We Don’t Approve of Bull-Baiting, Dogfighting, or Public Executions…

…and so I don’t think we approve of…

Chickens being occasionally decapitated by the automatic feeding cart, then rotting away in their cages.

Chickens getting their necks stuck in the bars of their cages and dying because they can’t get them out and no one comes to help.

Workers must blast exhaust fans and run in to do a job quickly because “it’s physically hard to breathe because of the ammonia” fumes rising from the manure pits below the barns.

Conveyor belts transporting 4.5 million eggs a day–destined for places like Shop-Rite–are thick with flies, mice, and poop.

it’s just that we don’t know that this is happening…

The Humane Society of the United States recently ran an undercover investigation of Kreider Farms, finding these acts of cruelty that go against the industry standards promoted by groups like United Egg Producers, who, last year, joined with the Humane Society to support new federal standards providing more space for laying hens–a move Kreider has not supported.

In a great op-ed last week, Nicholas Kristof (one of my favorite journalists) writes:

For those who are wavering, think for a moment about the arc of empathy. Centuries ago, we humans amused ourselves by seeing other people executed or tortured. Until modern times, we considered it sport to see animals die horrible deaths. Now our sensibilities have evolved so that there is an outcry when animals are abused — unless it happens out of sight on farms.

Look, you don’t need to love chickens enough to want to hug them to realize that if God notices the death of each little sparrow, God certainly sees the suffering of the chickens who die so that we can have cheap eggs.

It isn’t only about how much we love animals. It’s about what kind of people we are going to be.

No one thinks what Michael Vick did to all those poor dogs is okay.

Chickens might be less emotionally affecting than dogs, but they’re still God’s creatures.

Why not make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 3798? Then, make a brief, polite call to your two U.S. senators to support this legislation when it’s introduced in the Senate. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers here.

“The righteous know the needs of their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Prov. 12:10)

Please don’t think this is only for crazy chicken-huggers. Take a minute to watch the video, maybe read Kristof’s op-ed, and think of the arc of empathy:

what kind of people do we want to be?

what kind of people are we made to be?

“People like you are why everyone thinks good food is elitist!”

For your weekend reading pleasure I insist that you read Tracie McMillan’s wonderful piece, “9 Things You’ve Never Heard About America’s Food.”  Here’s a taste:

“It drove me mad when I started to hear foodies wax rhapsodic over local produce, going on to imply, not-so-subtly, that to buy it was a measure of character and moral standing. I grew up eating processed food during the week, fresh stuff on weekends–that’s how it works when you’re being raised by a working, single dad–but that didn’t mean my family didn’t care about food; it was just what was easiest. And the families I now reported on? They cared about their meals and health, but they were mostly eating what was easy–readily available, affordable, tasty. My family and the ones I reported on weren’t immoral. We were just broke and stressed.”

Read it all here! And then get Tracie’s book!

Five Food Films Worth Your Time

5. Supersize Me

Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film–documenting his 30 days of eating McDonald’s food exclusively–highlighted some of the most serious problems of our fast-food culture and it did so in an entertaining, visceral way. His point–which I think he made well–was that McDonald’s (and other fast food companies)–are open to many of the same liabilities as the tobacco industry. Just six weeks after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald’s announced the discontinuation of the ‘Supersize’ option–which increased the serving of French fries to nearly half a pound and the soda to well over a quart for a mere 39 cents. 
4. Bella Martha (Mostly Martha)

Don’t be scared by the fact that this film’s in German. (And don’t be tempted to watch the English-language remake–No Reservations–with Catherine Zeta-Jones–it’s terrible.) This 2001 film has romance, heartbreak, and humor. Martha keeps her job as a chef only because she’s one of the best–because she’s out of her mind. She terrorizes the restaurant staff and patrons and while she can cook, she doesn’t understand food–or love–or how they might intersect. 3. Eat Drink Man Woman

I can’t resist Ang Lee’s films, and this one is no exception. Though it was remade as Tortilla Soup, the original is much better. It’s a beautiful film, visually, and the fact that it centers on a family held together by the ritual of an elaborate Sunday dinner–and an aging chef-father who is losing his sense of taste–makes it deliciously metaphorical. And it always makes me want to learn Chinese cookery.2. Ratatouille

Yes, I’ve written about this film before, and, yes, maybe you’ve watched it with the kids, but this film is worth a second viewing, if only to pay close attention to the transformation of the Anton Ego character–the food critic. Not just to his words, some of which are simply golden–but to his transformation.

