Beef and Bread: Oh, the (In)humanity!

19Feb08

Ah, coming home from vacation … I always try to keep up on the news while I’m away. For instance, while on my V-Day cruise to Mexico I learned that Kosovo (or should we now call it, “Kosova”?) declared its independence. I also knew that the NYPD arraigned the meat cleaver killer (whew!). I knew that there was a big salmon recall in Britain. Speaking of recalls, however, the largest beef recall in U.S. history somehow missed the cut for Royal Carribbean’s daily newsletter.

I will spare you the Humane Society’s undercover footage, but if you haven’t seen it yet, here it is. Now, since the story is symptomatic of countless social ills, I could take this blog in countless directions. As my time and energy is limited, however, I would like to focus on nutrition and consumer protection (or lack thereof) while acknowledging that many of the other, aforementioned social ills probably deserve as much, if not more, attention.

First let me say that at the recommendation of a friend, I have been reading In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan’s follow-up to his highly acclaimed, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have yet to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but if you haven’t read In Defense of Food, I highly recommend that you do. In addition to being timely and fascinating, it represents an important shift in the discourse surrounding diet and nutrition. In a nutshell, Pollan argues that the American diet has suffered at the hands of industrialization, which have reduced most of what we consume to mass-produced, over-processed, nutritionally inferior foods. Essentially, the “quantity over quality” argument is one of two major themes of the book, the other being that our focus on the biochemical components of foods, as opposed to the individual foods as whole systems, is as unwise as it is unhealthy.

That being said, In Defense of Food has been on my mind, so while others may hear about the beef recall and denounce society for its moral turpitude or debate the efficiency and efficacy of the USDA, I immediately connect the story back to Pollan’s “Nutritional Industrial Complex.” Now, while I whole-heartedly concur with Pollan’s theses, let it be known that I do understand the difficultly — if not the impossibility — of a systemic shift towards sustainable, small-scale, organic food production. The reality is that such a utopia may only ever exist for the relatively deep-pocketed and/or truly industrious among us. What I do want to point out, however, is that farm animals aren’t the only victims of the food processing industry and its lobbyists. Supermarket shelves are stocked with produce, meats, non-perishables, and grains that are as nutritionally unsound as the flesh of those poor cows. Sure, the ordinary use of most supermarket foodstuffs won’t put you at risk for e-coli; they will, however, put you in the running for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic, degenerative diseases.

So … my point? Just realize that sensational stories, and the beef recall in particular, may only be the tip of the iceberg. Realize that said stories may be emblematic of deeper-rooted problems that are as subtle as they are troubling. It would seem that there are more victims than victors in the current system, where industry (once again) has effectuated gross vertical abuses and manipulations in order to turn a profit. Knowing this, however, I think back to Thomas Malthus (remember him?) … and then I think of those that earn their daily (processed, bleached, enriched, preserved, packaged) bread by virtue of this abhorrent state of affairs and I wonder … could it really ever be any other way?

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4 Responses to “Beef and Bread: Oh, the (In)humanity!”

  1. Great post Sam. I especially liked this quote, the “industry (once again) has effectuated gross vertical abuses and manipulations in order to turn a profit”.

    I have been reading up a bit on the Food industry corpocrats and am appalled. The FDA and the USDA are filled with ex-corporate stooges/lobbyists/executives and these scum will be ushered back to the industry or back to K street. It is indeed the fox guarding the hen house.

    I have moved to an organic diet and banned all pork (and now red meat) after learning of the slaughter techniques, hormones, and other dastardly details. I believe that there is a conspiracy to sicken and kill many in the long run. The short run goal is maximizing profits. When you look at the fact that many major shareholders own controlling interests in companies like Monsanto and ADM as well as Big-Pharm corporations, it makes you wonder.

    Check out my post on pork. I included a detailed letter from a Wellesley student who attended with Hillary. She detailed many abuses in the food and dairy regulatory “business.”
    http://dillsnapcogitation.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/why-i-am-halaal-and-kosher-except-for-shellfish/

    Keep up the good work.

  2. 2 Caryl

    I have a hope that changing the agri-industrial complex is not utopia, but possible, given enough people willing to try.
    Every time you source local food, or find an organic family farmer that ships (there are more and more of them) you make a small stand against the inevitability of mass-produced food. Check localharvest.com, slowfood.org, eatwild.com, or do a search with the key words of your state name and “farmer’s markets” and see what you turn up.
    Here’s to the food rebellion and a return to farmers growing food for people, not middlemen!

  3. 3 Queen Samantha

    I’m well aware of the Slow Food movement and various initiatives to support local organic farming. My question is whether, as a society, we could ever make a full transition. First, the food lobby has Congress by the proverbial balls. Secondly, I fear that the agricultural revolution supported the growth of a population that could not be sustained should we revert to a system of local farming. If you buy that, the question would be whether mass production could be altered so as to ensure the nutritional integrity of our food. Admittedly, I have absolutely no basis for my opinion that a process as inherently artificial as mass production of food could never sufficiently replicate natural food production, even if we were to go that route. But that is what I believe. Finally, I would be concerned about the economic reverberations of a full-on shift to local production, given the number of people employed in the food processing industry. But again, I think that these concerns are moot since the food lobby will prevent any wholesale systemic change. That being said, I’ll do my part and buy local organic whenever possible — if not for our country (since I think it’s a lost cause), then at least for myself and any children that I may one day breast feed (sorry to be graphic, but the body stores everything).


  1. 1 Snippets: Whole Foods, Bouchon Bakery, doubleTwist, and Blood « Queen Samantha’s Weblog

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