Posts Tagged ‘Big Food’

Methinks Someone at the Denver Post is on the Big Ag teat.

April 12, 2010 1 comment

This Denver Post editorial from today’s paper just smacks of Big Ag influence to me. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but come on: the editor is defending keeping pizza in school lunches (as an “example”). Has the mighty agriculture lobby resorted to paying off newspaper editors to influence public opinion before laws get to close to passing? It’s the only explanation to me for defending the need for “palatable” unhealthy choices in school cafeterias.

The article expresses concern over how far the new legislation (called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) could go. According to USA Today, it aims to “bolster the safety and nutritional value of school lunches.” The Post editors worry that

the potential that nutritional standards, yet to be developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, might be written so strictly they would effectively eliminate local control and individual choice.

The editors don’t seem to acknowledge the results of kids having that “individual choice.” Personally, I keep hearing about how kids tend to pick the tater tots, pizza, and Taco Bell when given the choice. Of course they do. Those things taste better to kids. Maybe they know they should be eating something healthier, and yeah, the idea of giving them a choice is nice and all, but I’m kind of a realist on this one: American kids don’t care about the healthy option. Some of them may have been hazed enough to know that they probably don’t want to be fat the rest of their lives, but what justification is there for slapping a burger and fries in front of them every day? They will eat it. The salt and fat will taste good to them, and they will continue to want that burger or pizza or taco every day.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I realize I am coming off as a bit of a totalitarian food Nazi- the children will eat what I say they will eat! But that’s not the case. I think kids should be allowed to eat food that tastes good to them. There are plenty of delicious nutritious options that I’m sure the lunch-ladies (and lunch-gentlemen) can handle cooking and serving. We need school lunch reform because the current options are lazy, underfunded, and bad for the kids. We need the bad-for-you stuff out because it keeps the kids hooked on the junk and headed towards obesity and diabetes. We need to present the message in our SCHOOLS (places of education!) that certain foods are healthy, and that we won’t subject our younglings to the food that will harm their bodies in the long run.

Here’s an analogy that probably most people will roll their eyes at: We do not put pornography in school libraries. We don’t because we believe our kids should not be subjected to certain things. We want the library to be a fascinating place that develops their love for reading, exploring, and imagination. We don’t want it to be the place where they are exposed to the seedy, sexualized world of adults. That would be bad for their development, their psyche, their health. So why do we still expose kids to unhealthy food in our school cafeterias? Because they’ll eat it? That’s the reason? We might not want to think so, but kids will look at porn if it’s sitting on the school bookshelf. They will. And they’ll eat the pizza if it is offered a-la-carte as a competitive food in the lunchroom.

Okay, so different stories, food and porn, I know. But am I that far off-base here?

Put burgers and pizza in schools, and kids will think: I am allowed to eat that. My prinicipal, lunchlady, and parents allow it to be there, so it can’t be so bad, right? I believe as much as anybody that proper nutritional education starts with the parents- they are the voice of reason, the ones who identify good and bad food. But why provide the mixed message of meat, cheese, and milk at every single lunchtime? Stay on-message, people!

I am not yet a parent, so you can take all of this with that grain of salt. But I care about our food system, and I see how corruption, corporate influnce, and poor governance have brought the National School Lunch Program to it’s current status: broken. It is an obvious symptom of the broader industrial-food system disease we have become accustomed to: one that has been warped by improper subsidies, lax regulation, corporate lobby, Wal-Mart-thrift-obsessivness, and our view of food items as tongue-masturbators. OK, eye-roller, that’s another unnecessary one, I know… But the food-porn hedonism I see in the U.S. these days is disgusting enough to me that I feel justified in using such language. If we look at food solely as a source of pleasure, we’re going to get a food system that reflects only that: cheap food that tastes good. Not healthy food that reflects our own personal values.

It starts when we’re kids. Do we want our children to make food choices on base flavor instincts (me want salt and fat!), or do we want them to think about where their food comes from, how it nourishes them, and  how their choices affect the world?


Up Shit Creek

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1995, Smithfield spilled more than twenty million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina.