My favorite quote, which seems to me to be a fictional blending of Father Capon and George Steiner:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

1. Babette’s Feast

And this is where I will say almost nothing about the film except this: it’s slow moving and strange and in Danish but very worth it. It’s beautiful, evocative, and inspiring; its myth is at once humanistic and deeply, deeply Christian. I love it.

{And I hope you will, too!}

Top Ten Food Companies Paying off the Government

Hats off to HuffPo Food (with the help of OpenSecrets.org–awesome site!) for assembling this list of the ten food/beverage companies that have spent the most on government lobbyists in 2011. While I won’t deny that there’s lobbying that’s legit, but most of it falls in the unjust weights and measures category–and, at the risk of sounding like a Bible-thumper (which I might be), is an abomination to God.

Here are the top 10 companies that press their big corporate thumbs most heavily on the scales of justice, along with the issues they’re most preoccupied with.

10. Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

nutritional labeling, international trade agreements

9. Hershey’s

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Sugar and cocoa trade laws related to NAFTA (see this post!),  advertising unhealthy foods (see this one!); nutritional labeling

8. Starbucks

(I know, I know. I love Starbucks coffee, too. But Equal Exchange is pretty good, too–promise.)

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Nutritional labeling, Green initiatives; Trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia 7. YUM! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut)

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Use of SNAP (food stamps) in restaurants; Employer health care mandates; Tort reform

6. Sodexho–which provides catering to a huge number of institutions, including the U.S. Armed Forces (see this post!)

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Childhood nutrition guidelines (see above post); Labor/management issues 5. McDonald’s (have I never written about McD’s before?! Shame!)

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Nutritional labeling in restaurants; Corporate taxes; Affordable Care Act; Immigration reform 4. Olive Garden/Red Lobster

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Unemployment insurance; Catfish inspection; Childhood obesity reduction; Affordable Care Act

3. Mars (M&Ms, Snickers, Wrigley’s Gum)

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Sugar taxes and regulations; SNAP (food stamps); Trucking rules for Mexico-America trade 2. PepsiCo

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Patent reform; Childhood obesity; Soda taxes; Advertising to children and teens (see this post.)

and you might’ve guessed it…

I'm sorry. I know this is very wrong in so many ways.

1. Coca-Cola

pay to influence government in their favor concerning laws that touch on…

Water policies; Military catering; SNAP; free trade and foreign investment agreements

The really frightening thing is how many smaller “brands” these big corporate monsters control. Odwalla juices and VitaminWater? That’s Coca-Cola. Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, Quaker Oats, and a zillion others? PepsiCo. And it just goes on.

And on.

And on.

(Click over to HuffPo Food if you want to see the sums they’ve spent.)

{All images CC licensed for reuse.}

Why ‘Childhood Obesity’ Isn’t the Real Problem

Are you ready? I’m going to get critical of Republicans.

And Democrats.

Because while everyone loves a partisan controversy, on this issue, folks on both sides of the aisle are cowed before food industry drones who have shareholder interests–not public interest–in mind.

if I squint, the red person and ball looks like a diver that has been decapitated.

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign (which, if anecdotal evidence is telling, is doing more to provoke anxiety in healthy-weight kids than to help kids who are actually at risk for diet-related disease) wrings hands about “the epidemic of childhood obesity” and wonders how we got here:

Thirty years ago, kids ate just one snack a day, whereas now they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day.

