Saturday, November 27, 2010

hunger: the drive to fill our stomachs fast vs. the drive to stay healthy at the cost of our economy

       Food has been turned into a commodity. We can identify the food we eat by the brand it bears as we can determine the difference between Nike and Reebok. For example, McDonald’s tells us to eat Chicken McNuggets without thinking about the power the corporation has over how the food they sell is produced. We are told we are loving it because we have become so familiar with the brand, and not the way the food is made.
            We can either produce food naturally, but gain little profit, or modify it through quick production to increase surplus value. How is eating a garden salad in the winter possible when tomatoes and carrots are only grown naturally in warmth and sunlight? Supermarkets sell tomatoes all year round. Grocery-store-seasons do not exist. When we buy that tomato on that chilly February day, we are consuming an idea of a tomato that has been produced with the help of fossil fuels and ripened by the care of chemicals.
            When production is modified, food can also make some of us fatally ill. Health problems include high cholesterol, type two diabetes, e-coli, obesity, salmonella, and food poisoning. The film Food Inc. outlines the story of a young boy who went from healthy to dead in twelve days, as a result of e-coli, after consuming hamburger meat.
            We have commodified the way we eat to produce food faster, cheaper, and larger. No matter the amount of people who become ill or die from health complications as a result of poorly produced food, the profit multinational corporations make at the cost of cheap food production,
and our health, is apparently worth it. According to investigative journalist Michael Pollan, this is “Our national eating disorder.”
            Pollan’s book, “the Omnivore’s Dilemma,” explains the way we eat from the first point of production to when we purchase food in store. Pollan asks one question: “What should we eat for dinner?” We ask this question, or a similar one, three times a day. However, the consummativity of food production is dependent on the rate of time to complete such production. We’re all busy people. It’s easier for us to chow down on a hamburger from McDonald’s than to go to the grocery store, pick up what we want to eat in the organic produce isle, come home, cook it, and then eat it. The rate of time in each of these examples is why we often choose McDonald’s over food we can prepare on our own time.
            McDonald’s and other companies give us hungry consumers what we want. As well, grocery stores fill almost three-quarters of their shelves with genetically modified food because it is cheap and easy to produce. If it keeps us full and we don’t ask any questions other than “What should I eat, tonight?” then food production companies will continue to fill us with food that may eventually put the human species, if it has not already done so, at risk.
            In the documentary Food Inc., a Hispanic family troubled with poor income, a father with type two diabetes, and the dilemma of what to eat has put their health and financial status at risk. The mother and wife said her husband’s medical bills are approximately $300.00 every time he needs a new prescription. Thus, the family is faced with this question: do we pay $1.29 for a pound of broccoli, or buy three bags of Lays potato chips for the same (if not lesser) price in order to have enough money to afford medication? This same family is also on the run, like many of us are, and often stop in to grab a hamburger at a fast food chain. It is cheap. It is fast. But, it is poorly produced.
            Also in Pollan’s book, he discusses the production of the sole food we produce too much of for a cheap money cost, but for a social expense we might never surplus. It is disguised as a healthy, glowing, golden-yellow vegetable on the three-acre land next to the peaceful country road up north. This golden veggie, corn, is used to feed the cow that becomes our beefy hamburger (Pollan 18). It fills the stomachs of the pigs, the turkeys, the lambs, and even the salmon we enjoy to devour with fork and knife (Pollan 18). However, some of these animals are not naturally designed to eat corn.
            The problem? As seen in Food Inc., chicken grow-ops, for example, congest thousands of chickens into a dark area where they spend their entire lives in their own, and their peers’, feces, bacteria, and disease. Another problem? Even if those chickens are sick, we still end up eating them for dinner with a side of potatoes. Why so many chickens in the first place? Well, we have corn mountains all over North America, and we need to use all the corn up, somehow.       
            Grocery stores put Pepsi on sale to make you think it’s cheap. Until, you realize you’ve just consumed an entire litre (or more) of corn syrup. Even those scrumptious Chicken McNuggets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Sure, those chickens used for those golden corn-filled nuggets first came into the world from an egg. However, right after they are born, those chicks are fed corn. If that corn isn’t enough, there’s even more in the production of the actual nugget.
 …The modified corn starch that glues the thing together, the corn flour on the batter that coats it, and the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden colouring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget “fresh” can all be derived from corn, (Pollan18).
