Here's what I mean. The way our food production system works now starts with corn. It all comes back to corn. The government subsidizes corn to the point that 1) farmers are incentivized to produce huge surpluses of corn, and their economic payoff for it is not tied to the market like it used to be - they get paid no matter what; 2) buyers (like cattle feed lots, for example) can purchase corn at a fraction of the production price. So the incentive is to make all kinds of animals (even fish!!!) eat corn, whether or not they're naturally suited to it. And a corn diet (often combined with growth hormones) forces animals to grow super fast and become fatter and larger than they normally would. This leads to the widespread routine use of antibiotics. Because when you grow that fast your immune system is shit so you're prone to disease.
The use of corn also leads to other problems like E coli (grass fed cattle don't produce the quantity and the deadliest strains of E coli), and the fact that corn feeding requires a feedlot setting in which animals are immersed in their own waste 24/7 aggravates the problem. Not to mention the fact that corn fed meat is much higher in saturated fat and doesn't have the Omega 3s that grass fed meat has. Because the corn is so heavily subsidized, the beef and chicken and pork that's produced on it is also cheap. And the highly processed foods that are made from corn derivatives (such as high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin and modified food starch and saccharin and sucrose and dextrose and hydrolyzed vegetable protein and cellulose and on and on) are also cheap. So the double cheeseburger and soda (which is basically diluted corn syrup of one type or another) you can get at the fast food place is far cheaper than the healthy foods you should be eating. And, as noted in the movie, this explains why obesity tracks with poverty. Your chances of being obese are directly tied to your income level.
And here's where I get really pissed off. Instead of recognizing that we have incentivized unhealthy eating by making unhealthy foods really cheap and accessible, thus causing unhealthy eating in many Americans of all sizes, our government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the system which it has created that perpetuates unhealthy eating. So instead of changing the system to truly reflect the actual cost of producing healthy versus unhealthy foods (which would be roughly equivalent if we didn't subsidize so unevenly) we attach moral judgment and shame to unhealthy eating and obesity, which our very system has created! Get it? We feed poor kids the worst possible crap, and then shame them for having bad eating habits and being prone to illness and obesity. Meanwhile, they're still trapped in the system in which fresh veggies are out of reach but junk food is plentiful. And anyway, by now their eating habits and preferences are already established, and it takes hard work to retrain your tastes and desires. At the same time, those of us who are aware of the situation and have access to (and are willing to make the sacrifice to obtain) healthier foods for our kids, watch other kids eating this awful stuff with a mixture of guilt and impotent rage at the system.
So what can we do about this form of class warfare? Admittedly, not much. The system is huge and the corporate groups that profit by maintaining the status quo are incredibly rich and powerful. Far more rich and powerful than any of the advocacy groups that oppose them. Still, it seems like there must be something that consumers and citizens can do to bring about change. Beyond buying local and organic when you can, and communicating with your congressional reps about the ag bills that periodically come through Congress, you can also sign petitions and donate to the advocacy groups that do try to take on the behemoth:
- Sign The Child Nutrition Act Petition
- Do as many of the Ten Things as possible
- Join the True Food Network
- Read up on this stuff at Organic Consumers Association, so you can be as much of a food geek as me.
- Stay up to date on advocacy projects at The Commons food and ag blog
- Send a letter to your reps to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock
- Grow a Victory Garden, and carve out your own little sustainable space in your yard, on your patio, or in a local community garden. Give your surplus to the local food bank or soup kitchen.
More on class warfare: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and This.