Food: a System in Crisis

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Material taken from the Food Inc. debate guide developed by the Center for Ecoliteracy.

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Food: a System in Crisis

  1. 1. FOOD: A system in crisisIES Milano | Social Innovation 2011 | Gabriela BaronMaterial based on the Food Inc Discussion Guide developed by the Center for Ecoliteracy
  2. 2. DISCUSSION GUIDE
  3. 3. 1.
  4. 4. How fast food has transformed not onlywhat and how people eat, but alsofarming practices and the entire globalfood system.
  5. 5. The transition to factory farming took placepartly in response to our societyʼs move tofast food.As people came to expect food that wasinexpensive and unvarying in quality andtaste, the food industry looked forways to produce the food as efficiently anduniformly as possible. Unfortunately,while industrially produced food appearsinexpensive, the price we pay at thecash register doesnʼt reflect its true cost.
  6. 6. Last night’s dinner....
  7. 7. Which individual do you thinkhas the most rights?
  8. 8. 2.
  9. 9. The pervasiveness of corn in todayʼsfoods and how government subsidieshave altered the way that food isproduced and consumed
  10. 10. Most of the corn Americans eat todaycomes not from the cob, but by way of foodingredients and additives in processedfoods and meat from corn-fed livestock.
  11. 11. 1. the patty (corn-fed beef),2. the cheese (cornstarch),3. the bun (high-fructose corn syrup),4. the ketchup (high-fructose cornsyrup and corn syrup),5. the fries (corn oil),6. the shake (corn syrup solids andcellulose gum).
  12. 12. Whose responsibility do you think it is toinform us about what is in our food?Is it our responsibility to find out, theproducerʼs responsibility to make it moreclear, or both? Why do you think so?
  13. 13. 3.
  14. 14. The unintended consequences of ourcurrent food system: the occasionalcontamination of the food supply and thevery real risks presented to thepopulation.
  15. 15. Each year, approximately 325,000Americans are hospitalized and 5,000 diefrom food-borne illness.Like two-year-old Kevin in the film, manyare sickened by Escherichia coli (E. coli).- Feeding cattle cheap and abundant cornseemed like a good idea when peoplestarted doing it, but it had some unintendedconsequences...
  16. 16. Numerous federal agencies are responsiblefor food safety and inspection in the UnitedStates, including the U.S. Department ofAgriculture (USDA), the Food and DrugAdministration (FDA), and others. However,no one agency is responsible for all foods,and agencies may split responsibility for eventhe same food product.Whoʼs responsible for keeping our food safe?
  17. 17. 4.
  18. 18. Fast food and processed foods are oftenless expensive than healthier foodsbecause many of their ingredients comefrom crops subsidized by the federalgovernment.
  19. 19. U.S. farm subsidies first began during theGreat Depression as a way to helpfarmers survive wide fluctuations in cropprices.Over time, these subsidies have artificiallylowered the prices of certain crops, likecorn and soybeans, encouraging theiroverproduction and making them muchcheaper than other crops.
  20. 20. Michael Pollan says “Thatʼs what weʼvebeen heavily subsidizing, encouragingfarmers to grow more of, and thatʼs whatmakes fast food so cheap.Meanwhile over in the produce section, thehead of broccoli costs more than afast-food hamburger. Why is that? We dovery little to encourage farmers to growwhat are called specialty crops, which isactual food you can eat.”
  21. 21. Income, diet, obesity, and Type 2 diabetesare all linked, and the film suggests thatAmericaʼs farm subsidy system plays a part.>Some say that food choices fall under therealm of personal responsibility...Would it be okay with you that healthy foodis only available to people who can afford it?
  22. 22. 5.
  23. 23. The differences between smallscalefarming and industrial farming,considering workersʼ rights andimmigration.
  24. 24. Today, in the U.S., just five companiescontrol over 83 percent of the beef packingmarket and 66 percent of the pork packingmarket.While the unskilled laborers in largeslaughterhouses have one of the mostdangerous jobs in the U.S., they have lowwages, little job security, and no union torepresent them.
  25. 25. As an example:NAFTA has caused prices to drop, thushurting small farms with little resilience tosuch changes. An estimated 1.5 million farmjobs have been lost in Mexico since 1994.Although NAFTA is only one factor in thisdecline, the trade agreement has forcedsmall-time Mexican farmers to compete withU.S.-subsidized corn producers.
  26. 26. Whether or not you think illegal immigration(or the influx of undocumented workers) is aproblem, how is illegal immigrationconnected to the food we eat?
  27. 27. 6.
