Telling the Stories of Consumer Products

updated 2.10.13

“Ag Gag”  laws attempt to stop us from knowing a product’s story:  see below.


“We have to remember our source of nourishment. Or we will starve.”

Elizabeth Woody, Warm Springs Indian Reservation (A Song to the Creator)


In spite of Elizabeth Woody’s warning, modern consumer society is geared to making us forget the natural sources of our nourishment.  Supermarket stacks of saran-wrapped hamburger packages disguise entirely their resemblance to their natural source.

Modern markets also give us the sense that money rather than knowledge is the key to our survival.  And in the capitalist system– in the short term– it is.

But in the long term, it isn’t. There is a limit to the ways in which we can force the land to yield more—even though we are still trying, with such schemes as vertical farming. Without healthy water and soil, food will not grow.  It comes to market from somewhere and the way in which this happens is a story we need to hear and to tell.

If that story is one of abundance and diversity and continuance, it is also a story of grace.  Thus, Wendell Berry once remarked, we should not eat any food we are not willing to pray over.

By contrast, most modern stories of the food we eat are profoundly lonely ones— for humans are the only actors within them.  In these stories we are only consuming, not sharing.  These stories tells us humans made up the cartoon cows that appear on milk cartoon– and humans can make up our food as if we did not need the cooperation of the land to do this.

Thus I applaud Barack Obama’s proposal for a farmer’s market at the White House: for such market’s tell us a different story.

We can never have too much healthy food, too much of the community created by such markets and the urban gardens like that currently at the White House.  Such markets and gardens exude the spontaneous sense of celebration that harvest always engenders.

They illustrate there are human hands and other natural lives involved in producing “the sources of our nourishment”.

At the Eugene Farmer’s Market last year, a booth selling goat cheese and goose eggs displayed a large egg and invited the passing crowd to guess what animal it came from. The farmer was amused at the number of passers-by who blurted out “goats” in answer to this question—evidently since there was a picture of a goat at the booth. Though there was no picture, obviously, of a goat laying an egg!

But perhaps the story of a goat’s egg is better than the story of an egg laid by a corporation with the intersession of a few feathered machines so closely housed that they need antibiotics to survive—and regularly resort to cannibalism.  Or formerly grass-eating machines that never move from their engineered milking stations and are turned into cannibals by the food their human managers give them.

And there is the tragic story that tells how both of these animal-machines in factory farms are slaughtered–under conditions in which humans are maimed and (all too often killed) along with the animals they process.

These stories are documented in books like Fast Food Nation and the film Food, Inc.—and in the lively Story of  Stuff. But they are not told in that supermarket package, where the stories available to consumers consist of things like ingredients and percentage of fat.  These hardly give us the full story.

But this is changing. Grassroots labeling campaigns are a way of telling more of the story of our food.  These stories include “sustainably raised” and “humanely raised” beef and “free range” chickens.

“Organic” itself was not originally a government label, but one created and standardized by farmers’ organizations like Tilth in Oregon.  There was a considerable battle when this label became a federal standard a few years back—since certain corporate interests wanted to water it down so much it would have been a meaningless label that did not distinguish organic from commercial products.  But those who originally instituted it—as well as a vocal percentage of the US public—fought to continue it as a standard that consumers can trust.

The battle continues as Monsanto wants to add genetically engineered foods to the list of those certified as organic.

There is also “fair trade” to combat the “free trade” propagated by the World Trade Organization whose rules specify nations cannot discriminate against products based on the means of production—so that it sued Massachusetts for boycotting products from the terrorist regime in Myanmar.

The label “fair trade” urges us to go more deeply into the stories behind our luxury goods from elsewhere.  How many of use would pick up that Hershey bar at the supermarket checkout lane if it had on it the story of the child’s hands that produced it under slave labor conditions in Africa?

There are other stories that the labeling of sustainably raised lumber, the labeling of buildings with LEED certification, and the proposed LEAF program for labeling of fabrics urge us to think about.  Some of them are gathered on community-based websites under consumer information links here.

The economic effects of such labeling is indicated by the pitched battle Monsanto has waged against labeling genetically engineered foods in the US for the last two decades—since their research tells them US consumers will buy far fewer gmo foods if they know they are buying them.  Monsanto’s dirty tricks included pressure on Fox News to fire two investigative reporters who uncovered the corporation’s unsavory tactics.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers in Oregon collectively agreed to refuse to use the bovine growth hormone—and labeled their products Bgh-free.  Monsanto also fought a losing battle to make it against the law to label milk products in this way.

Such labels signal a move to tell the stories of the products we use—stories that are all too often hidden by the corporate interests that manufacture those products.  Grassroots labels have standards upheld by transparent community groups—as opposed to the decisions deliberated behind the closed doors at the WTO.

Such labels are an important way of telling the story of the products we buy in a global arena in which consumers are often separated from the products they purchase by geographical and social distance.

