Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Are What You Eat

A few weeks ago, The Scientist and I went to see Food, Inc. at our local community college. I had a general idea of what it was about and have heard great things about how powerful it is, but I wasn't at all prepared for what has transpired since that evening.

In general, I'm a healthy eater and always have been. I love junk food as much as most people, but more often than not you'll find me munching on veggies and hummus or apple slices and cheese. I purchase most of my food on the outside aisles of the grocery store, frequent my local farmers market, buy organic when I can afford it, and stay away from high fructose corn syrup and anything that's partially hydrogenated.

But I eat meat, most of which is not organic. I try to buy hormone free dairy and eggs, but not always. Buying locally at this latitude is extremely limiting for 8-9 months out of the year. And every once in awhile, I love me some Top Ramen, Kraft Mac & Cheese and Oreo cookies.

So what was it about this movie that affected me so much? Here are a few key points:

  • First and foremost, the inhumane treatment of animals. It's so easy to separate ourselves from what goes on at those slaughter farms, and I'm not just talking about the slaughter itself. It's the way they're raised, standing in their own shit their entire life and being fed CORN. I don't care how cheap it is or how fast it fattens them up, cows cannot digest corn. All the E. coli outbreaks in the last 15 years? A direct result of feeding corn to cows. And apparently farmed fish eat corn now, too. 'Cause that's logical. All that corn that grows in the OCEAN. Luckily I don't eat farmed fish since it's basically the most toxic substance you can put in your body, second to botulism. Anyway...

  • The inhumane treatment and exploitation of farm and factory workers. It's like we're back in the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". Conditions are horrible, hours are long and pay is meager, at best.

  • The soybean industry. This was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the movie. The movie discusses the Monsanto company, which has a patent on Genetically Modified seeds. They also happen to produce around 95% of the soybean crop in the U.S. Oh, and they're pure evil. Farmers who grow soybeans have been put out of business because they refuse to grow the GMOs. And those who want to keep their farms are basically a slave to Monsanto. Now, I don't eat a lot of soy because I don't care for tofu, I don't like soy milk and I don't like the idea of putting all those phyto-estrogens in my body. I have enough regular estrogen coursing through my body, thankyouverymuch. But I like soy sauce, I LOVE edamame, and most packaged foods have some sort of soy in them, even if it's one of the last ingredients.

  • Chemicals and pesticides. Most of the non-organic ground meat in the U.S. contains a filler that is treated with ammonia. AMMONIA! I don't even like to clean my bathroom with ammonia, let alone EAT IT. The pesticides used on many of our crops are linked to all kinds of health problems, including ADHD in children and certain types of cancers. They also throw off the natural symbiotic relationships that occur in nature, eventually increasing the amount of bugs on the crops, which increases the amount of pesticides that are needed to rid the crops of the bugs, and it's all one big, vicious cycle.

  • Environment. All of these factories that grow and produce our food are typically hundreds of miles away from where most of us live. The factories themselves produce horrendous amounts of waste, not to mention the emissions that are created from the transport of our food to where we live. This is why it is so key to support local growers. It keeps greenhouse gasses down and supports/boosts your local economy!

The movie delves much deeper into the above issues, as well as several others that are just as important. Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan *, and all those involved with making this film have made their life's work out of spreading these messages. We need to help them.

What changes have I made since seeing this film?

  • The Scientist and I have decided to cut waaaaaay back on our meat intake. We're sticking to the Weekday Veg (more like Weekday Pescatarian, since we do eat a lot of fish) lifestyle. And when we do eat meat, we'll stick to organic, grass-fed, free range, and all that good stuff. This is a huge step for me, the gal who loves her beef. The gal who would eat a steak every damn day if she could. The gal who *used to* shout from the hilltops "I WILL NEVER BE A VEGETARIAN!" Never say never, people. While I have not committed fully to being 100% vegetarian, I have only eaten meat once since we saw the film and I'm not missing it all that much.

  • We are making a concerted effort to buy locally whenever possible. We've hit up our local farmers market (it's still a bit early for all the really good stuff), buy fresh honey and eggs from people down the street and we're considering having a CSA (community supported agriculture) box delivered twice a month. I used to get one from Full Circle Farm when I lived alone, but found I couldn't go through the whole small box on my own before some of it went bad. But with two of us, it's totally doable. When we can't get food grown in our own state, we're trying to find it close as possible (buying produce from California instead of all the way from South America, for example).

