Food Safety in the Industrialized World

I have said it before- the success of local food owes thanks, in part, to industrialized food. Why? Because they have so thoroughly ruined the quality and nutritional value of our food supply, that millions of previously unaware Americans have been forced to recognize this fact, and it scares them. While I don’t advocate the use of fear as a tool, the sheer number and scope of food recalls should concern us all.

I find it amazing that advocates of industrial food hinge their argument on two key points- cheap prices and abundance. There are plenty of less-used arguments. In fact, one man actually told me he would prefer to eat chemicals than “vermin”. He was referring to the possibility of aphids on his lettuce. If we analyze the price and abundance of industrial food, we find some important omissions.

In order to achieve cheap, plentiful food, businessmen have altered farming to fit the strengths of industry. Thus we have vast monocultures that ignore the inherent dangers accompanying the lack of diversity. Worse, we have disassociated the costs of dead soil, chemical runoff, and illnesses associated with the industrial system. Nearly all efforts to hold these companies fiscally responsible for the damage they cause, is met by big-business advocates with complaints that the financial burden would harm the companies. That means those costs aren’t reflected in the price of industrial food.

Another cost that gets overlooked is the cost of labor. Laborers on big corporate farms are often illegal immigrants, and wages are quite low, even for legal immigrants. These hard-working people not only get direct exposure to agricultural chemicals, their meager salaries, their sweat, and their desperation, subsidize the cheap cost of our food.

Fillers and leftover materials from other practices, industries, and processes, often make their way into the food supply. It is for this reason that corn syrup and other corn and soy derivatives are so prevalent in industrial food. Our pets, through commercial pet foods, have also become repositories for the unwanted, and often unpalatable waste products from society (link 3 below).

If it is the goal of the US to provide good food for its citizens, we must start by doing a few basic things. First and foremost, we have to be honest about the freshness, flavor, and nutrition of food. We must hold businesses that make messes wholly responsible for cleaning them up. They must not be allowed to externalize those costs onto society, and we must accurately reflect labor, medical, and environmental costs in the price of food. Until these things happen, we won’t achieve real food safety.

This Week’s Harvest: Mixed Winter Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Eggplant, Basil, Parsley

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