As I’ve written before, the organic, eat-local, fresh food “movement” is not new or trendy or hippie. It’s actually very old-fashioned. It’s only been in the last few decades, since the 1950s, that pesticides, chemicals, preservatives, packaged, processed and mass-produced food has come into being – not to mention fast food.
And in that time, something strange has happened. In the space of a couple of generations, as a society we seem to have completely lost touch with where our food comes from, how it’s made, and who’s making it.
This is not natural. And it’s pretty scary.
The New York Times published a terrific article recently about The High Cost of Cheap Meat. As the Times writes:
The point of factory farming is cheap meat, made possible by confining large numbers of animals in small spaces. Perhaps the greatest hidden cost is its potential effect on human health.
On the terrific blog We *Meat* Again, self-described clumsy, ex-vegetarian book nerd Marissa chronicles her journey to vegetarianism and why she started eating meat again. But of course, she is very careful about where her food comes from. In the blog piece, Marissa tackles another, lesser known negative output of the food industry that perhaps even implicates the produce trade more than the meat trade — or at least does so in a different way. That is the question, Who works for your food? Marissa writes:
Who plants your food, who picks it, who packages it, ships it, stocks or repurposes it? Through whose hands does your food pass? And how are they being treated while they do so?
The short answer to “who” is mostly poor illegal immigrants. And the short answer to “how” is very, very badly. Badly enough that the United Farm Workers has crafted a response-messaging campaign to all the anti-immigrant backlash urging Americans to come and take the jobs we so virulently spout they have taken from us.
Aside from injury by farm equipment, farmworkers have significantly higher rates of almost all types of cancer than the average American. This is largely due to the proliferation of toxic chemicals in their day-to-day work, specifically those from the pesticides they spray on our food.
In a previous blog post, Marissa wrote about this scary shit – according to the FDA, 29.8 million pounds of antibiotics were administered to livestock animals in 2009. 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to livestock. And why is this a bad thing?
Because it breeds resistance to the drugs, and the spread of these super-resistant bacteria is terrifyingly easy and nearly impossible to stop. These disease-resistant bacteria are in our food—they are all over our food. A recently published study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that 47 percent of the beef, chicken, pork, and turkey sampled from grocery stores in five U.S. cities carried drug-resistant strains of the bacteria that causes staph infection.
What that means is that if you eat meat tainted with this bacteria, you develop a resistance to those drugs. If the bacteria makes you ill, then the antibiotic treatment for the disease will have no effect on your illness. The good news is, studies from the University of Georgia suggest that meat raised without antibiotics actually has less overall bacteria.
We all can, and must, as consumers, purchase local, organic produce whenever possible. “Antibiotic-free” is an important part of that complex label sustainable meat eaters must navigate. Those are our everyday choices that support the bigger picture, those purchases are our way of communicating on a large scale that we do not want this industrial system anymore, that we believe it is making us sick.