Vote with your food dollars

After months of waiting, we finally got the documentary Food, Inc from the library!  Wow, was this a powerful program, and I already was familiar with most of the ideas and information in it.  Seriously, you absolutely must run to your library and put this on hold.  The kids liked it so much they asked if they could watch it a second time (which they did today), and dh said after watching it that it impressed on him the significance of  the food choices we make, not just as individuals but for society.

Food, Inc. covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes – industrial chicken/beef/hog production, e coli and salmonella contaminations and their origination in the contained animal feedlot operations,  seed patents, poorly paid workers, the danger of mega corporations controlling our food and seed supply, and sustainable alternatives.

The main message that I walked away from this program with, was to recognize that every single person has some power to effect a change in our industrial food system.  The only positive thing which you can say about it is that the food is cheap, which isn’t an insignificant point since cost is a very real concern for many of us.  But when one looks at the overall picture, you see that the food that we think is so inexpensive actually has a much higher cost that we don’t see when we choose to buy a product.  This program pulls back the veil so we get a glimpse of things that go on behind the scenes, facts that can help us make choices with a better educated perspective.

What I’ve generally found in the past is that I’ve felt powerless and discouraged when I looked at the multinational corporations that control our food supply and felt like whatever I bought or didn’t buy really didn’t make a difference.  So what was most valuable for me in watching Food, Inc. was to hear a CEO of a major organic company say that while consumers think they have to take what industry provides for them and have no power, it’s actually exactly the opposite.  It’s the consumers demanding something else that will bring about change.

We don’t have to be advocates fighting the battle on Capitol Hill to make a difference.  Just choosing to buy the better product (even if it’s a bit more expensive) or letting the owners/managers know what we’d like to see is sending a message.  Since watching this a couple of days ago I’ve contacted two local kosher butchers and let them know I’d like to see them carrying grass fed meat (and one said he is planning to have some in stock for the first time in the next few days – I am soooo excited!!), and plan to share a suggestion with the local kosher supermarket that they do the same (I’ll include ordering info and possible sources for them).

We really do vote with our food dollars.  As it said in Food, Inc., every time we scan something at the checkout, we’re voting for the kind of food we want to see.  When you’re on a limited budget, as we are, sometimes we may to forced to make a choice of quality over quantity, and sometimes we don’t have even that luxury.

It’s easy to say something like cut out all the processed food to make room in the budget for organics, etc, but that presumes that there are expensive processed foods to be cut out in the first place!  I have a set budget to work within ($600 monthly for 11 people) and I’ve been able to feed our family healthfully and amply on that sum.  I’ve been continually making nutritional upgrades to our way of eating over the last few years, and every one of them costs more than the previous option I’m leaving behind!   So while I want to encourage everyone to be conscious that the choices you make when you shop really matter, I also believe that there’s no room for personal guilt if you’re doing the best you can and you find yourself limited by what you can do and what you want to do.

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)


9 thoughts on “Vote with your food dollars

  1. Thank you! I appreciated this post, especially the part about doing the best you can with the resources that you have. People like myself that just can’t afford to spend more money on healthier food but are doing the best they can with the money they have, and then getting criticized by others for not going all the way, it makes you feel like “Should I be trying harder? Am I not doing enough for my family?” This post is like a breath of fresh air for me.

    I’m wondering- is the meat packing and slaughtering practice on kosher slaughterhouses as bad as it is in the rest of the american slaughterhouses? By eating standard kosher meat are we better off than those who eat the standard non kosher meat?

  2. I’m part of Neilsen homescan, which is basically a survey company tracking what I purchase. I “represent” 12,000 families. So, my good purchases @ the local meat market, the farmer’s market, the local feed store, and organics @ the grocery really do make a difference to the producers.

    I’m wondering about kosher butchershops as well. We live in a very large Catholic community, so I don’t know any Jews or people who keep Kosher, but if I had to bet, I’d bet they are cleaner than a typical American slaughterhouse.

      1. I’m thinking that by scanning my family’s purchases to Neilsen, they in turn give this information not only to the stores I frequent, but to the producers of the products I buy. Their information says your vote “represents” 12,000 families. So, even though 12,000 families may not buy organic butter, I do.

        or maybe I’m just delusional and they are collection this information for an alien invasion :)

  3. I’ve wondered the same thing about kosher slaughterhouses, and I do believe they are better than the ones we see depicted in a film like Food, Inc. One reason I believe this is that the kosher laws forbid eating cattle that are sick or diseased, and the animals that can’t be used for this reason in a kosher slaughterhouse are purchased at a discounted price by the non kosher slaughterhouses, which have much laxer standards since they are regulated only by government, rather than G-d. A lot of bad stuff can get through government regulation.

    But I would make the assumption that the animals are still raised in feedlots, given antibiotics, etc. I think that because animals not given antibiotics, etc are labeled ‘natural’ and only some kosher meat is labeled like this, which implies the rest are given antibiotics and given typical feed. So I’d say kosher consumers are probably eating the ‘healthiest’ of industrial meat, and while it’s better than the ground beef type of stuff you find in Walmart, there’s still lots of room for improvement.

    1. I can say from the shochtim (ritual slaughterers) I have hosted at my home when we lived in Japan that they tell me the USDA lets through many more animals that he would according to the halacha (Jewish law). He said there is a veterinarian also checking the cows (or other animals) and after one of the times he watched him cull non-kosher cows, he said he would want to only eat kosher meat as it came from healthy cows. I cannot claim to know anything about the cows before they get there though (like you said).

    1. There are two sides to every story, Tom, and everyone deserves to see both sides and make their decisions, which is why I approved this link. The site you linked to represents the party line so there’s not much new info there. I agree that the film Food Inc. has to be somewhat simplistic in portraying concerns in the very limited amount of time they have. Getting rid of industrialized farming isn’t the answer; improving it is.

      One main rebuttal on the site you linked that disturbs me is the claim that eating healthfully is elitist. This is patently untrue and I hope it would be obvious that eating well can be done on a very small budget from reading this site. It doesn’t mean shopping at Whole Foods. You could just cry for people who are regularly eating at fast food restaurants and thinking that’s all they can afford. There needs to be a lot of education so that people on small budgets know how to use them effectively at their regular supermarkets.

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