Even fuel that keeps our cars going, and transports corn from the field to the pig-feed comes from corn. We have so much of the stuff and yet the more we use, the more we produce. The more we produce, the more we use. And, the more we produce and use, the more we hurt the environment and our health.
            How can we trust such poorly produced food to give us the nutrition that we need to live and to function? Well, we can’t unless we make like Pollan and disclose how the food we eat is produced. Most of us just assume all food is healthy; we need it to live and it fills our stomachs. Why would all food not be healthy?
             We consumers like our privacy and having these processed foods individually wrapped, with either plastic or paper, protect us from anything that would make eating the foods seem repulsive. Essentially, we are veiled from the truth of production in the food industry when the products we fill our bellies with are wrapped and individually protected.
I loved everything about fast food, the individual portions all wrapped up like presents (not having to share with my three sisters was a big part of the appeal; fast food was private property at its best); the familiar meaty perfume of the French fries filling the car; and the pleasingly sequenced bite into a burger—the soft, sweet roll, the crunchy pickle, the savory moistness of the meat, (Pollan 111).
Food Inc. agrees and suggests even though we sometimes choose alternatives to fast food, buying imported chicken breast or beef from our grocer does not protect us from fast food production. Nowadays, everything is made fast.
            The industrial eater, of which we have all become, is promised by the food industry that certain products are natural. However, we are later deceived when we learn that “‘natural raspberry flavour’ doesn’t mean the flavour came from a raspberry; it may well have been derived from corn, just not something synthetic,” (Pollan 98).
            Food production companies have also made a new type of cornstarch that cannot be digested by human stomachs (Pollan 98). So, when we consume such cornstarch, “it slips through the digestive tract without ever turning into calories or glucose…” (Pollan 99). The ultimate goal for production companies is to make whole meals that hungry consumers will eat as much as they want of and as many times as they want, in hopes of increasing profit for the company by telling the consumer that the food will leave no trace on their waistline. We are essentially promised, and then later deceived, by the food industry, that we will become “utterly elastic” (Pollan 99). Come on, food industry; not everyone can stay a size six.
            The good thing about all of this is that we are the ones paying for our food. So, vote for what you want to eat with the power of your dollar. Instead of paying $4.99 for ten Chicken McNuggets on your way home from work, put some thought into your supper and pop into the grocery store where you can pick up something organic or locally grown. Even better, find a local Farmer’s Market!
            Food Inc. makes the argument to “vote with our dollar.” However, as good as it sounds, it is sometimes not so easy. Like in the earlier example I gave about the Hispanic family debating over money being spent on medication or broccoli, there are a number of people who may not be able to afford healthier, organic, and/or locally grown food. Thus, this would explain why in Food Inc. it is claimed that the relationship between poverty and obesity is not just a coincidence.
            Voting with your dollar could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of trains, cars, and trucks transporting food products (like corn) to and from the farm. Spending money wisely could improve the habitats of animals, being produced for our consumption, on the farm. Voting with your dollar could also decrease the rate at which people are being infected by poorly produced food. However, healthier, organic, and/or locally grown food is more expensive for a reason. It is not produced like the cheaper, faster, and largely produced food products are. A weakness of voting with your dollar is that not everyone can do it.
            I think consumers do have the potential to an effective vote. However, the drawback on potential change is that the bottom line will always be money. I recently spoke to my father, who ironically owns some land north of Toronto where a farmer grows corn for his cattle, and asked what he thought about the entire food production process. Prior to me asking, he had given me a percentage of the money he earned in being owner of such land. He answered my question saying, “It is unfortunate, but it is also where your $100.00 came from.” A few weeks after this incident, I learned that my parents purchased another piece of land next door to the cornfield they also own. I said to my mother, grabbing the excess fat on my waistline, “Thanks to people like you, this chub is not going anywhere.” Truth be told, however, food production and consumption is every single person’s responsibility. If we want change, we have to do it together.

Works Cited
Kenner, Robert, Dir. Food Inc. Magnolia Pictures: 2009, Film.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma. The Penguin
       Press, 2006. Print.


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