They remind us all that we are a living part of a living world:  that there are human and natural lives behind all the food we ingest and the clothes we wear—and our houses shelter us with a story that began in the ancient joining of sunlight and trees.


One of the signs of a farm with ethical production practices is its transparency– its willingness to share the story of its production practices with us.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are those factory farms lobbying for “Ag Gag” laws,  in order to hide their practices from the public, levying jail sentences, for instance, for photographing what is done there.


And here is a great comment on this point that sums it all up, written by Valerie Fowler:

Ethically produced food is important on several levels. As mentioned here, fair trade food protects workers. Organic food protects the land and the consumers. Humanely raised food protects the animals from abuse. There are so many reasons to support “real” food and only one reason not to- which is money. Yet eating industrial food is actually cost-prohibitive because of the negative health effects. How much does diabetes, heart disease or cancer cost a person? Or even a simple doctors visit because the food they eat is so devoid of nutrients?

391 Responses

  1. Excellent article, Madronna. How our food is grown, raised and comes to market are extremely important stories we need to hear and share with others. Seed preservation is another story being told. Read “Seed Saviors & Planting Seeds of Change” @

    That which is hidden needs to be revealed and made know to the public; cover-ups, misinformation and green-washing needs to be exposed. Thanks for providing your readers with links to learn more. I live in Eugene Oregon and look forward to picking up a copy of the latest issue of “In Good Tilth” to read “Stories that Feed Us”.

    • Seed saving is certainly a very important part of the stories we need to tell and hear, Cris! Thanks for sharing this web address and article. Since you also live in Eugene (aren’t we lucky?), you might be interested to know that Vandana Shiva is coming to Corvallis in October. Info here.

  2. To add to my previous comment, have you read the incredible story about the GM sugar beet industry?

    Celsias – “GM sugar beets now make up 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop, which means your next piece of candy, cake, or soda is almost entirely made from a GM food whose ultimate effects are literally unknown.”: Up To 95% of Sugar in U.S. Genetically Modified:

    Read the story taking place in Corvallis Oregon at a landscape supply business: “GM sugar beets found in soil mix sold to gardeners” by the Organic & Non-GMO Report:

    • One of the reasons British farmers burned test fields of gmo crops over a decade ago was the fact that gmo genes migrate… you likely have heard of the story of Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer sued by Monsanto for growing their patented gmo crop. He never bought any (and thus violated their patent) because it migrated unwanted into his fields.
      Thanks for sharing some very important information here, Cris.

  3. Madronna, thanks for sharing about the conference on Earth Democracy.

    No, I hadn’t read of Percy Schmeiser, but I found the website to learn about his battle with and victory over Monsanto in 2008 @

    Speaking of Monsanto, have you seen the documentary “The World According to Monsanto”? It is an in-depth documentary that looks at the domination of the agricultural industry by Monsanto. I have posted a link with the 1st video clip of the 10 part-segments that makes it possible to watch the full documentary online @

    • Hello Cris, thanks for more great resources. I haven’t seen the documentary, but I did check out the sustainlane site and it has many great resources! We need a community-based alternative to Monsanto that focuses on sustainable products and how-to’s- -and, as you note, avoids “green washing”.

  4. […] read a nice piece by Madronna Holden on her blog Our Earth/Ourselves. She tackles the larger theme of the story of consumer products, reminding readers of Wendell […]

  5. I think we have been conditioned to buying things in packages; we need to take the time to consider how to break out of this and purchase things closer to their natural state, for our long term health, as well as the earth’s welfare.

  6. It makes me so mad that someone would want to add a genetically engineered food to a list of certified organics. Isn’t the point of being on that list to prove that the foods HAVEN’T been genetically altered? These big corporations just don’t understand. Not only is the out sourcing their doing hurting our employment rates, but when the consumer knows that these corps. are hiring 10-15 year old childeren (sometimes younger) to do the labor it makes the consumer sick, and not buy the product.

    I am a die hard farmer’s market goer. As long as I can remember my mom has had a large garden in our backyard, and my church even has a community garden. If people are buying these commerically produced items because of “money issues”, they need to think again. Growing your own garden in comparrison to buying the same things at the grocery store is a joke. I’m thinking it’s not even 1/3 of the cost to grow the garden. And what you can’t feed your family, can go to the neighbors or a farmer’s market.

    I hope with all my heart that someday people understand that there is an easier way to get food, and it’s not from the grocery store.

    • I appreciate your personal passion in this respect, Becky. I think the corporations in question understand money– but not the future of life on this plant or health or community. I truly enjoy farmer’s markets: such a joy to talk with folks who raise the food that sustains us. I am especially fortunate to live in the Willamette Valley where there is such an abundance of local organic produce.
      There are serious poverty issues in this country–and we need to change the way we subsidize large corporate food growers and packagers to subsidizing growers who help create the community and healthy environment most of us want. You are helping to do this by voting with your own dollars–and your personal choice in growing a garden. A second way is to clamp down on all that lobbying and advertising money that big corporations spend so that we might decided things as one-person one-vote, rather than according to who spends the most.

