I am so grossed out.
You should know that I have a love affair with Netflix. After moving into my studio two months ago, I decided not to order cable. As in, I have no television service at all. I have a television, which I use for watching dvds and blu rays, but other than that, it is completely non-functional. I watch a lot of Netflix movies/shows (currently obsessed with Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” and have decided that I want to be him when I grow up), but honestly, I don’t miss television. I do miss Food Network and the Cooking Channel, however those are available online too. Yay saving money.
Tonight, the Netflix algorithm suggested, based on my prior movie watching choices, that I might enjoy Food, Inc. For those of you who are uninformed, Food, Inc., a documentary by filmmaker Robert Keener, delves into the big business side of the food industry. I’d heard about it before (not much, obviously) and figured it would be a good way to spend a dead Wednesday night. So I hit ‘play now’ and settled in with my lasagna cupcakes (recipe to come later, still needs tweaking.)
Gross. Me. Out. First, watch this documentary. Secondly, don’t eat while watching this documentary.
Another thing you should know about me is that I am a perpetual cynic. I question nearly everything anyone says or writes. No matter how hard someone tries, their product is always going to be skewed, even if only marginally, in some way. I question facts, myths, theories, and proven knowledge. I love to research, and while I don’t always get to the bottom of the true story, it makes me feel better that I’m not one to be spoon fed anything.
Food, Inc., is now making me do more research.
Basically, Keener describes how the food industry is controlled by a handful of large corporations, all large-scale food processors. They put profit ahead of everything—worker safety, farmer livelihood, the environment, and consumer health and knowledge. It seems that the big food businesses like McDonalds, Tysons, and Perdue are more concerned with efficiency than consumer health.
Our own government aids them in these abuses. According to the documentary, in 1973, the USDA and FDA conducted approximately 50,000 safety and health inspections of American food processing plants. In 2006, they conducted only 9,164.
It’s a vicious cycle—corn is genetically modified and fed to livestock destined for the slaughterhouse. The animals absorb the hormones, and are exposed to more chemicals (both in their feed or outright injected into them). This causes bigger and cheaper-produced meat for consumers…but then we absorb the hormones too. Humans aren’t made for digesting unnatural additives like this, and some experts have pointed to artificial growth hormones as one of the major causes in the obesity spike in America.
What made me really start to pay attention, though, was the following quote from Eric Schlosser.
“The industry blames obesity on a crisis of responsibility, but when you’re engineering food, you’re pressing our evolutionary buttons…this diet of high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates leads to these spikes of insulin and gradually a wearing down of the system by which our body metabolizes sugar.”
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder last year. Basically, my body doesn’t process refined sugars and preservatives the way a ‘normal’ body does. I just turn it to fat almost instantly. For much of my life, I’ve been overweight. Last year, with the help of a personal trainer and a shit ton of blood, sweat, and a hell of a lot of tears, I lost nearly 50 pounds. I still have about another 20-30ish pounds to go, but I still resolve that eventually I’ll get there.
I figured that this was just my lot in life. Somewhere along the way, my body changed the way it processed things. Shit happens, figure out a way to deal with it and move on. I was pretty hard core with my eating habits for a while and stopped drinking (that sucked a lot), which helped in losing weight. But now, after watching this documentary, I want to do more research into the metabolism, how it works, and how it’s affected by unnatural foods. My inability to process frankenfoods may have stemmed from poor eating habits as a child.
In my introductory blog entry, I stated that my mother was a stay-at-home mom. This isn’t 100% true. Mom actually worked until I was 5. My father had been laid off from managing a Radio Shak a few months after my birth, and decided to go back to college to pursue an engineering degree. Mom worked to put Dad through school, and once he was able to get a job, she quit.
During this time, my dad’s parents, Richard and Maria (but pronounced Mariah), lived nearby. As the oldest grandchild on both sides, I was quite the doted-upon princess, and Maria adored having a granddaughter. She loved spending time with me. As in, picked-me-up-from-the-babysitters-every-day-and-took-me-to-McDonalds-for-a-Chicken-McNugget-happy-meal loved spending time with me. When we got back to her house to wait for my parents to pick me up, I had run of the kitchen. If I wanted it, I could eat it. Cookies, cake, chocolate milk—anything, you name it. To her, food was love. In her mind, she loved me too much to deny me anything.
My parents, unaware of the McDonalds runs and cookie binges, would take me home and nearly have to force food down my throat. Thinking I was just being a picky eater, I had to sit there until the plate was clean. I wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t dare say a thing about the happy meals. Maria told me it was ‘our secret.’ And the weight piled on. I’m not a mother and won’t be for some time, but I have a suspicion my hypothetical children will never be held to the Clean Plate Club rules.
My mom’s mother, Grandma Rose, would often feed me sugar sandwiches—cinnamon sugar on buttered white bread, folded in half. I pretty much got what I wanted at their house too (and still do, quite honestly), but I do remember being told “no, that’s too much sugar for a little girl,” on more than one occasion.
Now, looking back, I’m wondering if that set me up for a lifetime of weight problems. If my body was being conditioned to crave the fat, sodium, and sugar that makes up a majority of fast food, why wouldn’t I eventually have problems processing unnatural food additives? Opening too many applications on a computer eventually slows it down until it stops processing anything. Why wouldn’t a body work the same way?
I’m not passing the buck here. I don’t blame my grandparents or my parents for my eating habits or my weight problem. I am an adult, and I am 100% responsible for the food I put in my mouth. And how much. But it also helps to get to the root of the matter before charging ahead with a solution, so I know I’m fixing a problem rather than treating a side effect.
I could go on for pages and pages describing what I’ve seen in Food, Inc. I don’t need to regurgitate it for you. I will say again, however, that it’s enough to make me want to learn more. Because I am really, really grossed out. Never before had I seriously considered anorexia as a way of life.
In the meanwhile, I’m issuing myself a challenge. For the next 30 days, any additional produce or meat that I buy will be from a local, organic farmer. I have a lot of meat in my freezer, so I don’t need to replenish that for a while. I have two year-round farmers markets near me, so I know I can get produce and maybe start up a friendship with a local grower or something. Who knows!
Is this going to turn me into a hippie? God, I hope not. If you see me on the street and I’ve stopped showering, am wearing tie-dye, and urging you to ‘feel the love, man!’ you have my explicit permission to slap me. Hard.
I saw a quote I liked the other day. “To live well is to eat well.” I guess this is just another step in the journey to find out if that’s true.