Frustrating Food: Becoming Disenchanted with the American Food Industry // Shannon Mayer

The other day I was at the supermarket across from Santa Clara University with a friend shopping for some healthy snacks to help us study for final exams. As I reached out to look at a bag of granola, my friend said “No, don’t eat that.  Granola’s not very good for you.”

Shocked and confused, I questioned her: “What do you mean? It’s granola.”  I didn’t understand. My friend replied, “I read an article that said that granola is actually a very unhealthy snack. It is often sweetened and filled with artificial flavors.” Upon hearing this, I placed the granola back on the shelf and continued walking down the aisles. I wasn’t sure if my friend was right but I thought it was better not to risk it. As we continued shopping, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. At the moment I couldn’t pinpoint it, but now looking back, I realize I was frustrated. How could granola, a snack that is advertised by bike riders and hikers, be unhealthy? It just didn’t make sense.

But wait…Hold on…It actually does make sense! Over the past six months, I have been enrolled in a course entitled “Food, Self, and Culture” where I learned every terrible thing there is to learn about the food industry including the fact that we, as consumers, cannot trust any information we get from food companies. From factory farms to food science, it seems like there is nothing good about the way our food is produced and marketed. So when I felt frustrated by the granola, I was really frustrated with the mixed signals I have been getting my entire life. All the foods that I previously thought were healthy like turkey, apples, and granola bars have annoyingly been proven to be otherwise. This leaves me feeling rather helpless. If everything I thought was healthy isn’t, then what on earth can I eat and who can I trust?

Sometimes I wonder if not knowing all the awful things I know would be a better solution. If I could go back in time and undo learning all of this information would that perhaps make me happier? I’ve thought about this a lot and have come to a conclusion. While ignorance may be bliss, knowledge can lead to a change, and in my opinion, any changes I can make for the betterment of myself, our country, or the world, are changes worth making. Therefore, I am here to share my knowledge with you so that maybe you’ll become as mad as I am and do all you can to make the world a better place.

My frustration with the food industry began when I learned the truth about factory farms. Focused only on efficiency and not on providing quality animal products, these industrial-like operations give us nothing but tortured and quite possibly infected meat. I first learned about factory farms when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. Before then, I knew that the process of producing meat was not the most pleasant but I had no idea it was as bad as Foer describes. For those of you who don’t know a factory farm is “a large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food” (“What is a…”).

Because of this new system, animals are treated like commodities that need to be prepared, by any means necessary, to be processed, packaged, and shipped across the country. According to Foer, factory farms have all but eradicated the local farmer. While they may still exist, they cannot compete with the productivity of industrial systems and will eventually be wiped out completely. This has resulted in a monopoly of the meat processing industry. It has become impossible to buy meat that wasn’t produced at a factory farm, as factory farmed meat “accounts for virtually all meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants” (Foer). Therefore, the only way to avoid contributing to the industry, is to not eat animal products all together.

In order to supplement the knowledge about factory farms that we were gaining from Foer, our course professor had us watch a video produced by PETA entitled “Meet Your Meat.” In the video, we see animals literally being tortured by workers, crammed into dark, musty quarters, and bleeding slowly to death. Although I am sure that the makers of the video chose the most shocking footage to use and the factory farms might not always be that bad, I cannot ignore the fact that there are some animals, probably a lot, who must endure similar unethical treatment as was featured in the video.

Upon learning all of this, I wanted to see if the efficiency of the farms is actually worth it. I researched the topic of efficiency, specifically at CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), a step in the factory farming system, and wrote an essay entitled “Battle for Efficiency”. After extensive amounts of reading, I came to the conclusion that factory farms are nowhere near as efficient as they claim to be. In fact, the practices utilized by the supervisors and workers such as feeding cows corn to fatten them up, dumping their manure into lagoons, and disregarding standard health protocols end up creating so many more problems than they solve. Not only does feeding cows corn result in the need for massive amounts of feed to be transported across the country (“Factory Farm…”), it also ruins the cows’ digestive system causing the need for fistulation. Fistulation is the process by which farmers cut a hole in the cow’s side and use their arms to pull half- digested corn out of the rumen (a chamber of the stomach) (Food, Inc.).