  7. Over the last two years my family and I have been involved in a farming co-op here in Central Oregon. The hard work, sweat and tears shed over that few acres of land makes me eat the food we harvest with a new found appreciation and with a gratitude for the land that produces it. We do this so that our daughter will know where potatoes come from, that she will know the taste of fresh dill and the many uses of basil. I want her to feel connected to the food she puts in her mouth and be thankful when we harvest and mourn when the deers eat all the kale or the aphids cover the celery. I want her to recognize the fragility of land and that if we want to eat we must listen and work with the land rather than against it.

    In one of our readings in WS 450, an indigenous woman said something to the fact that Western women think freedom is being able to go to the supermarket. When I read this it made me realize how much the system of supermarkets and mega farms robs many people of their freedom to support themselves and have direct control over their own survival. I am choosing to take some power back.

    • This sounds like quite an experience and a worthwhile one, Jessica. An eloquent listing of your connections to the land’s harvest–and the ways you want to share this with your daughter as you also model working “with the land rather than against it”–even as the deer and aphids take their toll.
      Congratulations on taking some power back for both you and your family.

  8. The fact that Monsanto wants to ban companies from advertising they are free from rBGH and other chemicals speaks to the nature of the company as well as to the danger of the products. Monsanto seems to be the most dangerous and influential company most people have never heard of.
    Although I have my criticisms about the information age we live in, there are times that I also see the positive contributions of the 24 hour access to news and information. The small and decisive victories over Monsanto are a welcoming sign that things are changing. I welcome the new push towards fresh and organic, rather than chemically altered and sprayed produce. At times when I pick up a shiny, red, waxy apple from the supermarket, I feel I need to wash my hands after touching the fruit. Let alone feed these products to my children…

    Let’s support our local farmers markets so fresh and organic remains a viable option.

    • A very bad combination, being dangerous and influential, Anedra–and deceiving as well. Why otherwise not wish folks to know what they are buying (which M. engineered). Another example is the ad they are running in various magazines with a lovely nature scene saying how they are protecting water by “doing more” with it–that is, through agricultural use of genetic engineering.
      I agree with you about fresh and organic. And so, evidently, do a number of consumers, since organics are some of the fastest (if not the fastest) growing food markets. We can hope Monsanto’s days for profit through dissembling and ravaging nature are numbered.
      And just as a point of info, they are intimately connected with Dow: that corporation that brought you the plastics manufacture in the 1950s that dissolved manufacturing worker’s bones, but which Dow and her companion chem companies specifically worked to keep secret despite the evidence of their own doctors. Their memos to this effect are now open records thanks to a suit against them–and Bill Moyers did a several hour special based on these. Not viewing for the faint hearted– but imparts a reality check to those who believe that we “need” such corporations to get us through the modern age.

  9. Great article! I am feeling more confident about this subject because natural foods, local grown, farmer’s markets, fair trade, organic and so many others are becoming more main stream and easier to access. Even in Anchorage, Alaska I have access to all these items. There is even an all organic restaurant in town where everything from meat to condiments is all natural and organic. Yum!

    I am also familiar with Tilth because I did a homework assignment on the restaurant Tilth in Seattle when it opened and I had to do research on the organization and what it’s purpose is when it comes to consumers. I also am lucky to have had parents who care about all these things and who shop at a local co-op focusing on all natural and organic produce and free range poultry.

    Recently I purchased some items from Global Girlfriend’s website and can’t wait to buy more! I also shop at the local fair trade store in Anchorage (Grassroots Fair Trade) that sells the most interesting household goods from all over the world. Isn’t the point of life to support each other and the earth which is our home and reason for life, rather than to manipulate the natural to gain more capital???

    • Thanks for your comment, Amy. I do think that it may seem hard to keep track of the ways in which the things we buy come to us–but you indicate some shortcuts such shopping local, organic and fair trade! I very much like your last sentence about the point of life being to support one another (non-humans who so enrich our lives included?)

  10. This is such a fitting article after reading about the discrimination in pay that the women receive in third world countries. Not only can we think about what the people that are making these products are paid, but also how the products are being made. I have had an experience where I bought coffee that was fair trade because of the story I read on the back of the bag. I feel like if a story was told on a Hershey’s bar, or a pair of Nike shoes about the condition that the product was made in, I think it would change people’s purchases or hopefully make them think twice about what they are encouraging by buying the product.
    I am glad to see that more labels and higher restrictions are being placed on food companies to really tell the way that it was made, what’s in it, and the effects that it will potentially have on your body. In one of my other classes, I learned that they are making a better effort to enforce these things and not make it so easy for things to be certified. I have recently started to buy more organic items and become more aware of the way that I am using things around me. It makes me feel better that I am trying to make a difference and treat the world a little better.

