I’m Not Sure What’s Next

I feel like a man standing on the edge of a beach looking up at the towering tsunami only 100 feet away.

I look at what people in America eat, how the food is produced and the obesity crisis and I see the tsunami. To be honest, I’m feeling powerless to affect the animal agriculture system. I think I have to resign that the popular opinion in America is “slaughter ’em quick and cheap and put it on my plate…yummy yummy yummy!”

I look around and no one seems willing to make tough choices in the face of corporate food pressure. People are happily consuming the animal products that are put out by the food corporations. Hardly anyone is putting up a stink. The corporate food world is a well oiled propaganda machine and us “consumers” seem to be their helpless victims.

Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute! Elliott, you can’t take your beating lying down. It’s so easy to feel discouraged when you feel like you’re one of a very small minority trying to do something very important. It’s important to figure out how to overcome that kind of adversity.

I really believe it’s people’s duty and responsibility to do SOMETHING — ANYTHING to change the way things are done. If that means Meatless Mondays, great! If that means being a vegetarian or a vegan, even better! If that means talking to your local politician, superb!

For me, at this point, I’ve chosen the path of trying my best to disengage from the corporate factory farming model. I don’t believe in it so I don’t participate in their game of who can produce the most meat for the cheapest price at any cost. Sorry Tyson, Farmland, McDonald’s or Applebee’s, you won’t be getting my business…

But these companies don’t even balk at people like me. McDonald’s sells about 550 million Big Macs every year…that’s about 17 a second. So, big deal…for one second of the year they only sold 16 Big Macs because I didn’t buy one this year. That’s really putting a dent in their quarterly earnings report and changing the way they do business…not.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that personal food choices are only going to go so far. It will take millions of people making the right choices every day to effect any real change. Does that mean I’m giving up in the face of the tsunami, absolutely not! But it does mean I’m exploring other fronts to fight this battle. I’ve written recently about how government intervention is necessary because the capitalist free market economy inevitably produces the food system we have today if it goes about its business unchecked.

I’m not sure what’s next. I’m not going to stop trying my best to make the right food choices every day and share my views with people. But I need to start getting more involved; putting more pressure on the system. I hope you’ll join me in my expedition to root out the problems, expose them to the light and expedite change.

Assignment: What’s your first step in this journey going to be? What’s your something going to be? Put that in to action, good for you! I guarantee once you take that first real earnest step…you’ll want to take more.


Capitalism, Regulation and Animal Welfare

If you believe Republicans in this country you’d think the answer to all our economic woes is “free market economics unhindered by government regulation” — I’d say you’re wrong.

Sure, this is a political statement. But I’m not trying to argue from a standpoint of my politics are better than your politics. Rather, I’m using a political issue to highlight one of the fundamental driving forces behind factory farming. Peter Singer highlights this in his book The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter:

“The core issue is the commercial pressures that exist in a competitive market system in which animals are items of property, and the conditions in which they are kept are not regulated by federal or state animal welfare law.” 

It’s not hard to see that the factory farming system is the result of unfettered free market capitalism.  Free market “competition” will drive the price of meat and animal products down over time. While that might sound like a good thing…consider the following. Driving the price of meat and animal products down over time is not the only goal; the additional goal is to enrich the shareholders and executives at the company. The way the price of meat goes down while still skimming enough off the top to appease shareholders and CEOs/VPs is lower wages, less worker benefits, poor working conditions, less worker rights, intensive animal confinement practices and whatever practice will be cheaper. 

This brings me to the next point, which Singer articulates very well:

“The real ethical issue about factory farming’s treatment of animals isn’t whether the producers are good or bad guys, but that the system seems to recognize animal suffering only when it interferes with profitability.” 

The “profit motive” is a very blinding concept that drives corporations to ignore animal welfare in the pursuit of better quarterly earnings reports.  That’s the trouble with capitalism. Capitalism in its most raw form is a dangerous animal. To borrow a phrase from one of my Radiology professors, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there and I’m wearing milk bone underpants.” And it is a dog eat dog world in capitalism. Sometimes it’s not pretty, e.g. 2008’s Great Recession. If you find yourself wearing the milk bone underpants capitalism might eat you alive. Luckily we have some regular cotton underpants…I call that regulation. And until I or someone smarter than me figures out a Utopian economy that can sidestep capitalism then we’ll have to settle on regulation as a safety net for the failings of capitalism.

