In my paper of “Do We Really Know What We Are Eating? ’ I spend time explaining how the food industry has changed in the last one hundred years. Everything from how food is produced in America down to its nutritional value at the end of the production cycle. I also explain how the changes in food manufacturing in the United States affect our health and everyday life choices. I will also point out how our government allows the food industry to pretty much do as they please This paper was written to encourage self-awareness as to our food choices.
Americans have a longstanding love affair with food the modern supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what goes into making the products we so eagerly consume, and do we realize that our demands on food are hurting our environment? Before big restaurant food chains like McDonalds’ and Burger Kings’ etc. were born, Americans grew their own food. We grew our vegetables, wheat to make our own breads, but most importantly we raised our livestock on grass and grains. We knew what we were putting in our bodies.
In the last fifty years our demands on food have increased 10 fold! When we go to our local grocery store, most foods on display have pictures of farmers and pastures, picket fences, which entices us to buy, because in our mind we are thinking fresh products. The food industry has made it their mission to deliberately hide how our food is really made or where it comes from. In the past, there were always seasons of when certain vegetables or fruits were available, now all vegetables and fruits are available throughout the year. For instance, tomatoes are picked hen they are still green and ripened with ethylene gas (Healthy Heart, Healthy Life Share Guide, pg. 10-27). If you follow the food chain back before it is packaged up and put on shelves for the consumers to buy, factories and very large corporations are processing the meat. They are not being packaged and processed by farmers, or on a ranch like the pictures on the packages may imply. What we do not realize is that a few very large corporations who dictate what kind of information is put out there to the consumer run the food industry.
The whole industrial food system really began in the 1930’s when the McDonald brothers introduced the drive in. The McDonald brothers decided to downsize and fired all of their carhops, got rid of most of their employees, and simplified their menus. They trained their workers to do a specific thing and in doing this they could hire people low hourly wages, so that it would be easy to find someone to replace them. This basic food that was very inexpensive and tasted good made this chain a big success. Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report pg. 42-46) McDonald’s is the largest buyer of ground beef in the United States, and because they want all there burgers to taste the same anywhere you go, the way beef is produced has changed. In the 1970’s the top five beef packers controlled 25% of the meat market, today four of these companies control 80% of the market. Tyson is the second biggest meat packing company in the United States. Tyson Company has designed their birds now to be raised and slaughtered in half the time it took 50 years ago.
The birds are also twice as big especially in the breast area because people prefer to eat white meat. Tyson has contracts with farmers to grow their chickens. Tyson has full control of all operations, from the beginning the chicken’s life to the end. Tyson has refused to allow cameras numerous times into their farmhouses, for fear of the people really seeing exactly how the chickens, are treated. The chickens’ are crammed into tight spaces where there is no room to walk, they are injected with steroids that takes them from a chick to a 5lb fully grown chicken in seven weeks.
Because of this rapid growth the chicken is unable to support themselves and can only take a few steps at a time before have to sit again. A farmer will typically pay anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 for a farmhouse to house their chickens. Because they are under contract they are forced to keep up with any updates mandated from companies such as Tyson. The farmers are forced to borrow money from the banks and go into debt and essentially become a slave to their own farms with no way out. These corporations make it so that these farmers are working for them for a long time.
A farmer typically makes $18,000 a year in profits (Meat Packing in America: Still a Jungle out There. www. jstor. org web) Much of our food comes from corn. 100 years ago a farmer could grow 20 bushels on a one acre piece of land, today 200 bushels can be grown on the same amount of land. In the United States today 30% of our land is used to grow corn. Either some kind of soy product or corn makes Ninety percent of the food we find on grocery store shelves. Corn is also the main component in feed ingredients for cows, chickens, pigs, even fish such as tilapia and salmon.
The fact that corn is so cheap keeps the cost down of meat. The average person in the United States consumes up to 200lbs of meat a year. This would not have been possible had the not been fed this cheap diet of corn. Cows by evolution were bred to feed on grass, but they are given a diet of corn instead because it’s cheap and the corn helps to fatten them up quickly. Because of the change in diet new harmful strains of e coli now exist that are resistant to acid. This e coli is a product of the diet on the feedlots and a product of feedlot life.