    • Hi Kellly, thanks for this comment. Buying fair trade coffee is a great thing–and organic products help you and the environment. I also hope that knowing such stories would change purchasing decisions.

  11. I am glad to see a trend in buying local food, growing gardens and knowing who grows your food. Your story about the goose egg reminds me of a story of a girl I knew in highschool. My school choir was on a trip to compete in a competition and we stopped someplace where there was a petting zoo. There were chickens and rabbits and other animals all in one pen. She saw an egg that one of the chickens had laid, but there was a rabbit nearby and she asked if rabbits laid eggs, I guess from the whole Easter Bunny concept, but I was shocked. I realized then that people are very disconnected from animals and food. My Grandparents had a small dairy farm and I found out all about animals and food as a child. I think it is a good thing for kids to visit a working farm and see what it is like. I found out that all animals are not pets, but they are treated well. I am not much for killing, but I made myself help clean and pluck chickens so I would know how to do it.

    It takes quite a bit of work to find out where stuff we buy comes from and if it was made without slavery, pollutants and by people who made a fair wage. It just isn’t on most labels and you have to spend some time researching purchases before you buy them. You brought up chocolate and slavery. I love chocolate and it is pretty sad to think that most candy bars that the public buys everyday was tainted with slavery. Fair trade should be the norm, not the exception. If large corporations demanded that companies they buy chocolate from did not use child slave labor, then it would be gone.

    • Great points, Christina. I had not thought that how the Easter Bunny provides a link between eggs and bunnies– sad that we don’t get more firsthand information. I absolutely agree with you that fair trade should be the norm. And perhaps there is an intersection between intimacy with natural processes (as you practiced on your grandparents’ farm) and carrying for the conditions of workers who produce our food– for if you know the work that goes into this, you will be more likely to care about those who do it!
      I hope that the links under consumer info here will help visitors to this site make wiser consumer decisions.
      Thanks for your comment.

  12. As organic foods were once our past, it is time for them to be our future. For this to truly be a reality again though we need to speak to the public in the language they respond to best, money. The American consumer, while often seduced by the path of least resistance and ease, will almost always do what is cheapest. When it comes to meats, produce, and clothing, factory farmed and chemically spayed products are usually the cheapest on the market. I believe that if organic farms were subsidized, or grants made available to sustainable, organic operations, it would give these healthier options the economic edge they need to compete (I know there is no competition health wise, but the public is dense!). If we can educate the public, starting with our young, on how to compost their waste , how to and grow their own small plots of food, start community seed banks (how many zucchini seeds does one person really need!), and make these options affordable to the masses, we could see a dramatic change for healthy communities and families.

    • Thanks for finding time to comment as you (busily, I am sure) await your new baby, Peter!
      Educating the public is essential–some of the links on this site under consumer info indicate how many groups of consumers are doing this–and changing the characteristic response of only seeking the “bargains”.
      The part of this that we really much change, as you indicate in your suggestion of subsidies for organic production, are “perverse” subsidies that make products that are harmful to the environment and human health– like those produced with chemicals that travel long distances– cheaper.
      Just removing this bad subsidies would already help consumers make more ethical choices.

  13. I applaud the vocal American’s supporting the food labeling! I admit, I am one of the many people who see their meat in plastic packaging. I’m perfectly fine with this- I can’t stomach the thought of the animal it once was. I know that is contradictory, but there it is. My grandfather was a farmer and he raised chickens, pigs, cows, etc for usage and meat. I remember distinctly being violently ill upon walking in on the adults during processing. Even now, seeing roadkill or hunting season can make me violently ill. Human blood and stuff, on the other hand doesn’t bother me. I at all. I’ve often stated I could kill a person easier than I could kill an animal.- luckily I haven’t been in a situation for either. I admit I am blessed with a family who accepts this “quirk” of mine and doesn’t push the situation in any direction.

    On an aside to this, I do prepare meat (from packages) but I do take a moment to thank the animal for it’s energy and life. I may not have slain it but I can at least recognize the sacrifice it gave- willingly or not.

    • Thanks for sharing the interesting perspective here, Christy- thanking the animal but not ready to acknowledge it was killed for you…seems that many of us who buy the saran wrapped versions don’t get that far. But at least we ought to know the stories that tell us how and where our food was produced.

  14. I have to talk about the portion of this article that mentions urban gardens, because I really like the idea of this. I also think it is a great way to promote healthy living, for people who do live in the city and think because they don’t live on farm land or in the country that they can’t grow a garden. That is just not the case anymore. I also have to put a little reality TV. in my response because it is ironic to read about the urban gardens, like that of the ones in the White House, because just this last week I watch an episode of the Biggest Loser, and the contestants on the show took a tour of the White House and they picked fresh vegetables from the gardens at the White House and then prepared them in the kitchen at the White House. I just know that obesity is such a huge problem worldwide and it is killing so many people every day. So, it is important to be that in whatever way we can promote healthy living it is one step closer to have more people trade in their old habits and take on healthier ones. It is also a great marketing tool with putting a clip of the urban gardens of the White House on the show, because what better way to promote a healthy lifestyle than that from the President himself.