Portion sizes have also exploded – they are now two to five times bigger than they were in years past. {…} in the mid-1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces compared to today, kids think nothing of drinking 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages at a time.

The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.

I need to point out a few things about the above excerpt from the Let’s Move! website:

1. It points out that consumers eat and drink more (including more sugar): consumers are the agents.

2. It mentions “sugar-sweetened beverages”–but not soda by name–that’s not an accident: the soda lobby would never allow that! And how would kids be getting those sugar-sweetened beverages? Couldn’t be because there’s SODA at SCHOOL, could it?

3. It says “portion sizes have exploded” as if they did it all on their own!

4. It notes that kids are “trending” toward 3 daily snacks but fails to point out WHY that is–namely, the fact that cheap, unhealthy snacks are EVERYwhere–like in school vending machines.

5. It talks about Americans eating “pounds” of sugar as if we’re sitting there eating out of a bag of granulated sugar–it doesn’t point out that there’s sugar (or, more accurately, high fructose corn syrup) in spaghetti sauce, hamburger buns, ketchup, and pickles, not to mention all the more obvious places.

These may sound like the observations of a curmudgeonly former English teacher (which they are, because I am.) But in fact, these omissions and ‘weasel’ words are very telling. Purposeful vagueness all over the Let’s Move language. Why?

Because the food industry won’t let anyone in or near government point out what’s really going on.

More fundamental than these vaguely weasel-y communications is the whole framing of the discussion in terms of OBESITY as the problem.

As Michele Simon points out in her book Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back:

“If you think about it, obesity is only one symptom of a much larger, underlying problem: a profit-driven, corporate-controlled food supply. We should devote our energies to fixing the root problem (the food system) rather than squander our precious resources on symptoms like obesity.”

(Plus, as Simon points out, people can have diet-related diseases like hypertension and diabetes WITHOUT being obese, and NO ONE is helped by reinforcing the stereotypes and biases that go along with calling people “obese.”)

One of the things that could be done is to persuade food companies NOT to advertise unhealthy foods to kids.

Children have a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy. Children are naturally drawn to sweets and salty snacks, especially if cool characters are on the packages or promoting them on TV. As parents, all our “eat your veggies!” messages can get drowned out by the sheer attractiveness of junk.

Which is why I’m pretty annoyed at the GOP for blocking proposed guidelines that would’ve boiled down to this:

“By the year 2016, all food products most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents ages 2-17 should meet two basic nutrition principles — they should contain foods that make a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans) and they should limit nutrients with a negative impact on health or weight (saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium.” (source)

Doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask, does it?

Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) seems to have been especially outspoken at the hearing, saying that these guidelines amounted to “government” supplanting the role of parents in monitoring children’s eating. The Congresswoman got lyrical, remembering her mother forcing her to eat liver once a week because it was good for her. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) “helpfully” noted: “the problem is in our world today, we just don’t take the time to do what we need to do.”

Or maybe the “problem” is that Rep. Mack gets much of her campaign finance from the TV industry as well as a good bit from farm/food processors. (Rep. Barton gets plenty from TV as well as the health industry.)

Not advertising junk food to kids is one small thing, but it could go a long way. And taking a stand shows respect for children–and their parents–who could do with a few less confusing advertisements in their lives.

[Processed food (and that’s almost everything that you didn’t cook yourself from scratch these days) has been as powerfully implicated as a destroyer of health as have cigarettes. The tobacco lobby worked just as hard to keep government from pointing the finger toward the real culprit there, too.]

one of the few kid-ads I can cheer on!

Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone in (or near) government to say something pointed, like “don’t eat stuff that comes ready to eat in a package” or “drink soda once a week at most” or “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Better yet, let’s not listen to anything those folks have to say about food. They’re not really working for us, after all.

(And–did you know?–advertising AT ALL to children under 12 is illegal in most of Europe.)