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You Are What You Eat: Food Inc. Brings Food to the Forefront

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The film Food Inc premieres on June 12th in LA, SF and NYC and brings dinner and the food industry to the center stage of a serious debate that is happening across the country.

The adage "you are what you eat" has been around for a very long time. However, it seems that during the last 50 years, a greater part of the American population has forgotten that. Food has become as simple as getting into your car, driving to your local super market and filling up your cart. Easy, but the question I pose is: what have we given up for that convenience? In a sense it seems as if we have lost touch with our food. You no longer buy a whole chicken -- you buy nicely cleaned extra large chicken breasts. Items such as cereals or peanut butter have a slew of ingredients that most individuals can't even pronounce (mostly derivatives of corn) and aren't even necessary ingredients for the final product. We have also developed the mindset that food should be cheap and balk at the idea of paying high costs for food, but will find value in buying a brand new car, plasma TV or designer clothes.

Looking at today's society it seems clear that when it comes to our food and nutrition, our priorities are out of whack. We need a wake up call and Food Inc is just that. Director Robert Kenner and investigative authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) bring their literary works to big screen and take us inside the corporate food world and show first hand what has been hidden from us for a very long time.

The film takes you to a massive cattle feed lot/factory farm where cows are on top of one another and in their own manure 24/7. These animals are also feed corn (a carbohydrate that fattens them up quicker than grass which is their natural food source). Cows are not naturally designed for corn consumption and as a result their stomachs are creating new strains of E. Coli and passing it on to roughly 73,000 Americans each year. Cows aren't the only animals being mistreated. The pigs don't have it any better, nor do the chickens. Tyson farms, the largest producer of chickens in the U.S. have engineered their chickens to grow in 49 days (compared to 90 days for a normal chicken). These chickens grow so fast that their bones and muscles cannot keep up with their weight, they can only take a few steps before collapsing from exhaustion.

The processing of these animals is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and the meat processing corporations such as Smithfield's are actively seeking out and bringing in illegal immigrant labor from Mexico (these workers no longer have any work in their own towns because the Mexican farmers can't compete with subsidized American corn due to NAFTA.)

The film also sheds light on a major Agribusiness company Monsanto. Monsanto was responsible for "Agent Orange" a chemical weapon that was used during the Vietnam War. They have since turned to the agriculture business and have created a genetically modified soybean crop. This crop has a patented gene that is now present in 90% of the nation's soybeans. Since Monsanto owns the patent, farmers are now forbidden to save and reuse their seed and must buy new seeds from Monsanto each season. What really angered me was the fact that, even if you never bought Monsanto seeds but say your neighbor did and through pollination some of the Monsanto seed got on to your property -- you are at fault for violating the patent. Monsanto uses its patents to bully these small farmers with lawsuits. These farmers don't have the funds to fight Monsanto legally and are often forced to settle. Basically Monsanto has eliminated most of the soybean diversity in the U.S.

You would think that government organizations such as the FDA and the USDA are in place for consumer safety, rather that corporate profit but the film points out that it's unfortunately not the case. The film highlights a list of government employees and regulators in government office, departments and even on the Supreme Court, many whom were previous employees of the large corporations who they are now regulating. Unfortunately many of these former employees tend to be biased and in favor of the corporation -- not the consumer.

The film continues to go into different aspects of how the food industry affects our day-to-day lives. One family who is struggling to pay the bills and cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables specifically struck me. The father of the family has type two diabetes and has to spend a substantial amount of the family budget on his medication. They continue to buy fast food because it's cheap. While it is difficult to compete with a 99 cent burger, a bag of beans which today you can get three bags for $5 at the grocery store is much more affordable and a nutritious alternative. Perhaps if they began to eat healthier, he wouldn't have to spend so much of the family budget on medication -- fast food isn't the only option if you're on a tight budget, but it might be the easiest.

Overall the information presented is really enlightening and if you didn't get to read In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation you can sort of get the gist of the message throughout the film. The message is not all doom and gloom. In fact we learn that Organics as a whole is the fastest growing food segment with a 20% growth rate each year. The most important message I took from film is that though we might feel helpless compared to these corporate giants -- we in fact have the power with what we chose to buy each day.

So if the saying is true and you in fact are what you eat -- we can chose to be the GMOs from Monsanto, or the Factory Farmed chemically enhanced meats, or we can choose to be healthier, devote a little more to what goes inside and fuels us. Alice Water's recently put it best when she said, "You pay for it upfront, or you'll pay for it outback."

Visit this post from the Sierra Club Blog on how to eat well on a budget.

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