The Price of Progress - America's Broken Food System
As humans, we have advanced in a number of ways and we continue to accomplish the unthinkable throughout the years. Our way of life is mainly driven by our ambition to develop new ideas and practices that make our lives easier and accomplish tasks faster. We continue to realize our new potential as we advance our technology, our transportation, our medical science, and even our food. But we have also begun to realize that all of our advancements include one or more negative effects. Our food supply is now called an industry, farmers have become slaves to large companies, and the United States food system is simply broken.
Almost everything has to happen fast nowadays; you can safely cruise down an interstate at eighty miles per hour, teenagers can text lengthy messages on their phones within seconds, movies can be streamed at the click of a button; the list goes on and on. In my opinion, our craving to advance as humans has caused our culture to become dependent on things happening quickly. An ordinary, middle-class citizen can do things that could only be dreamt of in the 1960s by a child watching Star Trek. Centuries ago, people would consider many of the things we do every day as magic, such as microwaving a pizza or simply taking a digital picture. But like the great and powerful Rumpelstiltskin has said many times from ABC’s original show, Once Upon A Time, “All magic comes with a price.” As humans develop cures for illnesses and diseases, more new ones are created. As technology simplifies our everyday lives, many people become dependent on that technology which can be very dangerous and lead to several problems. Technology is not always reliable, so we cannot lose the basic abilities that technology does for us, such as calculators solving math problems. But our advances in our food system here in the United States have had some of the worst consequences I have ever learned about.
Back in the 1950s, McDonalds began to rise out of Illinois as a revolutionary and popular way for Americans to have a meal with minimal waiting. But with the rise of McDonalds came the popularization of the whole idea of “fast food”. The idea of getting a cooked meal almost instantly for a good price seemed too good to be true! Well, it was true, but barely anyone knew the whole truth and had no idea of the harmful effects that would come from this new way of selling food. As more and more Americans began pulling into these fast food restaurants and going through drive-thru windows, demand was at all all-time high for these burgers. McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast food chains had to meet these demands very quickly. Their food supplies had to become industrialized to create these meals as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, the efficient methods used to produce our meat were becoming inhumane and unhealthy. Cows started to be fed corn to get them fattened up quicker, even though cows cannot digest corn and are obviously not meant to be eating it. These filthy business practices lead to the rise of companies that have gained too much power and continue to abuse it, such as Tyson, Perdue, and Monsanto. Companies such as these clearly have a strict remunerative incentive when it comes to the processing of their meat or selling their genetically-modified crops. Our food supply has become an industry because these industries have been able to hide their horrid business practices for years, therefore their products are frequently bought and they have gained so much power from our money that they own most of that market. When we buy their products, we vote with our wallet and basically tell them that what they are doing is okay. As long as they have our money, these companies do not care how they obtain it or how morally criminal their business practices are. We have reached a point where most farmers are “indebted slaves to the companies”. The meat industries and even agricultural industries like Monsanto have so much money that they are able to give farmers great deals if they produce meat or crops for them. But with Monsanto specifically, farmers do not have a choice because they could easily be sued by Monsanto and be shut down if they do not purchase their genetically modified seeds. This is because Monsanto has a patent on most GMO crops, and since many farmers purchase these crops and use them, winds can easily cause cross-pollination between theirs and others’ farms. If a farmer’s crops are contaminated with Monsanto’s chemicals from cross-pollination, he could be sued and lose his entire farm.
Because of progress, which I would agree progresses too fast, the United States food system is broken. It is broken in a way hidden to the average consumer because, in my opinion, the average consumer does not stop to think about where his or her food comes from. We have so few companies controlling our food supply that disguise themselves with other aliases and they even control a portion of our organic food market. Most people do not know that General Mills also owns Cascadian Farm or Muir Glen, or that ConAgra owns Alexia Foods and Ralcorp. The companies with horrible, immoral business practices are the ones that own so much because they produce quickly and sell their food at low prices. Rather than buying locally, most Americans buy from these massive companies because it is more convenient and many simply do not know the truth or reject it. In order to fix our food system and allow more companies to rise to power that provide healthier food, we need to buy locally or buy from private brand names, such as Newman’s Own. Newman’s Own is an excellent choice because their products are generally healthy, they are an independent company, and they donate all their after-tax profits to charity. We need more people to buy products from companies like that and become aware of the secrets behind America’s food. If we are going to progress so quickly, lets at least progress in the right direction.
For more information about the corruption of America's food system, I recommend reading books such as "Fast Food Nation", "Foodopoly", "No Foreign Food", and "Remaking The North American Food System".
Also, an interesting movie you could check out is "Food, Inc." Though the film is from 2008, it still offers an accurate and compelling look into the truth of our food industry.