From Farm to Plate

I know this subject matter might be a little off the journalism and technology track, but I believe there are ties that exist if one takes a long and hard look. So far, I have focused tightly on just the system of journalism, or a mainstream journalism subject (like politics). For this blog entry, however, I want to weave the idea of how our new age of reporting can have a greater affect on immensely dense and tangled issues.

For me, finding such a ball of opinions and facts would be easy due to one class I am taking through the UA Honors program. It is titled “Food and Community”; and it has dramatically changed the way I see food and how I eat it. Now, I am the bane of my friends’ and families’ existences because I continuously babble about the horrors of farm animal abuse, agricultural corporation monopolies that threaten family farms, the dangers and mistreatment employees face at meat-packing factories, the consumer’s ignorance about the drugs and processed chemicals injected into every aspect of food… The list goes on and on.

I wish I could stop caring. I wish that I had never taken this class, so that I could live blissfully unaware. But instead, all I can do is pass on my knowledge.

Here is a cluster of topics that encompass the greater issue of how our country’s complex agriculture and meat industry needs serious consideration by Americans. People don’t know what they need to know. Hopefully, this blog might help with that.

Tracking from farm to plate:

In most cases, you will never know where your food originally was grown. Farming and ranching depends on a series of processes that include processing the food in factories, packaging it (sometimes in other factories), transporting it to main facilities that then ship it to other stores, until it finally comes to you in a grocery aisle in a supermarket. The best thing you can do when decided between two brands is to do some research about the company and read the labels looking for ingredients or terms you understand.

JustBare is a good example of a chicken company that cares about it’s animals and it’s customers. They are environmentally conscious and extremely transparent about the food they serve. A code is on every one of it’s packages that the consumer can type into the website and find out what farm the chicken came from.

McCormick is a poor source of information about where the spices in their blends. A vast majority of our spices come from other countries, but surfing McCormick’s website never gives the consumer a clue. They use pretty pictures of cookies and delicious recipes to distract from the fact that they do not tell you anything concrete about how their product is made.

The issues of large-scale farming and ranching:

The NewYorkTimes has done an excellent job of covering farming and ranching from all sides. Here is a whole index of stories.

Oprah did a segment on the cattle industry. Lisa Ling went into a slaughterhouse to tell the story of how cows become steaks. Warning: this is a graphic video.

Lisa Ling had permission to videotape, but it is rare for anyone to get a glimpse into the food industry. Many companies want to protect trade or product secrets, but this can also hide transgressions against animals, health or safety code violations.

Any knowledge of these abuses usually comes from secret filming behind closed doors. New York, Iowa and other states are now passing bills that make a crime out of taking pictures in the facilities without the company’s permission. However, many argue that this is the only way to find out the truth.

Since corporations began taking over our nation’s food industry, they have continually fought legislation that would cost them money. They do not want to disclose evidence that would change the public’s view of their products. Therefore, they hide employee accidents that occur because of ignored safety regulations, and argue that consumers do not have the right to know about food recalls (the FDA does not require them to announce when food is taken off the market for safety concerns).

Organic and healthy:

There are many organizations and clumps of farmers and ranchers that believe in the traditional styles of growing food–totally natural. Natural Health News is a nonprofit devoted to covering green farming and educating the public about healthy eating.

In Tuscaloosa, there is a student led farmer’s market, called Homegrown Alabama, where most of the vendors sell organic produce.

Other sources of information:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Fast food nation: the dark side of the all-American meal by Eric Schlosser


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