    • Isn’t it a great story to tell of our food that it could nourish us from the garden of our own president, Jose. I really like the story of urban gardens as well. So many wins are involved in this process.

  15. Yesterday my wife and son and I went to the Corvallis Farmers Market and other than the variety of produce that we bought, we also bought a few pounds of hamburger from Northwest Natural Beef. The person selling it, who is presumably the person who owns the company and raised the cattle that produced the beef, thanked us for supporting his business. He promised us that the beef would be leaner than 10%, and it certainly was. Incidentally, anyone who has not ever tried fresh hamburger really needs to try it, it is worth the $3.50 per pound that we paid.

    I also found it interesting that among other things for sale at the market included rabbit meat, worm castings, fresh baked bread, every variety of squash that I have ever heard of, different varieties of honey, and goat cheese. Everything locally grown or produced, and all of the sellers remarkably appreciative for our patronage. We are all looking forward to returning for more this Saturday morning.

    • Wonderful, David. I always think of my own trips to Farmer’s Markets as a fun social outing–and an adventure. Thanks for sharing this experience. I’m glad you made it before the rain. Here in Eugene it rained so hard Saturday afternoon it just about drove everyone out of the market!

    • David – I too enjoy going to the Corvallis Farmer’s Market! I can’t say that i’ve purchased any meat, but I always enjoy getting a few handfuls of the produce. Not to mention, the friendly nature of those that sell!

      • It is always a delight to speak directly with those who raise our food. And though I have not been the Corvallis farmer’s market, there is a festive air at every market I have been to.

  16. I really like the idea of putting a story of the where and who of how a product is made on its package. I think that if Americans were faced with the complete story , that most would choose something else. It brings us back to the out of sight, out of mind thing. Just because something is uncomfortable or ugly for us to look at or think about, doesn’t mean it’s better not to be confronted with it. The sooner we can confront it, be at peace with it, and find a way to deal with its consequences, the more wisdom and responsibility we are taking.

  17. I would love to be able to go to the store and be able to see the truth about the products that I am purchasing for me and my family. The idea of ‘fair trade’ and labels that support it would certainly help me to decide between two products if there were a price difference. It is very hard to justify a higher price when I am on a slim budget, but if I knew for certain that one choice had the approval of a ‘fair trade’ label it would be easier to justify paying the premium price.

    The example of a Hershey’s bar being produced by slave labor in Africa would make me not buy it if I believed that the labeling practices were true. Unfortunately there are always people and companies that will try to profit from people trying to do the right thing; even though they are not really doing the right thing, just like companies trying to use the word “organic” when their product isn’t organic.

    It is encouraging that enough people in the US complained about the misuse of “organic,” and it gives me hope that there can be a revolution in labeling that will benefit those who are really ethical.

    • The labeling of consumer products is only worthwhile if that labeling is honest and follows a consistent standard. I am also happy there are so many farmers AND consumers willing to watchdog the label “organic” if it is misused.
      In a complex society, it is had to keep track of all these stories of consumer products, but I am also grateful there are so many organizations working on this. Thanks for your comment, Sandra.

  18. Earth Democracy truly seems to embody practical and much needed solutions. The bulleted point in this week’s discussion, “Earth Democracy is based on local economies: economies that provide direct subsistence from nature rather than from extractive global markets”.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dana. If we see the direct history of what we purpose, then we will certainly be able to make better decisions about whether to purchase it. Nice connection with Shiva’s points.

      • I agree. The only issue is seemingly because the negative affects of consumerism is often sugar coated and difficult to discover. This reminds me of an article I once read that explained how Japan put photos taken of body parts ruined due to the effects of smoking on the cigarette packs. I think that we should do this with more products…

  19. What an important practice: to consciously make an effort to know where your food is coming from and what went into to producing it. I recently watched an episode of This American Life that showed life at a factory hog “farm.” The reporters told of how they had to scrub down and put on a protective layer of clothing before they could even go into the factory to visit the pigs. This was because the pigs themselves were genetically engineered to grow into “the best pork chop”, etc, and essentially had their natural immune defenses bred out of them. They were so susceptible to disease and sickness that they could no longer tolerate the “outside” world. One of the oddest things about that video segment was that the farmer himself thought that he had no other choice but to go the way of genetically modified pigs. He wouldn’t be able to compete with other hog farmers if he didn’t.

    One of the great things about the Fair Trade movement is that it really is a choice of conscience. Choosing a product that is fair trade certified doesn’t really directly benefit the buyer; it does, however, directly benefit the farmer. By choosing to purchase a fair trade product we are showing that we care about who was on the other end of that product and not only our pocketbook. Fair Trade, even with all it’s inadequacies, allows us to think a little deeper about the world at large and our connection to it.