In 1997, Smithfield was penalized for a mind-blowing seven thousand violations of the Clean Water Act… One violation might be an accident. Even ten violations might. Seven thousand violations is a plan. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million… but this is a pathetically small amount to a company that now grosses $12.6 million every ten hours.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, from page 178-179 of Eating Animals

Smithfield is the biggest pork producer in the United States. It annually produces at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined (p. 175). This pig shit is pooled into football-field sized open-air lagoons. The lagoons can be overwhelmed. The shit then goes into local waterways. Bacon tastes good.

Veterinarian Ignored by USDA

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

 The US Dept, of Agriculture apparently has no problem with slaughterhouses that butcher conscious pigs or drag downed calves through excrement before slaughter. That is, as long as nobody hears about it.

Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian for the USDA’s food safety and inspection unit, spoke to a Congressional committee today about how his recommendations were overruled when he cited certain slaughterhouses for inhumane practices and food safety violations. From USA TODAY:

(Wyatt’s charges) detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious.

So a guy does his job, finds violations and animal cruelty, and his bosses threaten his career for attempting to punish the violating slaughterhouses. Sounds about right. Job well done, Big Ag.

E. Coli Revisited

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

So I was just doing some casual reading on Slate about E. coli in ground beef… you know, how it seems to pop up seemingly more and more frequently, resulting in massive recalls (such as this week’s Huntington Meat Company recall of 5.7 million pounds of beef and veal). I always wonder how the average reader reacts to these stories. Going back to my pre-vegan days, I can only speculate that Joe Six-pack kinda shakes his head, double checks the fridge to make sure he’s safe, and then hopes they figure out how to fix it in the future.

The meat industry sure is trying. I’d be willing to bet that these big recalls are a bit embarrassing to them, not only because of what it says about the laxness of food safety regulations, but also because it lifts the veil for a few days every time this happens. It makes us actually think about how that meat gets to the shelf. We get to read about how E. coli lives in the intestinal tracts of real living cows, and how these outbreaks are usually caused by those cows’ feces splattering up on their dead carcasses and not getting cleaned off well enough. Maybe that is the most embarassing thing to Cargill and Huntington and factory farmers across the land, but I bet they are a bit nervous about us thinking about the process at all.

Even when things are going well (as you might expect me to say), the ground beef industry is not pretty. Big Ag doesn’t really want us to worry too much about the well-being of the cows, what they eat, how they are killed, or how they try to deal with that pesky E. coli. They just want us to want those burgers. In order for that to happen, it is best that things are kept simple. No more outbreaks would be a big help. That would keep food safety advocates out of their hair, cut down on public outcries for more regulation and federal interference, and get them sued less often. So, what are they doing about it now?

Well, they are developing a whole new arsenal of weapons to battle E. coli. USA Today filled us in on some of the plans last week:

  • More vaccines
  • Phages (a “a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses” that cows are doused in 1-4 hours before slaughter)
  • New probiotics (bacteria to compete with E. coli in cow stomachs)
  • Sodium chlorate (a chemical that turns to bleach inside a cow to kill the E. coli)
  • Feeding cows hay and grass, instead of grain (which is natural but, according to Slate, not a real solution)

These measure would be in addition to the barrage of antibiotics, steam sprays, vaccines, and who-knows-what that the cows already endure (not to mention the lovely ammonia treatment I wrote about a while ago). It seems apparent that the beef pushers are going to great lengths to fight E. coli. That way we don’t have to think about CAFOs, slaughterhouses, manure-caked hides, acidic stomachs, bloody-diarrhea-kidney-failure-and-death, a cow’s recto-anal junction, vaccines, phages, sodium chlorate, antiobiotics, government subsidies, ammonia processing, the food system, lawsuits, agriculture lobbies, methane, O157:H7, water contamination, veal crates,  manure lagoons……………..

All this effort for a $2.99 (or whatever the hell they cost) Big Mac. Perhaps there is another way to keep E. coli at bay: don’t eat beef.

Cows and Methane. Heating up.

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment


Today’s Morning Edition on NPR had a great story on one of the most overlooked causes of global warming: methane. They even mentioned (although it was almost completely glossed over) how about half of all methane released is from human-related causes including belching cows.

Molecule for molecule, methane is much more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And that’s just part of the trouble.

Methane-releasing wetlands are largely to blame for the 150% (since pre-industrial times) increase in methane floating up to the atmosphere, and they are showing the first signs of the vicious cycle of the greenhouse effect:

“The higher the temperature, the more efficient they are at producing methane,” he says. So global warming is causing these wetlands to produce more methane. And the methane is causing more global warming.