I’d also like to say that I agree with Singer that most producers (i.e. the farmers) aren’t the “bad guys.” However, I don’t want you to forget that there are bad guys in the tale of factory farming. I’ll let you guess who that might be…

One of my top priorities when envisioning the future of animal agriculture is government regulated animal welfare laws. And I’m talking about tough laws. Laws that any decent human being would find necessary and prudent, but corporate food companies like Tyson and Cargill would find objectionable. If companies like Tyson and Cargill aren’t complaining about the new laws, you know they aren’t tough enough. If they are complaining…you’re on the right track!

Assignment: Nada…take the night off!

Why Our Food Choices Matter

I’m constantly amazed by how society remains indifferent to the ethical issues surrounding food. I know it involves lack of education about the issues, apathy/laziness, economic concern and David versus Goliath mentality. However, at the end of the day you can make a difference. Are you going to change the world by changing your personal or family’s food choices and speaking out about the issues? No. Most likely your singular efforts will not. But if thinking that you’ll never change the world stops you from making the right choices…then that, my friend, is what we call a copout.

I just started reading a superb book by Peter Singer called The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. This book was published in 2006…5 years ago. The author also published a book called Animal Factories in 1980…31 years ago! What may seem like a “trendy” new thing called “food ethics” is actually something that a few smart brave people have been talking about for over thirty years. And only a few have listened.

Reading this book is number 416 on my list of 287,399 things to do…but it’s important so I will make time. And I’ll be writing about issues that come up in the book here. It will be exciting!

Assignment: If you’re an A+ student you should get a copy of the book yourself. Not only will it be like a blog book club thing, but you can make your own conclusions based on the book. If you’re not feeling like an “achiever” today (side note: I hate the term “over-achiever” — that’s just a term used by lazy people, there are two kinds of people, achievers and unachievers) then I urge you to simply consider that if you don’t trust corporate banks to do the right thing, can you really trust corporate food companies to do the right thing? When push comes to shove…will food companies choose “the right thing” over profits? I wonder…

“Nutrition” Bar…

First, I must apologize for a hiatus that was too long.  I am ashamed that I haven’t been writing as frequently as I know I should. But I’m back now!

I was recently in the grocery store one morning before 7am trying to pick out a quick lunch for the day because we didn’t have any groceries in the house or leftovers for the day’s lunch. I grabbed a can of creamy tomato soup and a Zone Perfect bar. I picked this up because I thought it’s an easy way to get some calories and protein. I was also interested because they’re manufactured by Abbott Laboratories. I have a relative who’s always eating these and I thought I should give them a try so I grabbed a chocolate mint one.

I can’t say that the bar was delicious…no…it really kind of tasted like chalky sand with a mildly tasty chocolate coating. Taste aside, what I’d really like to comment about is the fact that this product is marketed as an “all-natural nutrition bar.”

I think they market it as a “nutrition” bar because it has some vitamins and minerals which for the most part seem to be just added, e.g. Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Fumarate and Thiamine Mononitrate. There’s also 14g of protein. I’m not saying this is bad, but we have to realize these aren’t really naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. In other words, when you eat a tomato you don’t need to add vitamins. This is just my minor point.

My major point is this:

There’s 4.5g of saturated fat in this “nutrition” bar! That’s 23% of your daily value in one bar! There’s also 13g of sugar!

In 2009, the American Heart Association released guidelines for sugar intake…since no one had analyzed this in the past!

The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 20 grams (5 teaspoons) of sugar per day, for adult men, it’s 36 grams (9 teaspoons) daily, and for children, it’s 12 grams (3 teaspoons) a day.

So, if you eat this mint chocolate Zone Perfect bar…

You’ve eaten 65% of your recommended daily intake if you’re a woman.

You’ve eaten 36% of your recommended daily intake if you’re a man.

And most importantly…You’ve eaten 108% of your recommended daily intake if you’re a child.

Given this data…I find it hard to believe these are “nutrition” bars in any real meaning of the word. Zone Perfect bars aren’t the only offender…this is an industry-wide problem and I simply chose these bars to make a point because I happen to have picked one up from the grocery store.

Assignment: Think about whether people should be eating real foods that naturally contain vitamins and minerals (e.g. tomato or apple) or should people be reaching for “nutrition” bars that need added vitamins and minerals and contain quite high levels of saturated fat and sugar to boot. Should these be everyday food items or special treats?