    • Great points, Dazzia. I agree about the importance of conscious consuming–and Fair Trade. I think it is a dangerous trend when farmers (or anyone for that matter) thinks they have no choices such as in your example above.

  20. Changing how, and what, we consume as individuals is one of the best ways to move towards a more sustainable system. Even though it will be a huge battle, I am in full support of true labeling of market foods. “I don’t know what I don’t know.” To be honest, before I started taking classes on ecological issues I was pretty much in the dark. I am still in the baby steps stage but I want to know more, and I want those that feed me, and millions of others, to care about our rights to choose what to eat and what not to eat. We are denied this right when corporations refuse to tell us the truth about that cut of meat for 1.69 lb.

    Labels letting consumers know about hormone use, animal living standards, and so forth would make a vast impact in the right direction. Awhile back I became educated about the veal industry, and NEVER touched it again. I began only buying free roaming chicken eggs after learning about their conditions as well. Education does makes a difference (and big business knows it).

    Changing the pricing of healthy food options would be another step in the right direction. For single mothers like myself, its hard to turn down a 99 cent burger in favor of a more expensive (and time consuming) organic choice. I almost feel as if it is on purpose that sustainable and healthy living is economically out of reach for many of us. The poor can be used as pawns for profits, sadly. Hell, maybe I’ll just show them and grow my own. Then I will know where my food is from, and feed my spirit by spending my time with the plants and earth again.

    • That’s the spirit, Shawna! I do think that there are win-win alternatives to being manipulated by a food system that is unhealthy for humans and the natural world. Just as health care shouldn’t be the right of the rich, so healthy food should be available to all.
      Agribusiness would not survive without customers–and knowledge is the first essential step in asserting the choices we do have. Congratulations on your resolve to do the best for yourself and the family you head.

  21. This essay made me feel pretty ignorant. I never knew that herseys used child labor. I try to be aware of where my clothing comes from, but I’ve honestly never thought about that foods are produced in unfair working conditions.I guess that’s pretty obvious, I’ve just always thought of the animals that are treated so harshly. Gosh, it’s so sad that we have to watch out for EVERYTHING. Especially when in the grocery store. It’s hard enough to buy a cart full of food without high fructose corn syrup, we also should be understanding were all of our food comes from and how it got to my grocery store. It’s so easy to be oblivious of where things are from, and just eat what is cheap and easy, but that is just adding to the problem. I want to be more educated about these sort of things so that I can actually put into action what I believe. I can’t say that I hate child labor, if I’m supporting it. And I can’t say that I am against genetically engineered foods if that’s all I eat. But It’s hard to know all of that If I don’t research it for myself and am purposeful about the things that I buy and eat.

    • It is sad that we have to watch out for everything– the price we pay for a worldview in which profit is so prominent and we are often so disconnected from the sources of the products we buy to sustain ourselves. You have some powerful points about supporting the values that we care about–I think we honor ourselves in this way. It is hard to do all that research-but there are some links under “consumer info” here that have done some legwork on this point. I appreciate the self-reflection in your comment, Alyssa.

  22. If the supermarkets posted the stories of how each of the foods were made on the labels I am sure we would cut the sales by over half. This nation is so wealth and economically based that they try and hide the gritty details and just produce the products that the people of today love to eat. Which means a whatever it takes mentality.

  23. This is a very powerful essay that hits home to those who continue to turn a blind eye to what they are buying (be it food, clothes, or any other mass-produced consumer products). I know all of this, but reading it reminds me to become more conscious about what I buy and to put into practice purchasing food grown locally. I had no idea about the Hershey bar and it was truly eye-opening to visit the consumer information link provided in this essay.

  24. I think that many buyers and sellers like the disconnect they have with their food. If they think about what the animal looked like alive or how it was processed it makes the meal less appetizing. By thinking about how it was processed and the labor that goes into also makes it less appetizing. If companies started telling these stories on their labels, I think that less people would purchase certain items, but, hopefully, it would also make people think more about where their food comes from and maybe they would be more prone to grow it themselves in a garden or buy locally.

  25. How ridiculous is this statement: “Modern markets also give us the sense that money rather than knowledge is the key to our survival. And in the capitalist system– in the short term– it is.” Ridiculous in the sense that you’re right, this is true. Bliss is ignorance. If I had to grow my own food, I’d be screwed! But it’s not difficult. It just isn’t taught. In this society, it’s quick and easy to buy food from the grocery store. And for people like me who are born into this way of life, all I need to know is what isle and how much.

    I mentioned this a few weeks ago: I don’t know where my food comes from. Hell, I don’t even read the ingredients. Sometimes when I’m driving from Portland to Corvallis at night, I’ll have purchased fast food and WON’T EVEN LOOK AT IT before I eat it. Yup. It’s too dark, and my attention is on the road. I blindly trust that the food I buy will keep me alive (and from a fast food joint, no less). I’ve accepted the fact that it’s not healthy for me, and in the long run, dangerous for me. But it’s quick and easy, and I’ve got things to do, places to be.

