While watching CNN on Tuesday morning, June 30, I saw two captions flash across the bottom ticker. One told me that E Coli was found in cookie dough; the other, that 380,000 lbs of beef was being recalled. These were both pretty important bits of information, and I suppose those sometime innocuous captions are useful, for I could seek out further information--which is exactly what I did. Nestle was reporting that their prepackaged cookie dough possibly contained the deadly strain of bacteria; JBS Swift Beef Co. (what a fitting name: swift beef!) recalled some 41,000 products due to possible E Coli contamination.
I appreciated the slivers of information from CNN, though during the twenty or so minutes that I watched, that was all I was told concerning these topics. The reason, of course, is that the entire programming was dedicated to coverage of Michael Jackson's death. I wondered if Barbara Kowalcyk happened to be watching that morning, considering that she has dedicated her life to food safety after her four-year-old soon was killed after eating a contaminated burger. I wondered if any of the over 300,000 people hospitalized yearly due to foodborne illnesses were more concerned with Jacko's passing than the safety of what they put inside their bodies.
My wonderment of these issues was catalyzed after seeing Food, Inc., the important documentary by Robert Kenner, which covers a number of important issues regarding the state of our national health. I'm not sure if Kenner borrowed the title from Peter Pringle's excellent 2003 book, Food Inc., which covered biotechnology and Monsanto's seed patents. This particular story finds itself inside of his film, yet so do others: Kevin's law, Kowalcyk's political initiative after her son's death; factory farming; diabetes; environmental impact; and more. In fact, Kenner's decision to compose a series of vignettes on differing topics, rather than focusing on any one of these issues alone, made the film that much more meaningful.
Already I've come across friends who've told me they don't want to see the film, because they don't want to know the truth behind what they eat. I'm afraid this mindset is all too common; it's easier to ignore than understand. Thus you have the Mexican family featured in the film, which will not spend a dollar on pears because you only get two, but will spend it on the dollar menu at Burger King. Circumstances are tough--the father has diabetes and spends most of their income on medications. Then the golden moment: the mother asks, what do we do? Spend our money on vegetables to heal him, or pharmaceuticals? People in the theater started shouting "vegetables!," though we already know the answer chosen.
As Americans have become so disconnected from our food sources, so we've grown disconnected from our food. Hence, high fructose corn syrup and the emergence of "food products," which contain some amount of food, and a lot of other stuff that was never intended to be food at all. Worse, we've made other animals adopt our habits, like feeding corn (and other cows) to cows, grass-grazing herbivores that they are, and voilah: E Coli. So of course you need medicine to treat humans, and you need medicine to treat animals, which are penned up in unnatural habitats for their entire lifespan. They grow sick, we grow sick, somebody makes a lot of money from this, the vicious cycle continues.
All this information is available on the film's website, as well as by watching the film. I don't want to reiterate what Kenner and crew--which includes co-producer Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation, and the much less discussed though excellent Reefer Madness), Michael Pollan, and Joel Salatin, the "grass farmer" (and highlight of the documentary) made famous by Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma--cover, though it bears remembering one important thing, basic as it is: you are what you eat. Pollan took it a step further: you are what what you eat eats. If what you eat lived in a dark pen with no mobility, constantly stepping on feces, infected with cancer and psychologically deranged, you can only imagine how that reacts inside of you. The journey from mouth to anus is a dark one indeed.
And still, this is a "reactionary" ideology, so far has our relationship with food become (which is why stories like this are posted in "Living" instead of "Politics"). When food became "fuel" instead of nourishment, and when vitamins became more important than wholesome nutrition, we began to journey down a terrible cliff of ignorance that we try to bring to light by ingesting antacids and supplements, and undergoing radiation treatments. Our bodies are more intelligent than our brains. They take care of things we cannot even consciously imagine--consider our enteric nervous system, our digestive system's motherboard, which is more important to our constitution than the central nervous system, and yet so little of what it does or how it operates is known. We don't consciously digest food; that is taken care of without mental effort. What we can be conscious of is what food we put inside of our body to digest. That is a relationship that Americans so desperately need to reestablish, as the future of food--and our health--depends on it.
It starts by what we mentally ingest. We cannot blame the media outlets for their coverage--their goal is money too. You have to looks outside that box for more information, and thankfully we are at a cultural crossroads where films like Food Inc become successful. Let the dead bury the dead. We have a life to live.
Further reading, if you are so inclined to research these topics:
Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food
Eric Schlosser: Fast Food Nation
T. Colin Campbell: The China Study
John Robbins: The Food Revolution
Peter Pringle: Food, Inc.
George Pyle: Raising Less Corn, More Hell
Richard Manning: Against the Grain
Daniel Charles: Lords of the Harvest
Marion Nestle: Food Politics
Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
Andrew Kimbrell (editor): The Fatal Harvest Reader
Melody Petersen: Our Daily Meds
John Abramson: Overdosed America
Michael D. Gershon: The Second Brain