We watched Food Inc. this weekend. A lot of what we saw was not new to us, but reminded us of why we do what we do. It’s a very good movie to view if you haven’t yet. One of the words used to describe many of the animals in the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) systems was “money.” One fellow with Tyson chicken barns stuck his head out his pick-up window and said, “Smells like money to me.” His neighbors smelled something else. The way he described how Tyson works with their farmers reminded me of the sharecropper system wherein the farmer owns or leases the land, but he can only sell to the “boss” and has to accept whatever the “boss” will pay–less deductions the boss sees fit to levy. He said, “Sometimes you lose money, sometimes you make money. Sometimes.” That’s very true of farming in general, but especially so in the “be happy with what we’ll pay you” system rather than a more free market type of system. Another tidbit was that of all the variety at the grocery store, there are really only a handful of producers–large corporations who act as brokers for growers and buyers, thus lining the pockets of only a few.
The movie also talked about processing. Chicken processing is near and dear to us, so this was notable. Commercialized food is primarily about dollars, not quality and safety. The many recent food scares with meat, spinach, and peanut butter recalls underscore the fact that safety is about dollars, not actual safety. This morning I caught a short piece on NPR (just over 2 min.) that discussed chicken. From the radio station description: “A recent Consumer Reports study finds that two-thirds of whole broiler chickens tested across the country harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter. Urvashi Rangan is the author of the study, and tells host Liane Hansen which chickens made the good and bad lists.” Interestingly, the safest chicken was organic, air cooled birds. The worst offenders: Tyson and Foster Farms. The national chicken council defended itself, saying that all raw meat may contain bacteria that will die in the cooking process if cooked properly.
Hmmm… It’s why we do what we do.