List nineteen: 14 alarming factoids from Food Inc

One of the DVDs I’ve watched these holidays is Food Inc. Have you seen it? It’s been out for awhile. I actually watched it twice, the second time so I could make notes, cos I’m geeky like that. It’s directed by Robert Kenner and also had input from Michael Pollan.


The film is about food in America. What is produced, how it is produced and who is producing it.

It made me angry. And it led to Ian and I developing a bit of a food manifesto in terms of what we’ll buy and who we’ll buy it from. Here are 14 of the most alarming things I learnt or (relearnt):

1) Cheap food is socially and environmentally expensive. This is not new news but
is the premise of the film and a good message to take away.

2) Large food companies put insane amounts of pressure on farmers. Farmers basically have to do whatever the big corporates want otherwise they could lose their contrats, leading to major debt.

3) Corn is used as cow feed because it gets them fat, quickly. Cows are not meant
to eat corn. They are meant to frolic around in lush fields and eat grass for dinner. But because corn fattens them up faster, they have to stand in fields of nothing but mud and their own crap for their entire lives. This standing around in fields of crap means that the poor cows are more susceptible to E.Coli.

Eating grass for five days would get rid of the E.Coli. Instead, because it’s cheaper, once they are turned into mincemeat, ammonia is sprayed all over the meat (that people eat!) to kill the E.Coli.

4) Because people want to eat tomatoes all year round, not just when they’re
in season, they are picked from different parts of the world when they are green and then ripened with ethylene gas. No wonder so many people are getting cancer.

5) McDonald’s is the #1 buyer of beef, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes in
America. This really disturbs me.

6) America flooded Mexico with their cheap, government, subsidised corn putting more than a million Mexican corn farmers out of work, severely affecting their economy.

7) There is a strain of E.Coli that is now resistant to antibiotics because of all the antibiotics given to livestock.

8 ) A big chunk of food in supermarkets has at least one genetically modified ingredient.

9) In 1972, the American FDA did about 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2008, they only did 164. Big companies are expected to self regulate. Given how many E.Coli outbreaks there have been in the States, it obviously doesn’t work that well.

10) Oprah spent six years and more than a million dollars fighting for freedom of speech after the beef industry sued her (unsuccessfully) for saying  “knowing what I now
know, has stopped me from eating another burger”

11) Commercially reared chickens are treated terribly. Now this is something I sort of knew already and is pretty much why I don’t really eat chicken. It appears though, that in America, at least, the farming of chickens is even worse than I thought. They are not only kept in tiny spaces but they also aren’t exposed to any sunlight at all. This is because it’s easier for them to be caught when it’s dark and taken away for slaughtering, rather than the chickens seeing their killers coming and getting into a flap. Pardon the dreadful pun.

12) Chickens have also been reengineered so that they now have bigger breasts because this is the part people find the tastiest. This means though, that the poor little chicken’s legs aren’t able to hold this redesigned shape. Sometimes, they can barely stand.

13) Meat packing in America is considered to be one of the most dangerous industries. The workers are often treated really badly, particularly in the pork industry.

14) People who work in pig factories spend so much of their time handing pig guts that their fingernails often fall off.

How veal is farmed wasn’t in this movie, but I find that alarming too. So while we’re on the topic, did you know that baby cows are forced into tiny hutches with no light and no exercise? This specifically weakens them so that their meat is more tender. I’m really not
sure how humans think they justify such cruelty.

So, what can we do? Food Inc gives the
following tips:

–  Eat food that’s in season
– Grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs if you can
– Buy organic or sustainable food as often as you can afford it
– Support farmers, not corporations. Buy from your local farmer’s markets
– Find out where your food comes from – read the labels
– Go without meat at least one day a week. This is easy. Ian and I have been doing this since we saw David Suzuki a few years ago. Think of how much water and energy we reduce by doing so. If my carnivorous husband can go without meat one day a week, then anyone can do it.
– Sign up for this blog.


Watch Food Inc if you eat food