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The Missing Link: Our Involvement in the Food Chain

Why asking questions about what we're eating has become so necessary.

Last week before I delved into roasting a chicken, I touched on the omnivore’s dilemma, which is to say, how we decide what to eat given the myriad options available to us today.

Michael Pollan, who penned the book with the same title (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), points out just how complex it’s become to answer the seemingly simple questions: “What am I eating and where in the world did it come from?”

I think this is what rattled me most about the P.E.T.A. shirt (People Eating Tasty Animals) that I saw last week – not that some people like to eat meat (because I’m one of those people), but the suggestion that what’s of utmost importance is how it tastes (and being so “in-your-face” toward those who have made a conscious decision not to eat meat).

It seems that despite all the available information about the disgusting practices of factory farms and the detriment done to the environment, our food supply is much like war in the Middle East for most: Out of sight, out of mind. There continues to be a good deal of disconnect between what’s on our plates or in our take-out boxes and how it came to be there. By and large, consumers don’t want to think about it.

Just for fun, I searched to see where Chick-fil-a (which my son used to call “Chickle-fay”) gets their chickens from and was led to a forum on this topic. After several people stated that the restaurant uses CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) chickens, someone wrote: “It tastes good. Don’t ask too many questions.” This, I think, has become the pathetic norm.

For me, I can look at Chick-fil-a’s breakfast ad with the triangular slab of chicken topping a too-white biscuit, paired with a supersized fountain drink and know that we’re just not on the same page.

To be sure, I get as tired as the rest of the (still slim) populace who gives a dern, analyzing dining establishments’ menu items and scouring labels for cancer-causing substances. Obviously, it shouldn’t be this way but sadly, it is. The short of it is like this: Unless a restaurant makes a point of stating that they serve local and sustainable food, you can bet they don’t; and if you don’t know what an ingredient is on a food label, you can bet that over time, consumption of that ingredient will land you in a doctor’s office.

Many consumers, I think, use the excuse that it’s become too difficult to decipher food jargon anymore (“free-range,” “rBGH-BST free,” “all natural,” “zero trans-fats”). I’m with you, to an extent, but no one can argue that we’re starved for information.

If you’re willing to put in 15 or 20 minutes surfing the web for say, “dangerous food additives” or “ingredients in Chick-fil-a biscuits,” you can find an answer. It’s out there. You just might want to sit down before you start. Sure, turning a blind eye is easy. Ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Or will it?

All this reminds me why we started a farm to begin with. Not that this is the only way to assume control of your diet. In the words of Joel Salatin of Polyface farm in Virginia, “We don't need a law against McDonald's or a law against slaughterhouse abuse – we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.”

Opting out en masse . . . I hope I live to see the day.

Leigh Hewett September 23, 2011 at 05:03 PM
I recently watch the documentary Food Inc and my eyes were truly opened to the food industry and just how corrupt it is. This is a great article and offers much needed food for thought.
Lisa Lewis September 26, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Thanks Leigh. This is obviously connected to the school food issue, too . . . if we traced what's on the plates of public school students, it'd be downright scary. What's more is that if we fed these kids real food, perhaps we'd see some real improvements in behavior and test scores. Seems so obvious!

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