  • Buying organic. This doesn't just include food. I'm talking cleaning products, items for the home such as linens, clothing, etc. It's not always easy or affordable, but making little changes here and there can make a big difference.

  • Buying FRESH. I always try to stay away from processed and packaged foods as much as possible, but I like the convenience of opening a can of soup when I want something quick to eat, and I love all the delightful packaged meals that Trader Joe's has to offer. But I want to get in the habit of eating more real, fresh, whole foods. It's better for my body and better for the earth.

  • And last, but certainly not least, we have put our kitties on a different diet. One of our cats is a barfer. He barfs on a daily, sometimes twice daily basis. He's been to the vet. He's had blood work done. IBS and other issues have been ruled out. He's been on a sensitive stomach diet. He's been on a strictly wet food diet. Nothing works and he is skinny as a rail (still feisty as ever, though). I've always fed my cats "healthy, natural" food from the natural pet food store and have felt pretty good about it. But even in these so-called healthy foods, the second or third damn ingredient in all of them is CORN. When was the last time you saw a cat wandering through a corn field, snackin' on the kernels? Yeah, same here. Since this film, our cats have been on a corn, wheat and soy free diet (the food we found also happens to be cheaper than what I was feeding them. WIN.) and guess what? No barf in 2 weeks. Go figure.
I've only touched on a few of the issues that the film discussed, but I wanted to at least spread some of the info. I haven't been affected by a film like this in a long time, if ever. I think part of the reason is because I feel like I actually CAN make a difference by making these minor changes. Sometimes it seems our actions are futile in affecting major change, but if we each make a few adjustments here, a few tweaks there, big things can happen. And they NEED to happen.

Have you seen this movie? How did it affect you? What kinds of changes have you made as a result? If you haven't seen the movie, I urge you to watch it immediately and I challenge you to make one small change in how you view your food!

If you're interested in talking more about this, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I always enjoy discussion about food, nutrition, sustainable living, etc.

*My aunt is good friends and colleagues with Michael Pollan. Greatest dinner party guest ever? I'm thinking yes.


  1. Stevie,

    I am so glad that this movie effected you in this way-- I saw it too and liked it, but having been thoroughly Bastyrified it was not as new information for me. Have you read any of Mr. Pollan's books? I have several of them if you want to borrow them-- I've read Omnivore's Dilemna 3 times and I get something out of it every time (incidentally I met him briefly when he spoke at Bastyr and I was more star struck then when I once met Ben Stiller!) Super jealous your aunt is BFFs with him!

    The documentary King Corn is along a similar vein and worth looking into as well.

  2. Yes, I've read all of his books! I even found an older, lesser known book of his at the used book store a couple weeks ago. The first book of his I read was The Botany of Desire, back in 2000 or 2001. That was when my aunt informed me of their relationship. I would LOVE to meet him and pick his brain.

    I was also aware of most of the stuff in the movie, but have been pretty good about separating myself from it. Somehow, though, this movie really struck a chord.

  3. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (and now wanting to read more Michael Pollan books) and watching Food Inc my husband and I have changed our eating habits. I have also encouraged friends and family to do the same.

    If you are interested in the Monsanto/GMO stuff, there is a documentary made by Jerry Garcia's widow- I think that it is called The Future of Food. FANTASTIC.

  4. There's so much interesting material out there around food right now, I'm glad that it's getting a lot of people to look around and take stock! =)

    I've been vegetarian since I was six years old, my mom explained it very simply to me: "Animals are my friends, and I don't eat my friends", and that's been the basis of why I'm still at it 19 years later. I'm profoundly anti-cruelty, and buying local, organic, and fair trade wherever possible is a huge part of my life.

    That being said, while I'm with the arguments made in all these films and books I can't go anywhere near them. I literally get recurring nightmares from reading about the way animals are treated, so I've learned to avoid them while shaking my pom poms for their principles =)

  5. That movie struck a chord with my boyfriend and me as well. Since we saw it, we've been working harder to buy locally--especially with meat. Luckily, we live pretty close to a butcher that sells good, local meat, and within walking distance to our neighborhood's farmer's market. I've also been looking into the various CSA programs, and Full Circle Farms is one that I've heard good things about.

    We've been working for the last few years to reduce the processed foods we eat (trying to avoid hydrogendated oils, high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients, buying more organic and fair trade products), and the movie was a good motivator to extend our cautious eating to meats, too.

  6. Agh - as you can see, I got behind on my blog reading. If I had read this, I totally would've given you a shout-out, too. I love how all the books and movies that are coming out are getting people to think about our actions and how they affect the world we live in. As you said, changes can be small and still have a great impact on our lives.

