The American (Food) Crisis

These are the times that try men’s souls.

Thomas Paine’s words ring true today. The year 2020 (and perhaps beyond) will live in the infamous waste heap of better forgotten ages. Pandemic fear spreads its own form of contagion across the globe. As of this writing, with over 230,000 dead in the US alone (over 1.1 million worldwide) and new cases peaking, we face a crisis of historic proportion. Our unpreparedness cost lives, our lack of response costs lives, and some of our citizens’ refusal to take simple prophylactic steps (just wear a mask already, idiots) costs lives.

Racism has been raised to an awareness perhaps not seen since the civil rights movements of the sixties. Our president has given the green light for racists to come into the light. Now he encourages plots against our elected officials and seems to condone their murder because they disagree with his beliefs.

The U.S. election is less than a week away. I don’t wish to wax political in this article since that is not my focus. Let us simply hope for a reasoned outcome, a necessary correction, with no mistake: we must face our future selves and children without shame in the here and now of this election. Let’s get it done with the Common Sense of Human Decency. They must reign once again.

No doubt, 2020 is the year of the American Crisis. Racism, Covid infection and potentially life-altering presidential elections aside, we have arrived at a crossroads of identity. Not in black versus white, or democrat versus republican, but in our food identity. Yes, food.

Since WWII we have sustained a continuous and favorable comparison to the rest of the world in one remarkable and life-sustaining area: the Quality of our Food.

Surely in the last thirty years the gap has narrowed. With innovations in food preservation and high speed transport moving even perishable items safely around the globe, developed nations have achieved a status quo of equality. Is our food demonstrably safer than Europe’s? I’d think not. And BRIC is catching up quickly.

But in the decades that made up the post war era, the United States could anecdotally declare its food quality superiority without argument. The USDA, FDA, and other agencies strove for ever higher standards in food sourcing, preparation, and distribution. It is an American success story. Who looks at a can of corn now and wonders at its degree of botulism? I pop open a can and eat them without boiling, “fresh” from their sealed container, enjoying them cold on salads. A daredevil, you wonder? The odds are seriously in my favor.

No one would have done that just thirty or forty years ago. In fact, the contents of factory-processed tin cans would be well boiled before eaten. Pressing on the lid was required practice to check if the center had “popped”, meaning it had lost its seal and spoiled. We may do that today, too, but it’s not nearly so essential. Back then, a forgotten palpation of your lid was a death-defying act of lunacy.

We can take our modern food quality for granted. We are faced, after all, with understaffed agencies overseeing the food corporations who ever strive for greater market share or lower costs, i.e., rising profits.

Case in point: though administered to farm animals (or put in feed) in the late forties, the non-medical antibiotic craze blossomed in the fifties and sixties as a means to increase per animal meat production. While critics warned of increasing bacterial resistance over the next decades, it wasn’t until the seventies that the FDA attempted (unsuccessfully) to ban certain antibiotic use even while it proliferated throughout the world. The eighties and nineties saw little change.

It wasn’t until the FDA issued voluntary guidelines on antibiotic use amid the growing consumer tendency towards unadulterated/organic foods that non-medical antibiotic usage declined. Still, well into the twenty-first century, use of antibiotics in farm animals is not illegal in the U.S. and on the increase in other developing nations as their standards of living increase and their demands for meat rise proportionately.

It’s not all about food safety. I protest any false advertising or other trickery aimed at separating dollars from consumers. The most disgusting practice is pumping chickens with salt water or chicken stock (or some combination of water, flavorings, salt, and binding agents). The chicken can retain up to 15% of this liquid (some research raises that number). Producers claim that modern lean chickens are less tasty and therefore salt and other flavorings are necessary to add taste lost by having less fat.

Chickens are also chilled in vats of water to inhibit bacterial growth and can absorb the liquid, anywhere from 3-8% of the chicken by weight.

Both practices mean that the chicken you are buying is not the chicken that was slaughtered—it’s been enhanced by producers justifying their lack of ethics with nefarious claims that adding flavor is necessary to attract consumers. You pay for that water. You’re buying water at the per pound price of chicken. A lot of it.

