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America's Food Culture Needs to be Rescued from Drive-Thrus and Corporations

Updated on March 19, 2013

Why sacrifice quality for convenience?

Why is the American food culture directed by corporate profitability? Should'nt actual culture drive trends within the popular food culture? Instant gratification and money are the driving forces behind the dark side of the American food culture. Why? I wonder. Why do we eat genetically modified foods? Why do we tolerate factory farming operations that pump antibiotics into their livestock? The United States is called the “melting pot” of the world. However, it seems that the melting pot has soured. The once tasty array of international influence has been overwhelmingly sacrificed for a quick fix at the drive-thru. It seems that we habitually forgo quality for quantity and speed. In a world of instant gratification, eating isn’t a celebration of culture and culinary expertize anymore. It has become akin to fueling an automobile. We don’t want to be hungry, but we don’t have time to eat. Those of us that want to champion the shrinking culture that puts pride and preparation over convenience and availability are given their own title to differentiate them from the rest of the population. “Foodies” will travel half an hour to eat a good meal. “Foodies” will scout out restaurants and food trucks to satisfy their palate for good food and a unique experience that cannot be found at a corporate chain restaurant. They reminisce about the food culture of their grandparents, the days before monocultures and Monsanto.

Monsanto is not a company; it’s a way of life. Preparing good food in one’s home kitchen has become increasingly difficult because of the quasi monopoly of chemically altered and genetically modified pseudo foods. Monsanto, before I go any further, is an American multicultural agricultural biotechnology corporation. They are a leading producer of genetically modified seeds which lead to the genetically modified crop. The genetically modified crop model threatens the natural biodiversity that has inherently dictated regional crop growth since humans began cultivating and harvesting fruits, vegetables, and grains thousands of years ago. Because it patents seeds, Monsanto has all but completely hijacked biodiversity in favor of a government lobbying model of uniformity. A new technological advance, lovingly dubbed “terminator seeds”, produces plants with sterile seeds. If introduced commercially, terminator technology would prevent farmers from producing more than a single generation of crops. Of the plethora of protest angle options that come from this company, the terminator technology is perhaps the most frightening display of Monsanto’s power and influence over what we eat. They have to date pledged not to utilize terminator technology. A dissertation’s length worth of controversial actions and litigation is readily available via reputable journals and research articles. There is a plethora of patent lawsuits filed against farmers, toxic pollutant dumping, bovine growth hormones, or tactics to monopolize markets in Monsanto’s history.

This isn’t about Monsanto. It's about the general complacency with the direction that the food industry and food service industry have taken. It is an insult to the very aspect of our culture to which they are supposed to contribute. First off all, food should not be a byproduct of industrialization. Capitalization on, transportation and storage of, and the production of crops and livestock are a health and environmental catastrophe. Food isn’t safer in the hands of mega corporations. Factory farming practices, pasteurization, and high tech processing facilities do not yield safer food options. How many product recalls due to E coli contamination can you remember offhand? These days it’s not only contaminated beef that consumers have to worry about. Fruits and vegetables are also at higher risk for contamination. We are talking about millions of pounds of recalled ground beef over the past twenty years, tens of millions if you rely on data provided by the CDC. This all begs the question, “what are we eating?” Better yet, “why are we eating it?” If gardening and home raised chickens aren’t your forte, consider buying certified organic products, or support a local farm. Research local co-ops or CSA’s (community supported agriculture). Believe me, food grown locally, non GMO foods taste better. The closer you are to your food source, the better it is. Consider the amount of fossil fuels monoculture food operations or commercial feed lots burn producing, storing, and shipping your foods on top of the GMO’s you’d be consuming.

By and large, America has become reliant on convenience. Spikes in obesity, type two diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease can be traced directly or indirectly to the foods we consume. We are a nation of consumers. The food industry thinks of us as such. We are called consumers and food is called product. Capital gain is based on our collective diet. Restaurants consider their bottom lines and labor costs ahead of serving quality food. There is an arbitrary line that dictates the profitability of menu items. We drive down roads lined with familiar golden arches or oversized illuminated chili peppers. We see adds advertising deep fried onions and fish that somehow adheres to a perfect geometric shape. Who’s ever a square fish? We see the same chains over and over and we’re supposed to choose, and we do. We do choose, and that has become our normal. Chain restaurants and frozen chemistry experiments have weaseled their way in and hijacked our food culture.

How much of our shopping is done at Wal-Mart. One stop shopping fits into the convenience paradigm. The products at Wal-Mart are always a cheaper. I’m not going to tell you that Wal-Mart is bad news. That’s been done for me. Just think about the idea of one store selling everything you think you need at prices that destroy local businesses. Can you name your favorite bakery? Do you know your butcher? If you live in the suburbs, you probably don’t have too many choices beyond Wal-Mart, Target, Publix, or Kroger. Even if you live in the city, where do you shop? What’s the name of your favorite bakery? If you ask a Parisian that question, they’d be able to tell you. They’d be able to tell you who has their favorite pastries, and who makes their favorite baguettes. They take enormous pride in their food. It’s a matter of reputation and principal. We used to do that here, and we could again. The pockets of thriving and exciting food culture are on the rise. Keep your eyes peeled. At its best, the American food culture represents sustainable grass roots food options that represent our immigrant and colonial past while evolving and heading into the future. When we are at our best, we are very good. We have so many regional options and capabilities that we can use to highlight different palettes and creative influences from around the world. Some of the world’s most creative and influential chefs call the United States “home.” We are capable of so much more than five dollar value meals.

