other corn products, requiring similarly ridiculous amounts of chemical health care to survive. Oh, and third world farmers around the world go out of business because they cannot compete against the artificially low prices of subsidized American crops.
Demand For Cheap Food Drives Both Situations
The industrial food chain and government messing with food production incentives ultimately rest with the demand from American consumers for cheap food. High food prices are bad news for presidents and congress-people, because constituents pitch a fit over them. So the government artificially lowers our prices and hides the cost in taxes (and debt), and food production becomes more and more industrialized and homogenized by big corporations in order to lower prices. Americans get “cheap” food. And diabetes. And E. Coli. And all kinds of other stuff. That said, we can’t feed the world with small family farms anymore, and plenty of Americans don’t have the money to eat local and organically grown stuff. It’s a conundrum.
I do recommend the movie. It made me want to become a subsistence farmer, for a few minutes anyway. I’ll save the organic discussion for another day.
For further info on these topics, check out:
Food, Inc. (obviously)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals – great book which basically covers everything from the movie with more detail and less preaching
Fat Land – solid book with lots of info on the corn subsidy debacle
Leave questions and return-rants in the comments.