  28. 28. The economics of our food system andthe market forces that influence foodcompanies.Industrial food not being “honest food”because it doesnʼt include theenvironmental, societal, and health costsassociated with it.
  29. 29. The organic food movement has been aneffort to lessen the environmentaltrade-offs related to agriculture.At first, organic products were primarilyfrom small farms and represented a tinysegment of the food market. However,their popularity grew over the years, andlarge producers started to enter theorganic market.
  30. 30. By focusing on cost and abundance, oursociety may be trading off safety, health,environmental quality.... while promotinglarge, profit-oriented corporations at thesame time.Stonyfield Yogurt is now owned by Groupe Danone, Tomʼsof Maine by Colgate, Kashi by Kellogg, and Burtʼs Bees byClorox, which are all large corporations.How do you think consumers might react to learning thatthe products are actually made by big corporations?
  31. 31. 7.
  32. 32. Seeds developed through geneticmodification and patented bycorporations.The company has the legal right to protecttheir patent and keep farmerʼs fromsaving seeds.
  33. 33. GMO technology offers the potential benefitsof increased yield, enhanced nutrition, andincreased drought resistance to help feedthe worldʼs poor...At the same time, it also raises concerns ofantibiotic resistance and other human healthimpacts, unintended transfer of genesthrough cross-pollination, loss ofbiodiversity, and the control of world foodproduction by private companies.
  34. 34. Companies like Monsanto can patent theirgenetically modified seeds...Is genetic material the same as intellectualproperty?Patenting seeds gives companies excessivepower over something that is vital foreveryone. Most of the worldʼs commercialseed today is owned by a handful ofagrichemical-biotech companies.
  35. 35. 8.
  36. 36. Measures taken bybusinesses and lobbiesto protect the image oftheir products, to holdonto intellectualproperty, and to avoidproviding more detailedlabels or warnings ontheir food products.
  37. 37. Food is a huge industry, with Americansspending over $1.5 trillion a year onfood.Since there is so much at stake, it isperhaps not surprising that foodcorporations—from agribusinesses to foodprocessors to retailers—do everything intheir power to maximize earnings.
  38. 38. Food libel laws, also known as fooddisparagement laws, have been passed inthirteen states and make it illegal todisseminate misinformation about foods.They also make it easier for food companiesto sue critics. In 1999, Oprah Winfrey wasfamously sued by Texas beef producers forquestioning the safety of hamburger meat.
  39. 39. Can you name different consumer productsthat have warning labels about their use orsafety (cigarettes, alcohol, appliances,games, and so on)?What impact, if any, do you think theselabels have?
  40. 40. In the film, Barbara Kowalcyk appears to beafraid to say how her eating habits havechanged as a result of her sonʼs death, andshe does not reveal the source of the meatthat killed him. What do you think of that?
  41. 41. 9.
  42. 42. A world food shortage, the tremendousamount of energy that goes into foodproduction, and the impacts ofindustrialized food on our health andenvironment.
  43. 43. While the average consumer may feelpowerless in the face of these issues andthe vastness of the food system, the systemdoes respond to consumer demand.
  44. 44. A good example,The tobacco industry:Scientific research, lawsuits against thegovernment and the industry, organizededucation campaigns, and other efforts haveled to significant progress in changing theindustry and tobacco policies worldwide.Today, policies that tax tobacco, restrictsmoking in workplaces and public areas,promote education, and regulate tobaccomanufacturing have all made a difference inreducing the number of smokers.
  45. 45. What individual or collective actions are youwilling to take to improve our food system,and what would be their impact?
  46. 46. • Buy from companies that treat workers,animals, and the environment with respect.• When you go to the supermarket, choosefoods that are in season. Buy foods that areorganic. Know whatʼs in your food. Read labels.• The average meal travels 1,500 miles to thesupermarket. Buy foods that are grown locally.Shop at farmersʼ markets. Plant a garden (evena small one)
  47. 47. • Cook a meal with your family and eattogether.• Everyone has a right to healthy food. Makesure your farmersʼ market takes food stamps.Ask your school board to provide healthyschool lunches.• The FDA and USDA are supposed to protectyou and your family. Tell Congress to enforcefood safety standards and re-introduce KevinʼsLaw.
  48. 48. You can vote to change thissystem.Three times a day.

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