Fry a chicken nowadays and you know what I mean. The water comes out in the pan and the chicken braises in it before it browns. Then a decent percentage of your chicken by weight evaporates, shrinking the meat.

You’re paying for that and receiving an inferior product as well. Not to mention all the added sodium you’re ingesting. And the pumping needles used have been tagged by the FDA as potentially disease-spreading.

These chickens can still be labeled as “Natural” and “Organic” since salt, stock, and water are natural ingredients. WTF? Can our government be asleep to allow these moral crimes to go unpunished? Where are our consumer protections?

It is possible (in fact, it’s becoming more popular) to air-chill chickens, which is shown to reduce contamination (vs. soaking with other chickens in a vat of liquid) and we need a law prohibiting meat-pumping of stock or salt water or frickin’ kerosene into our food. You’d object to that last one, wouldn’t you? Where do you draw the line?

It’s not just chickens. Pork and beef are similarly treated. Bake a pot roast lately? Have you noticed how much water/stock comes out of the beef? Our government claims that leaner meat has more liquid naturally. Perhaps that’s true, but if so, it’s always been true. My mother cooked super-lean beef cuts because they’re cheaper. A well done steak was tough enough we called it “Boot”. It didn’t emit a pan full of liquid. Thanks, USDA. In this, your attitude is reprehensible and irresponsible.

So let’s move on to advertising. Bait and switch is illegal. Yet companies can advertise the very best showing of their product in spite of the fact that all of the good stuff has been pushed into view (as in enchiladas or pockets) or deli meat overflows the sandwich (sub places) or all the fillers like rice and pasta have been covered over artfully by the thin layer of meat and vegetables you’re willing to buy in the first place.

If I purchase frozen food based on a commercial then what comes out of the oven or microwave should have a passing resemblance to the image implanted in my mind.

Sub franchises may have their own rules, but when the mother company offers evidence of its overflowing sandwiches, then every franchise owner should be accountable to meet the standard of the advertising. This can be hit or miss, but who’s policing this? Of course, consumer beware, and you can take your hard-earned dollars to the shop next door if you please, but come on, how many young people take that to heart? Just look how popular Pizza Hut is.

Hey, Pizza Hut may not falsely advertise, but buying a pan of inch thick pizza dough with a smear of toppings and calling it “deep dish” is egregiously misleading. And I’m not targeting young people as not adept with their money (perhaps no one is better at enforced frugality), but the mendacious doublespeak seems to wash off them as long as their bellies are filled. Correct me if I’m wrong.

All I’m saying is that we deserve better. Companies large and small want your money. From the local butcher with his heavy thumb on the scale to the conglomerate corporations abusing chickens for profit, our government turns a blind eye to the lust for business profit. I’m all for companies making money. Profit itself is not a dirty word. In fact, the correct quote is not “Money is the root of all evil”—that’s insane. It’s “The love of money is the root of all evil”—quite a different thing.

When those in our government allow the runaway pursuit of this money lust at the cost of our food quality and the expense of consumers, they perform a disservice to their constituents.

Of course, there is an election coming up….

Stay Friendly and Healthy.

2 thoughts on “The American (Food) Crisis

  1. Anonymous

    Interesting point that canned food used to be a concern and needed boiling. It seems like there has been good and bad in the modern food standards. The big trouble seems that sometimes rules make no sense like your point about them being allowed to inject chickens.

    An alternative I’ve been reading about is the “know your farmer” movement. Instead of depending upon the government to make the magic rule combination the movement focuses on building trust with individuals you can personally talk to to source your food. I think you’d enjoy reading from the farmer Joel Salatin who is a big advocate of the approach. He has some very good books about our food system and clean food. He’s his blog. https://www.thelunaticfarmer.com/blog

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comment. I do agree that the “know the farmer” movement is gaining a lot of steam in recent years, and hence also the “locally sourced” movement in farmer’s markets and restaurants ensuring their patrons that their products come from local sources, usually meaning anywhere from on site to within thirty or even sixty miles, but rarely further. I will check the blog you recommend, but of course I cannot recommend or endorse any links made on my web site through comments.
      Thanks again for your time in leaving a comment.

      Like

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