Little has been done to control methane because, apparently, governments and climate-change policy makers have been afraid of diverting attention away from the threats of carbon dioxide. But NPR’s story mentions how methane-reducing initiatives would pay for themselves because of the myriad other benefits to public health and the energy sector.

So here’s what I think: isn’t it obvious why governments are afraid to demonize methane? If you read last month’s Mother Jones article on the most powerful lobby in Washington, the reasons are clear. The industry with the most clout? BIG AG. The agriculture lobby. Any legislation fighting global warming would certainly threaten the meat and dairy industries because of how much they rely on oil, and the amount of methane they release through their milk-machines (aka COWS). So this may never happen, but it would make sense to me for many reasons if:

  • COW TAX: put a tax on every gallon of milk. Milk is already at unsustainably low prices, so this wouldn’t even hurt milk-drinkers. I would advocate for a big increase in the price of milk to reflect the damage it causes the environment and public health. It would lower demand and make people think twice about that white liquid, which they have grown up hearing is as pure and harmless as fluffy snow. I’m no economist, but it just makes sense to me. Revenue from these taxes should go to further climate change initatives.

Given the power of big Ag money in Washington, the political suicide it would take for any Rep or Congressperson to take a shot at Big Food, and the fact that almost all Americans have been brainwashed into believing that we actually need milk to be healthy, I do not have high hopes for this grand scheme of mine. But I do hope that more and more people start seeing through the clouds of BS we have been fed in milk-industry ads, and school-lunch-program pints of chocolate milk, and realize there are other options. The 8 ounces of Pacific Foods Organic Oat Milk I had with my cereal this morning had 35% of my daily calcium, as well as good amounts of Vitamins A and D. Soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and others boast similar nutrition stats, or better! There are many other reasons (taste among them) that I think cow milk is an obsolete foodstuff, but I’ll leave the nasty bits up to PETA and the shock-value vegans. To me, this is about common sense, and not being lied to. Encourage your friends to educate themselves and opt out of the dairy addiction.

Beef Trimmings and Ammonia

January 4, 2010 1 comment

Beef Products, Inc. is a company in South Dakota that provides a type of ammonia-treated ground beef filler to most of the major burger joints in the world including McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Cargill. This filler is…

a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

– from the December 30, 2009 New York Times cover article Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned by Michael Moss

Big Food companies like this “beef” because it makes their patties cheaper. That is why the national School Lunch Program uses BPI beef as well.

The scariest thing about this filler beef to me is that they can get away with simply calling it ground beef just because it is technically meat from a cow. They don’t have to call it what it really is: fatty beef trimmings (the stuff that meat packers normally shave off onto the floor to be discarded) that are run through a series of machines, which seperate the fat from the protein, and then treat the leaner stuff with ammonia to kill the E. coli (which is more common in trimmings like this). As mentioned above, the USDA does not require them to list ammonia as an ingredient.

This filler beef makes up a small percentage of a typical burger patty, like 10 or 15%. It saves everybody  involved millions of dollars. It keeps Big Macs cheap.

Ingrid Sums It Up

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder of PETA, is often characterized as radical and maybe even irrational. I tend to avoid using PETA rants and tactics when I talk about being vegan, but this American Chronicle op-ed from Newkirk struck me as a great roundup of all the ways going vegan benefits not only animals, but ourselves and our planet as well. She quickly covers all the things most critics of vegetarianism don’t even consider at first: all the environmental impacts of an industrial meat-eating diet. From water pollution to climate change to ocean disruption, she hits all the key issues in this little article. It is not angry or exaggerated. To me, this seems to be an accurate summation of all the issues I have learned about in my vegan education, which I try to get from non-PETA sources for authenticity. The issues she speaks of are being covered more and more in the NY Times, CNN, Time, and even Oprah. I see this article as a great thing to bookmark of you want to have a quick guide to the environmental benefits of gong vegan.

It shouldn’t be news anymore that the most important thing that we can do for the planet is not to use less holiday gift wrap — it is to go vegan. That’s because it is impossible to be a meat-eating, milk-drinking environmentalist.

– Ingrid Newkirk