In the US the majority of foods you buy at the supermarket contain corn in one form or another. Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) a lighter fluid is used by the US government to preserve fast food when 5g of the fluid can kill you. In the US it is possible to buy organic microwaveable meals.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat is a great book to sink your teeth into! Michael Pollan provides a natural history on the food we eat with particular focus on the food system in the US. He explores the industrial, industrial organic, local sustainable and hunter-gatherer food systems in detail to give us a better idea about where food comes from in the US.
‘I wanted to look at things as they really are. I did not want to look away from reality.’ Michael Pollan
The industrial section highlights the problems caused by loss of diversity on their farms to accommodate ‘economic’ crops. It’s strange that even though biodiversity loss is occurring on the farm the variety of food available in the supermarkets seems to be increasing.
‘Standing in our giant supermarkets, we feel more lost than someone standing in a forest ten thousand years ago.’
In the US, but also to a large degree in SA Agribusiness is in control of what we eat! Crop diversity has been reduced allowing machines to take the place of farm workers. Who benefits? Answer: Big agribusinesses, while we are left with a bland landscape and less jobs. Not only are agribusinesses reducing biodiversity on the farm, they are polluting the land with harmful pesticides and fertilizers. The residues infiltrate deep into the soil, and end up in our freshwater systems.
And the food: we obtain 1 calorie for every 10 calories used to produce the food. What doesn’t make sense is that the US government creates policies to supply the industrial food chain – this means that the price of corn to buy is less that it takes to grow. Ensuring that ‘junk’ food is cheaper than healthy food! Does this have something to do with the high obesity rate in that country? Our livestock is also kept in appalling conditions; cramped in small spaces/cages, standing on piles of their own waste, with little or no natural lights and only one purpose – to produce cheap meat to supply the demand. I’m sure each of us, if given the choice, would choose to eat an animal that was healthy and happy? So why are we do we allow these practices to continue?
The industrial organic section covers food found in the supermarket that has its own ‘story’. These stories usually provide information about the farming practices used and the condition the animals lived in. Forty years ago this industry didn’t exist; now it’s a $20 billion business. What you may not know however is that a large proportion of organic meat is still factory farmed? In the 1970s there was a new movement that helped spur the growth of this sector. Most organic brands are actually owned by industrial corporations. The only difference is that a few acres of land on these farms are free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides. But surely they pass over via wind and water?
Local sustainable food is classed as ‘food from grass’. Everything is recycled within this symbiotic system. Light energy is the source of energy instead of fossil fuels. Each organism, whether it is plant or animal, has its purpose – nothing is wasted. Humans have evolved to eat meat from wild animals that have eaten natural foods (not corn!). There are a few local, sustainable farms that adopt these methods of farming. What is great about these farms is that you also help to support your local community. Food is one part of our lives we can still control.
There are a few individuals who also will hunt and gather their food for the natural environment. This is a great way to see where your food comes from and you have the power to decide how it’s collected. Although this is not a viable option for many people in their day to day lives â€“ it provides a wonderful option for the special occasion. Why not see what real food tastes like?
The book has deepened the popular dilemma about food. After reading this book many omnivores have turned vegetation and many former vegetarians have started eating meat. If you’re worried about what goes into food with focus on the US and where it comes from then this book is for you.
In this book you’ll go undercover at the American supermarket. You’ll delve behind the scenes of your dinner and by the time you’ve digested the last page you’ll have put together the fascinating (and sometimes disturbing) puzzle of what’s on your plate and how it got there.
And now your reward for reading this far: we have 2 copies of The Omnivore’s Dilemma to give away. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and see if you’re lucky!
By Debbie Worthington