It’s time for a confession: I am a complete documentary nerd. My Netflix account has more documentaries in the queue than you would find for submissions in the IDA awards. I’ve never understood spending two hours of your life giggling and tee-hee’ing over a romantic comedy, when you can become educated on an important, controversial topic. Last night, after surviving a melt-worthy Summer day, my boyfriend I decided to take cover in the air conditioning and have a movie night. We both immediately agreed on a documentary: Food, Inc.
The documentary outlines the truth of the food industry and the corporations that are controlling everything we put into our mouths. When the documentary began, I let out a big groan and sigh. My boyfriend raised an eyebrow at me, so I began to explain: “We are going to watch this documentary… realize we are being poisoned… and then what? We can’t afford all-organic foods, and even if we could, who knows if it’s really organic?” I have to say, I’m glad he overrode my decision to skip this documentary, because boy oh boy, have my eyes been opened.
The power that corporations have to control our food supply results from the exact statements I made. Consumers feel like we are powerless in making change, so we accept the way things are.
While I’m not going to give away all the details for those of you that are going to flock to watch the documentary, I want to share what hit my heart the heaviest. In the documentary, you are introduced to Barbara Kowalcyk, a food-safety advocate. At first glance this woman is an educated advocate working hard for change. At second glance, we see a heartbroken mother whose story pulls at anyone’s heartstrings. Kowalcyk’s son, Kevin, passed away at just 2.5 years old from E. coli O157:H7. But that is just the beginning of the story…
We’ve all heard of E. coli. I’ll be the first to admit: I previously thought E. coli was just another bacteria that could affect people after eating red meat. My thought process stopped on that shallow level. I never cared to think: where does E. coli come from? What does it do? How often is someone afflicted with E. coli?
E. coli is a bacteria, alright. It’s a bacteria that our food industry has essentially created. As far back as history travels, we have seen cows as a main source of food for humans. But what do cows eat?
Corn. Corn? CORN?! Wrong. Cows eat grass. Or should I say, the cows we consume are fed corn, while all the healthy cows naturally eat grass. As we know, our country lives in excess. Some people say there’s not enough food to go around, yet I beg to differ. Take a look in the trash of any restaurant, fast-food restaurant, or even your own. You’ll find excessive waste of food that we don’t want to eat, are too full to eat, or just don’t feel like saving for leftovers. To keep up with our excessive food demands, many cattle farms and CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operation… yum, yum!) utilize a corn feed to quicken the weight gain of the cows and to make them abnormally large, to feed more people.
So how does corn cause the deadly strand of E. coli? The cows that are corn-fed create an abnormal amount of feces. Considering most of our meat comes from the same CAFO’s, you can only imagine the conditions of these “farms”. The animals travel around in mass amounts of feces, getting themselves and their mouths covered. And so begins the strand of E. coli O157:H7. The animals consume bacteria-filled feces, their meat is tainted, and we are fed the meat.
Some of you who are vegetarians or vegans, may be sitting with a smile on your face that you don’t have to worry about this issue. Wrong again. The corn that is fed to the cows is also fed to pigs, chicken, and fish. The corn is also turned into various chemicals that are found in food products from apple juice to Cheez-it’s to lettuce. No matter where you turn, and no matter what you eat or drink, you are essentially in danger of being exposed to this deadly bacteria.
As the documentary shows, we have a deadly E. coli breakout happen every year. Every single year, people are passing away because corporations are approaching our food industry with growth and money in mind. Gone are the days of the farmers being allowed to farm at will; the corporations control every aspect of the farming industry, and if someone dares step out of line, they will be sued beyond financial abilities in an instant. Parents are losing children, women and men are losing spouses, and too many elderly have met an untimely demise all because we’re trying to fulfill a natural human need: nutrition.
Now, we are back to my original point before I even began watching the documentary. What can I do to change this? I’m helpless!
You’re wrong, just like I was wrong. Every choice that a consumer makes in purchasing actually affects the market available to us. When people begin purchasing organic, growth-hormone-free food, or only grass-fed cow meat, we are telling the corporations what we want. The heartbreaking aspect of this ability is that not everyone can afford organic, growth-hormone-free food… yet. When a bag of chips is $1.00 and an organic apple is $1.29, we are clearly sending out the wrong message. However, some of the local farmer markets, farms, and stands can offer fresh varieties at a low-cost.
The Eat Well Guide features over 25,000 listings of local, organic farmers that you can access. Local Harvest is an amazing site as well, featuring a search feature to find organic growers close to you. When visiting your local farmer, look to purchase vegetables and fruit that are in their prime for the season. For certain crops, such as apples in the Fall, you can buy the produce at a lesser cost because of the high volume of productivity of that fruit or vegetable during the season.
Despite driving by both on a daily basis, I never realized there are two local farm stands within five minutes of my apartment. I drive roughly twenty minutes to reach the local grocery store, yet this fresh food has been under my nose for almost three years and I never even noticed. I want to believe this is the case for most people: we buy processed foods because we simply are ignorant to what’s really going on with our food industry. Otherwise, we’d all be purchasing locally grown food.
So, where does this leave us? Get educated on the topic. Support your local farmer. Read labels. Love your loved ones enough to buy locally grown, whenever possible. And learn an easy nine ways to help fix our food system.