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One of the best food documentaries available. Food Inc explores the fact that the way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000 but the image that is used to sell the food it is still the imagery of agrarian America. You go into the supermarket and you see pictures of farmers; the picket fence and the silo and the 30s farmhouse and the green grass. It is the spinning of this pastoral fantasy. The modern American supermarket has on average 47,000 products. There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Now there are tomatoes all year around grown half way around the world, picked when it was green and ripened with ethylene gas. Although it looks like a tomato it is kind of a notional tomato; I mean it is an idea of a tomato. In the meat aisle there are no bones any more. There is this deliberate veil, this curtain that has dropped between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you are eating because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.
If we follow the food chain back from those shrink-wrapped packages of meat you find a very different reality. The reality is a factory; it is not a farm it is a factory. That meat is being processed by huge multi-national corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers. Now our food is coming from enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused and the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are being deliberately hidden from us. You’ve got a small group of multi-national corporations who control the entire food system from seed to the supermarket they are gaining control of food. This isn’t just about what we are eating; this is about what we are allowed to say, what we are allowed to know. It is just not our health that is at risk. The companies don’t want farmers talking. They don’t want this story told.
My favourite meal to this day remains a hamburger and French fries. I had no idea that a handful of companies had changed what we eat and how we make our food. I have been eating this food all of my life without having any idea where it comes from, any idea how powerful this industry is. It was the idea of this world deliberately hidden from us and I think that is one of the reasons why I became an investigative report was to take the veil…lift the veil away from important subjects that are being hidden. The whole industrial food system really began with fast food. In the 1930s a new form of restaurant arose and it was called the drive in. The McDonald brothers had a very successful drive in but they decided to cut costs and simplify so they fired all their car hops, got rid of most of the things on the menu, and they created a revolutionary idea on how to run a restaurant. They basically brought the factory system to the back of the restaurant kitchen. They trained each worker to just do one thing again, again, and again. By having workers who only had to do one thing they could pay them a low wage and it was very easy to find someone to replace them. It was inexpensive food that tasted good and this McDonald’s fast food restaurant was a huge, huge success. That mentality of uniformity, conformity, and cheapness applied widely and on a large scale has all kinds of unintended consequences.
When McDonalds is the largest purchaser of ground beef in the United States and they want their hamburgers to taste everywhere exactly the same they change how ground beef is produced. The McDonald’s corporation is the largest purchaser of potatoes and one of the largest purchasers of pork, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, and even apples. These big, big fast food chains want big suppliers and now there are essentially a handful of companies controlling our food system. In the 1970s the top five beef packers controlled only about 25% of the market. Today the top four control more than 80% of the market. You see the same thing happening now in pork. Even if you don’t eat at a fast food restaurant you are now eating meat that is being produced by this system. You look at the labels and you see farmer this and farmer that, it is really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We have never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history. Tyson for example is the biggest meat packing company in the history of the world. The industry changed the entire way that chicken are raised. Birds are now raised and slaughtered in half the time they were 50 years ago but now they are twice as big. People like to eat white meat so they redesigned the chickens to have large breasts. They not only change the chicken they change the farmer. Today chicken farmers no longer control their birds. A company like Tyson owns the birds from the day they are dropped off until the day they are slaughtered.
The chicken industry has really set a model for the integration of production and processing and marketing the products that other industries are now following because they see we have achieved tremendous economies. In a way we are not producing chickens, we are producing food. It is all highly mechanised so all the birds coming off those farms have to be almost exactly the same size. What they system of intensive production accomplishes is to produce a lot of food on a small amount of land at a very affordable price.
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