  7. @Nilsa - no worries! Thanks for thinking of me, though :-) The thing I liked most about this movie was that it didn't seem preachy or "in your face" like I mentioned in my comment on your post. It was more about awareness and education and making us conscious about where our food comes from. We're so far removed from it these days and it's scary!

  8. I haven't seen this movie but it sounds really interesting. A lot of what you said is stuff I've heard before but I had no idea about the soybean industry. That's really sad.

  9. I'm too scared to see it because I know I probably wouldn't eat meat anymore.

    A life without meat scares me more than anything else.

  10. I haven't seen the movie, but I want to, except that sometimes ignorance is bliss, you know? But still, I plan to see it eventually.

  11. I find this fascinating - I'm really starting to want to educate myself about of this. (I definitely have been a "head buried in the sand" mentality). My question is how do you balance everything? I'm afraid I'd be worried/stressed about every little thing being bad for me. I'd love to hear your thoughts/tips - also, the idea of a local CSA is new to me. I frequent the farmer's market during the summer but it's only open through September so I have to get all my produce at a grocery store in the fall/winter months. (If these are too many questions for a comment feel free to email me). :) Great post!

  12. Very interesting. I struggle watching those types of films because I am such a huge animal lover but I am in love with eating chicken.. it is definitely hard. But I have made changes for myself ie I'm not a big red meat eater- I eat it on occassion but I usually stick with chicken and I try my darndest to never consume caged chicken meat or eggs, that just makes me sad to think about. It's good you watched and made changes for yourself!!! Also- farmer's markets are the best for food changes I think, and it's also so fun to go to in the summer :) Good post- I really wish meat didn't come from animals, sigh.

  13. @Krysten - I very much recommend it. Even though most of us are aware of a lot of what goes on, it's presented in a way that's easy to understand and gives a lot of info on what we can do as consumers to make changes.

    @Lilu - I know. I KNOW. I love my meat. I'm still eating meat, just much less of it and making sure the Certified Organic and Certified Humane label is on the meat.

    @Jess - I know exactly what you mean! It's so easy to remove ourselves from everything that goes on. But I keep hearing more and more about how completely unsustainable the food industry is so I figured it was time to make some changes.

    @Becky - When I'm shopping and cooking for myself, it's much easier to be aware of it. But I also don't stress when I'm at someone's house and they're serving food that doesn't fit into these changes. I'll shoot you an e-mail with more details!

    @Caitlin - Definitely look for the free-range/cage-free/certified humane labels on your chicken. Those birds live a pretty happy life and even the slaughter is more humane. Plus, organic meat really tastes SO much better. You're lucky to have the Portland Farmers Market where you are! That is one of the best Farmers Markets I've ever visited!

  14. That movie totally changed the way I ate!! Have you read Michael Pollan's books too?

  15. i'm working toward eating only humanely-raised meat, but it's a slow process.. mainly because if i'm cooking it's pretty last minute, and around here i need to pre-plan buying meat like that at farmer's markets. but i know i NEED to. and i want to.

  16. I've been trying to buy organic/hormone free meats and produce lately. Trader joes is a good source, but they don't always have everything. We have an organic meat market by our house and I'm considering buying meat from there. It will be expensive, but we'll just eat less. I also have been reading a book about how much better the fats are in eating grass fed/free range/organic meats...thats a mouthful!

    I hadn't given much thought to my cleaning products though, excellent point!

  17. the biggest point that came up for my in Food Inc was the idea of knowing where your food came from. Now I think about that so much more, trying to choose local and smaller farms as opposed to big, corporate organizations. I also have been looking at the sugars & salts in food, especially if they say ANYTHING about low fat (bc all that means is that they just upped the sugar & salt). I am also trying to be moderate about things and let my $$ speak for me. I was a pesco-vegetarian for 15 years, and I feel that meat can be eaten responsibly, everything is okay in moderation and companies will always listen to you when you speak through your spending!

    excellent food for thought with this post!

  18. Great points. I've been vegetarian (vegan when possible), gluten-free, organic, sustainable and I try to shop as locally as possible- you're right, living in Seattle makes this difficult in the winter months.
    I used to eat a lot of fish- sushi and ahi tuna are my weakness- until I started reading a lot of information on ethyl-mercury poisoning in even the once in awhile fish consumer. You should really check into some studies about it, I found it to be eye-opening and even mind changing. The documentary The Cove is a good one to check out.


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