The cows stand in ankle deep manure all day long. Once one cow is infected the rest of the cows in the lot are infected as well. When the cows get to the slaughterhouses there hides are covered in manure. Slaughterhouses’ kill about 400 animals an hour, it’s impossible to keep the manure from getting on the carcasses and that’s how manure gets in our meats (Meat Packing in America: Still a Jungle out There, www. jstor. org web). Every few years there is a huge outbreak of e coli, many people die as a result of this.
The population affected the most by this, is the geriatric and pediatric population. E coli is not only found in meats, but vegetables and fruits as well. In the 1970’s there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States, today we only have 13 slaughterhouses that process the majority of beef that is sold in the United States. The hamburgers that we eat today have pieces of thousands of different animals ground in one hamburger patty. The odds are increased that one of those animals was carrying a dangerous pathogen.
In 1998 the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella or e coli 0157H7. The idea was if a plant repeatedly failed these tests, the USDA would shut the plant down because of obvious contamination problems. The Meat and Poultry Association took the USDA to court. Ultimately, the courts felt the USDA did not have the authority to shut down the plants. As a direct result of this, a new law is trying to be passed, Kevin’s Law. This law would give back some power to the USDA to shut down plants that were repeatedly producing contaminated meats.
The government should be protecting us, but instead they are protecting the meat industries. Studies have shown that if you take feedlot cattle and grass feed them for five days, they will shed 80% of the e coli in their gut. The big question is why won’t the meat industries do something so small that would prevent thousands of people from losing their lives (Center for Disease Control www. cdc. gov/> web). When we go the supermarket the highly processed, sugary foods that are high in bad calories and fat are cheaper than the fresh produce.
This is not an accident; the food industry is heavily subsidizing these kinds of foods that directly tie in to the agriculture practices and farm policies. The industry blames obesity on a personal responsibility of the consumer. A family of four that whose income is at poverty level will by a 99 cent box of macaroni and cheese that will make a meal versus a head of cauliflower that will be more than a dollar a pound (Morbidity &Mortality Weekly report, pg. 42-46 ) Financially it just makes sense to buy the highly processed macaroni and cheese, but in the long run our health and the health of our children will pay the price.
Diabetes is the number one killer in the United States. The diabetes itself is not the killer, but all the other diseases caused by it do, such as cardiac disease, hypertension, which leads to strokes. All of this is directly tied in to the food we put in our bodies. 1 in 3 Americans’ born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. Diabetes is an epidemic of proportionate levels. The food industry does not put on the food labels everything that goes in our food or any harmful effects the ingredients may have.
Because by law they simply do not have to. Some studies have shown that foods that are processed with many additives can have a direct effect on children with ADHD. We as consumers are oblivious to this and continue to feed it to our children and now we have 4 and 5 year olds on medication for there ADHD when it can be prevented or at least controlled so that we don’t have to put on medication (Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) www. ncbi. nlm. nih. gov web) Monosodium Glutamate or (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly used in foods we eat every day.
The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) classified MSG as a food ingredient and has deemed it safe to use. The MSG directly works on your endocrine system; it triggers insulin/adrenaline/fat storage for craving. This is why after a couple of hours after eating Chinese food we are hungry again. The MSG makes our bodies crave things like potato chips, snacks or snack foods that contain MSG. It’s a vicious cycle Eric Schlosser, Food Inc. www. foodinc. com web). Smithfield Hog Processing Plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina is one of the largest hog slaughterhouses of the world.
Tar Heel is also a very economically depressed area. In Smithfield 32,000 hogs are killed a day. The conditions for the employees are poor at best. The workers are processing 2000 hogs an hour. They employees get infections on their hands and fingernails and eventually the nails separate from their fingers. Unfortunately for the employee there are not a lot of options as far as work is concerned, Smithfield knows this and holds it over their heads. As the saying goes the richer get richer and the poor stay poor (The First American Factories, www. ushistory. org/us/ web).
The United States is one of the richest countries of the world, it is sad to see the way an employer as big and rich as Smithfield treats there employees and the abuse to the animals is staggering. In the long run we are to blame for the way things are run today. We are a country of greed and are always demanding more. We don’t know how it all makes it from the slaughterhouses or the cornfields and put on the shelves to buy, and I think the majority of the people don’t care or want to be ignorant to it all. Will things change I am afraid not, we will continue to hurt people, animals and our earth to get more, just because we can.