This week’s WWN Installment from Sue Kemple, The Wellness Wordsmith
For 13 years, I worked in public charter schools. One reason why I got out of the public school system was because of my opposition to standardized testing. I strongly believe such tests don’t measure anything of significance or value. But what troubled me even more is the fact that the whole testing enterprise is driven by corporate and special interests, not by what’s truly in the best interests of the students.
Politics and authentic education can never really work together, I decided.
And I would preach about this all day long, in between my bacon and egg breakfasts, greasy takeout cheeseburgers, and steak and potato dinners.
Obviously, before I changed my eating habits in order to save my life, I had no idea that the food I was eating was just as driven by corporate and special interests as our public school system had become.
In fact, most of us don’t think about this. But the more I learn about where our food comes from, the more outraged I am. Because it’s not just unhealthy. It’s also unsafe.
Schools in the United States adopted a factory model around the turn of the last century. It took a few decades for the food industry to do something similar, but once they did, the profits began to take off. People really didn’t question when the production of food shifted away from local farmers to what was touted as a more efficient operation that would be able to keep up with our growing population. Not only was the production of the food products efficient, but it certainly seemed as if the convenience these packaged foods could afford would make our lives easier and happier.
What it took a long time for people to realize is that the food system very quickly became driven by special interests and lobbyists whose main concern is not the welfare of the consumer, but the profits of their shareholders. Of course, it’s been a complete disaster for our health and our planet. Nutrient deficient concerns aside, it’s actually led to a more dangerous food supply.
How? Here’s a very quick overview:
- Corn is overwhelmingly this nation’s primary food crop. Why? Because it’s cheap to produce, especially when the government subsidizes it, and especially when it’s been genetically modified, as is increasingly the case in the United States. But we only see a fraction of that corn on cobs at family picnics in July. Most of it ends up in the ingredients of all the other processed foods on the shelves in the grocery store, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, syrup, xanthan gum, baking powder, confectioner’s sugar, oils, etc. It’s a key ingredient in almost every kind of processed food out there, from breakfast cereal to hot dogs to tomato sauce. The food industry simply could not continue to exist without massive amounts of corn.
- Corn is also used to feed the majority of animals slaughtered for beef, chicken, and pork – and the kicker is, corn is not a natural food source for any of those animals. The government subsidizes the production of corn to the extent that it is overproduced, because the industry needs a very cheap source of feed for the animals they process through factory farms, and to produce and sell processed foods cheaply.
- Why does the government subsidize it? Because there are major lobbyists in Washington who see to it that this remains the case. And Washington doesn’t just have lobbyists who push for the factory farm and mass food production model. People appointed to head government regulatory agencies, such as the USDA Chief of Staff and the head of the FDA, have worked in the food industry, and so they are less interested in regulating the industry than they are in protecting it.
- The major (and unprecedented) outbreaks of e coli in our nation over the past twenty years or so can be tied to the use of corn and the production of meat on such a massive scale. Research indicates that a high corn diet in cattle results in a strain of e coli that is acid resistant and subject to mutation in a very unnatural way. When a cow is infected with e coli, the bacteria logically end up in its waste – and factory farmed cattle stand ankle deep in manure most of their short, pitiful lives. The bacteria are guaranteed under these conditions to spread from one animal to the next. Their hides are covered in it when they are led to slaughter, and when factories are slaughtering 400 cattle per hour, it’s simply not possible to ensure that the manure doesn’t contaminate the meat.
- In the 1920’s, there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States. Today, there are 13 slaughterhouses in the US that process the vast majority of the beef that makes it to our tables in restaurants and our homes. That means for each hamburger patty you make or buy, it likely consists of pieces of one thousand cows – and logically, this increases by 1000% the chance that your meat is tainted with dangerous bacteria.
- Of course it’s not just meat that’s vulnerable to bacterial contamination. E coli outbreaks are also frequently linked to produce such as bagged spinach. This happens when the crops are infected by the runoff of waste from factory farms where sick animals are slaughtered for our consumption.
It’s easy to feel like a small, powerless person in the midst of the government’s power. I certainly felt that way when I was heavily involved in the school system. But I feel less so when it comes to food. That’s because you and I can make powerful and meaningful choices every day to take a stand. We can buy local. We can buy organic. We can support our communities’ farm to table initiatives and farmer’s markets. In the end, you have the power to decide what food comes into your kitchen and goes into your body. You don’t have to let your meals be driven by special interests. Let them be driven by what’s in the best interests of your family, your community, and the world.
© 2012 The Wellness Wordsmith