    Never have I considered the importance of where my food comes from, and the conditions that it was grown in and transported in. This sort of subject needs to be worked into our education system. Frankly, I’m so brainwashed that even though I’m typing this all out, I know I’m going to continue eating the way I have been. It’s going to take something more traumatic to change my lifestyle, and it’s a sad truth. But if I were educated about issues like this at a younger age, I’d be more proactive with not only the food I eat, but at changing the market and how it operates its business.

    Oy. That was a lot of self realization.

    • Thanks for sharing this self-realization with us, Lincoln– there are many of us who have the same experience to some extent or another. And change comes bit by bit– not all at once, I think.
      I agree with you about education and habits we are forming at young ages.

  26. California attempted to pass legislation that mandated all chickens be converted over to “free range”. This topic hits home for me because I just recently switched to free range chicken eggs at a cost of three times that of other eggs. I don’t really care about the cost as I made a decision to support something I feel is right. If enough of us make this change it will force farmers to change their habits and improve the lives of the food we will ultimately eat. We are also going to be switching to organic milk (painful at almost $6 a gallon when I consume two gallons a week) and as much local produce as possible. The only downside is in knowing that local produce may not contain any less pesticide than store bought. If anything I’m reducing the carbon footprint needed to ship the food to me. Those of us with enough money to make the right decisions have an obligation to do so. If you live on minimum wage and struggle to feed your family, then please buy the cheaper eggs, but if enough of us switch, then everyone will be able to enjoy less expensive free range chicken eggs. At what point in time did animal cruelty become OK because they are merely food stock?

    • Congratulations on your personal choices, Damien. By law organically certified milk must live up to its claim that the cows that produce it are not feed any pesticides or food with pesticides in it. If you have children in your home, the switch to organic milk is very important: the bovine growth hormone has been implicated in early puberty syndrome– where infants less than a year old have developed breasts. This is more common in particular environments, but many pesticides mimic estrogen in the human body.
      And if you are low income and live in Oregon, you can at least buy dairy products produced in Oregon; Oregon dairy farmers have mutually agreed not to use bovine growth hormone.

  27. A major part of my awakening was realizing the stories behind the things I buy; realizing that I support slave labor, factory farming, pesticides and other poisons, and unfair wages with my dollar. The single best thing we can do to change the world is to be extremely picky about what goes in our shopping carts and where it comes from. Also, for those interested, there is a Facebook group called Millions Against Monsanto. I have joined. You must be careful, monsanto manufactures food and chemicals under many different names, but this company is going to go bankrupt, and it will take all of us to make that happen. Monsanto is just one in a long line of corporations that have been too irresponsible for too long. The corporation is a manmade entity that should not exist in the capacity that it does, it is our brain child, our destroyer, and our responsibility. Each of us should fight to limit the rights and practices of giant, global corporations.

    • Realizing the stories behind what you vote for with your dollar is a profound awakening– congratulations on getting there, Michele. Thanks for the resource. There is a new push to make it illegal to simply place a label on a product saying it is “gmo free”– so the US wants to vote in an international trade organization. Yikes! Here is the link that tells about this and gives you an action you can take to fight this:

  28. What a great article, and the stories it outlines about the current state of our food production is truly horrific. I have read such books as Fast Food Nation, and other smaller works, and am slowly educating myself more and more about how the food and products I purchase came to be on the store shelves. I think too many people are satisfied to purchase whatever their hearts desire, and to not ask any questions, because they are afraid or don’t want to know the answers. This is a sincerely disappointing reality of human nature. I love nothing more than to attend a farmers market on a spring day, and get to meet the people who have put their efforts into the producing the food I am buying, by using natural and harmless methods. I am also increasingly expanding my knowledge on my own farming, and have kept a garden the last few years to grow all my own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I aspire someday to have a greenhouse to more easily grow what my family needs year round, and perhaps even raise some of my own foul. It is a very relaxing and satisfying experience to be an active participant in my own life, and to be able to have this bond with the natural world in the process.

    • I am glad you liked this, Megan. I agree that there is nothing quite a fun and inspiring as a visit to a vital farmer’s market. Congratulations on what you are learning about growing for yourself– seems such knowledge can’t lead to anything but a win-win.

  29. The foods in the supermarkets are in no way similar to the foods our ancestors ate. For example, we have very few varieties of fruits and vegetables, but our ancestors sometimes had hundreds of varieties of the same fruit or vegetable. Modern production practices have increased the volume of our food, but not the diversity. Whereas the human diet is often encouraged to be diverse so that the person can receive as much nutrition as possible, in the produce isle of the grocery store there is simply no very much diversity. No matter what city in America I’m in, I can walk into the grocery store and see basically the same fruits and vegetables everywhere, and most of those are not even natural varieties but GMO’s. The notions of eating local varieties and foods, seems to have been destroyed by the ability to ship any food anywhere fast. Now people in South Florida can enjoy Alaskan crab in August, and people in Alaska can eat oranges in February. There is some evidence that suggests that this type of scenario is highly unnatural and causes health problems. However, I think the biggest irony in this situation is the high volume of food, with low content of nutrients. What is the point of eating more food that is less nutritious?