If corn-feeding causes this many problems, why are the operators still using it? Unfortunately, corn is not the only problem.There are many more issues with efficiency in the factory farming systems. For example, the unsanitary conditions result in a lot of infection and contamination of our food (Imhoff). In fact, in the past decade, E. coli contamination has cost the beef industry about $1.9 billion (Imhoff). It’s time for America to admit that factory farming isn’t worth it.

My frustration with the food industry grew even more as the course progressed. After factory farming, I learned about food science, which is the “study of food and the application of knowledge thus gained to the development of food products and processes, the preservation and storage of foods, and the assurance of food safety and quality.” (“What is Food…”) The first essay I wrote about food science mainly focused on how terrible it is. But while writing my second essay, I came to the realization that not all food science is bad, it has just become difficult to understand which aspects of it are good and which are not. This is the main problem. If we can’t really know whether or not the scientific manipulation of our food was beneficial, then how do we know if we should eat it? This question is not very easily answered. I have yet to come to a complete conclusion myself. But I think that the best way to address the problem, is to be aware and trust our gut. For example if you read this nutrition label of your favorite Luna bar, “LunaPro (Soy Rice Crisp [Soy Protine Isolate (Organic Rice Flour), Organic Toasted Oats (Organic Oats, Org Evaporated Cane Juice), Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Flaxmeal, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Coating (Organic Evaporated Cane Juice), Organic Cocoa, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Coconut, Almond Butter, Almonds (Organic), Organic Soy Protein Concentrate, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Oat Syrup Solids, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt, Organic Flavors, Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Dicalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Fumarate (Iron), Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Zinc Oxide, Molybdenum Glycinate, Pyridoxine (vitamin B12), Calcium Pantothenate, Beta Carotene (Vitamin A), Manganese Sulfate, Selenium AAC, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Chromium AAC, Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2), Thiamine Monohydrate (Vitamin B1), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12), Folic Acid (Folate) Vitamin B12, Cupric Oxide, Phytonadione (Vitamin K1), Biotin (Vitamin H), Potassium Iodide” (“Nutrition Facts…”) you should get the feeling that this is probably not the best thing to put into your body.

When worrying about food science, I find that it is best to eat more natural foods than not. Yet, even though I have this rule, I am still frustrated. Why does eating food have to be so complicated? A lot of my favorite foods have similar ingredients in them as the Luna bar, and now I feel like I have to stop eating them to be healthy. It is also particularly annoying because Luna bars are marketed as being extremely healthy and good for you, but it is evident by the nutrition label, that this is not the case. It feels liked I am being lied to every time I step foot in the supermarket.

Factory farms and food science are just a few of the issues with the food industry that I have learned about this year. Unfortunately, the more I know, the more disappointed I become which is why I was so bothered when I learned about the additives in granola. I feel like there is nothing left in this country for me to eat. While learning all of this may annoy me a great deal, I know that it is better than remaining ignorant. At least now, I can do my best to avoid contributing to the negative aspects of the industry. So far, I have cut out all meat products from my diet, becoming a full-fledged vegetarian, and I have become more skeptical of processed foods, resulting in my reading of food labels before I buy something. I do my best to eat healthy, fully admitting that it is not possible to completely avoid factory farmed and processed foods. I hope that in reading this, you have learned about something that makes you angry and are willing to make a change to help the world. Even baby steps can result in a big difference.

Works Cited

“Factory Farm Map.” Find Out How Factory Farms Affect Us. Food & Water Watch, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.factoryfarmmap.org/ #animal:cattle;location:US;year:2007>.

Foer, Jonathan S. Eating Animals. New York City: Back Bay Books: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.

Food, Inc.. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Film.

Imhoff, Daniel, ed. The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. Los Angeles, CA: Foundation for Deep Ecology, 2010. Print.

Meet Your Meat. Dir. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 14 Mar. 2012. YouTube. Web. 6 Mar. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykTH_b- cXyE>.

“What Is a Factory Farm?.” ASPCA. ASPCA, Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://www.aspca.org/fight-cruelty/farm-animal-cruelty/what-factory-farm&gt;

“What is Food Science.” BYU: The College of Life Sciences. Brigham Young University, 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2013<http://ndfs.byu.edu/Programs/UndergraduatePrograms/ FoodScience/WhatisFoodScience.aspx>.

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