Someday the massive corporate chain restaurant experiment will end. People will recognize the difference between good food and food pumped with hormones, sugars, salt, and msg. We won’t need labels like “foodies” anymore. Independent farming operations will return as the norm for food cultivation. Seeds won’t be patented and regulated and globalization will stop in its tracks. We have been sacrificing our once proud cultural identity to the likes fast food chains for too long. Let’s show some support to those who deserve it. I don’t have all of the answers. A little research and ingenuity is required on the part of the public. Get out there, and try something good.

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    • PD Christopher profile image
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      Christopher Davis 4 years ago from New Port Richey, Florida

      Nice! I agree completely. The corporate restaurant industry is definitely more of a suburban problem. The food quality and portion sizes are directly influenced by profit margians. Plus, the food is often uninspired and unoriginal anyway. As for the GMO points. You're absolutely right, but so am I. We're looking at it from different angles, I think. Manipulating nature is tricky business. On one hand biodiversity (natural biodiversity) is threatened, but biochemistry, as you said, opens up new doors for farming in otherwise desolate or unfavorable conditions. You are right about the "organic movement" and people's natural inclination to climb onto the green band wagon without paying proper attention to detail. Local doesn't necessarily mean "without pesticides" and organic can be used to justify raising prices.

      Thanks for the comment!

      I like the way you think.

    • profile image

      silence04 4 years ago

      Another great read, well done! I can certainly agree with you on a some points!

      If you don't mind, I would like to voice some of my own options on this subject as well.

      While it may seem like it in some locations, I don't believe american food culture is a slave to the drive thrus and corporate chains. There is a tremendus amount of cullinary schools in this nation pushing out some serious talent. While graduates are pulled from many parts of the nation, they mostly end up in locations where they can truly thrive. Unfortunately, this probably isn't a neighborhood diner smack in the middle of a sprawl. Corporate restaurant chains see this gap and that is where they come in. However, I believe restaurants that only care about their bottom line above food quality are only localized to the area of competition. It's the under educated (regarding nutrients or culinary skills) that are the the main target in this scenario and the real "foodies" that happen to fall victim. I currently live in a large city and can confirm that Corporate chains here are mostly ghost-towns. (if that gives you any hope. haha)

      I do agree that Monsanto is a prime example of corporate and government corruption. I would really like to see real farmers holding the reins again, but as long as money (err, government) is power there is no feasible way for them to regain that control without an uprising from the people. And unfortunately, what they are doing is totally acceptable in a government that is in complete support of individual capital growth. Making it even more troublesome for an uprising.

      I don't believe gmo's should be something to blame. According to stanford's recent study (and among many others prior), these genetic modifications play no role in the amount of nutrients (aka taste) of the food, but instead only make them more resistant to harmful environments. I think being able to modify crop is necessary for future cultivation on this planet. Imagine being able to grow a diverse set of crops in places that they were once not able to grow, such as a location with extreme climate or high altitude. I believe is where we are headed, and modern biochemistry will only help us get there.

      I think there are two big problems right now. One, I believe the so called organic movement is equally as corrupt as corporations like monsanto and it is diminishing the value of traditionally grown crops. Big brands like Whole Foods have hiked up food costs by as much as 400% in the name of "organic" and justify it by calling it real food. Meanwhile, most of organics are grown in other countries with different standards and are shipped by jet around the world. In return, this has altered a large population's view on traditionally grown crops with the same nutrients as "a plague killing the nation." What is even more shocking, many of the people that buy into this idea are equally as naive as the people 12 cars deep in the mcdonald's drive thru line. Many don't realize that "food not grown with synthetic pesticides/chemicals" doesn't mean it's not grown with ANY pesticides/chemicals. NEW FLASH: All savvy for-profit farmers use pesticides and insecticides! Organic pesticides and insecticides are equally as poisonous as synthetic ones (hens their names).

      The second problem, the USA needs better food labeling laws. I do a lot of packaging and labeling of products for many counties. USA if by far one of the less strict nations when it comes to labeling. In many instances to bypass the FDA, all it takes is a little rewording on the label and you have turned a product that would normally require FDA approval into a product that can go right on the shelves. I think people have the right to know what's in their food and the option to choose what they put in their bodies, especially when it's currently in the hands of corporations with evidence of greed and corruption. Not often do I support more government regulation, but in this case I think it's gotten to a point where it needs to be addressed.

      A solution for all of this? A much better education system is needed for this nation. In the interim, a movement of knowledge and political force to help ensure food quality and better label regulations. I believe this will push a desire for "good" food into areas littered with bad restaurant chains and also allow real american food culture to thrive in new areas.