Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The movie Food, Inc. showed up in its red Netflix envelope last week. I didn't think K would have much interest in watching it, as he gets plenty of talk from me about food. And I was dreading the footage of factory farms and inhumane treatment of animals.

But it turned out K was interested -- he's a documentary junkie -- so I bucked up, and we watched it.

The film makers were wise. The footage I'd been dreading was infrequent and not very graphic. This makes the movie palatable to a larger number of people, which increases the likelihood that more people will learn about what corporate agriculture has done to our food supply -- and how it's affected the safety of farm workers and food processors, as well.

They don't emphasize the simple cruelty of factory feedlots and chicken houses, but you get the idea. And they also don't talk about the fact that efficiencies in farm production have created food that's often less nutritious. Nor did they talk much about how these large-scale productions affect the environment.

But the movie was full of good information, well presented. If you're interested in how corporations have influenced your diet from the shadows, or if you simply want to know more about how your food gets to the supermarket, it's worth a watch. The movie ends with some ideas for what we can do. Here are ten practical tips.

In our house they were preaching to the choir, though. I've always liked knowing where my food came from. It had nothing to do with paranoia or food safety, but was more about feeling a real connection with this basic facet of life. For many years I traded eggs and preserves for game. But I don't know many hunters these days, and have to look harder for meat I actually want to eat. The veggies are easier, between growing my own, CSA shares, and farmer's markets.

A side note: I respect vegetarians and admire their commitment. I can't do it, though. I tried it for a while in my twenties and felt simply awful the whole time. It seems there's nutrition in animal products and meat that my body can't access from other sources.

So we share a quarter of grass fed beef with another couple, and I recently found a source for local pastured pork. Just last week a hand-lettered sign by the side of the road lured me down a dirt driveway to talk with a couple of brothers growing pastured chickens. They aren't USDA certified. They aren't certified organic. But I SAW THEM. I saw the operation, the tractor coops that move the birds from one piece of ground to the next, the chickens with lots of space, pecking and spreading their wings in the sunshine. I saw the processing house. And I talked with the guys who do the work, asking lots of questions that they were more than willing to answer. They know what they're doing -- and I'll be buying my chickens from them in the future.

Does getting food this way mean more work? Yes.

Does it take more time? Yes.

Is it more expensive? Maybe.

The milk from the local dairy might be delivered to my home, but I make butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. from it. That does take time -- and work. Going and picking up my eggs every week takes time. Going to the farmer's market across town takes time. Baking bread takes time. But so does going to the grocery store, and the house doesn't smell nearly as good. Growing my own vegetables takes lots of time and work. It also preserves my sanity, which seems like a pretty good trade off.

As for the money, the food I buy is, in general, more expensive. However, we hardly ever go out to eat. It's not something we try to avoid. We just like to eat at home. So that cuts the food costs down a LOT. So does the fact that we don't throw food away. If I spend $12 on a chicken, it will give us at least two meals, plus chicken stock. The beef comes out to about $5 a pound. That's less than what I'd spend in the grocery store for a pound of grass fed burger, and much less than I'd spend for a pound of grass fed filet mignon or a roast. Eating with the seasons means a better price for organic produce at the grocery store. Spending real money for local produce at the farmer's market doesn't bother me, and it's offset by the huge savings garnered from our backyard vegetable garden.

So these are the choices I make right now. They might change in the future, as circumstances change. And I'm not advocating that anyone else make similar choices. But there are choices to be made, and it's not a bad idea to take a look at which ones we've made, unconsciously or consciously.


  1. As we continue to have more and more recalls with our food, I'd say this is the best way to go health-wise.

  2. In addition to everything else you've mentioned, buying grocery store foods or eating in restaurants puts way too much sodium in our bodies. I tried out Wok n Roll yesterday just for fun, and their nutrition guide said one normal order of teriyaki chicken contained 1896 mg. I'm hoping it was all in the sauce which was served on the side. I only used a tiny bit. :)

  3. Mason, it's amazing what's become dangerous -- e-coli in spinach, salmonella tainted tomatoes, etc. Crazy -- and a little scary.

    Patricia, I saw on the news last night that Kraft has committed to removing 10% of the sodium in many of their foods. That came out to a million pounds of salt a year. If that's only 10%, think about how much is left in their products!