    • We can see one resulting of eating more food that is less nutritious in the rising obesity rate, Joshua. As you point out, there is a vast difference between eating fresh fruits and vegetables and consuming grapes from Chile in the winter in the Pacific Northwest. It is a tragedy that we are losing diversity, since we are losing resilience of ecosystems with it. Food, Inc (the film) indicates the ways in which Monsanto and other food conglomerates are pressuring farmers with legal battles to do away with any competition. That is one reason it is so important to buy and grow and consume local food. And as for gmos, I know you will be interested in this: I just read of a study that found hamsters fed Monsanto’s gmo soy become infertile by the third generation. Since that is the soy is now 91 per cent of the soy raised in the US, I guess that’s a new take on the population problem.

  30. I love the idea of more accurate labeling and education. It would be much easier to make accurate choices if the labeling was clearer. I try to purchase local as much as I can, but in this economy, my family is stuggling, when I shop at the store and see the organic bananas are more expensive than the other bananas, I have to look at my pocketbook and choose the non-organics. Until the prices of the two are the same, I cannot afford to buy two organic bananas for the price of five non-organics.

  31. After reading this article, I feel that the pictures on our food labels, could be a big part of the reason that America has obesity problems. These companies put fancy, appetizing pictures on the food labels, and almost instantly the consumer becomes attracted. Instead of doing research, and looking at the nutrition facts on these food products, that choose the item that looks the most appetizing and that catches their attention first. Many of these foods that spend all their money on marketing, do not offer a healthy product. A example of this is when you look at cereal, one of the first boxes that will catch your attention might be coco puffs, raisin brand crunch, or cinnamon toast crunch. Now when you look at a much healthier alternative, such as Kashi, the box looks much less flashy, and does not catch your attention nearly as much. When you do some research, you could find out starting your day with Kashi is much healthier, and you would feel a lot better as well, but we are a Country that doesn’t like to take the time to learn more.

  32. I am really happy with lots of the things Obama is doing in office, like his idea of a farmer’s market for the White House. Hopefully Obama doesn’t lose sight of these important, ecological principles! As important as it is to be critical of environmental certifications like LEED and organic and free trade, it reflects positive changes in western culture that these labeled products are becoming more popular.

  33. A few years ago, to find meats, produce, and grocery products without any unwanted additives,, consumers had to trek to the health food store. Sometimes it was a little ‘hippiy-fied’ and conservative, suburban folks might not have felt comfortable in these surroundings.
    But times are changing. These days local grocery chains are creating organic sections and green products. Organic sauces, hormone and antibiotic free eggs, and meats raised without chemicals are becoming more common and available.
    Even though we have to pay more for these products, in the long run we may well pay less for healthcare; our bodies will be happier without all those chemicals; and the earth, air, water will be also be better off for fewer chemicals. As we incorporate buying organic into our shopping habits, we will wean off the products with additives and preservatives out of our diets. And over time public demand should help bring prices down.

    • I also see heartening changes in our food availability, Kim. But we are also deluged with ads for unhealthy food choices–as our “quote of the week” indicates. And I would love it if we dropped subsidies for those who produce the unhealthiest and environmentally taxing foods so that it no longer cost more for local sustainably raised products.

  34. Thank you for more insights into the commercial food industry. I have to say that I had been pretty ignorant to the atrocities commited in the production of foodstuffs in the U.S. I must say that I am now looking much more carefully at the labels I throw into my shopping cart. My wife has also gotten excited about change and is looking into farmer’s markets and butchers that are making more positive decisions in their production. I also liked that you included the human element of fair trade in the article. Perhaps for people who aren’t moved by poorly raised animals or genetically engineered produce, they might consider how their purchases are affecting their fellow man.

    • It is wonderful that this change is an exciting affair for your family, Clayton. I like it when what we do for the health of our loved ones is linked to the larger arena of justice toward others and wise actions toward the natural world that sustains us!
      Congratulations to you and your family.

  35. What kind of society do we live in where companies like Monsanto can bully to get their way simply because they have the money to do so, and our government allows it! It is infuriating that these giant corporations that are so unapologetically evil have the right to lie to us, mislead us, and ultimately endanger our health. I recently watched Food inc, and the film brought up a good point about how much cheaper it is to buy corn and wheat products than it is to buy fruits and veggies and big part of why this is true is because our government subsidizes it. The best thing we can do on an individual level is to buy local, sustainable food.

    • I think Food Inc. is a very important documentary and I can’t imagine anyone’s watching this without changing their food choices in contemporary society. I appreciate your bringing this issue up, Laida. You observation of price differentials in buying veggies as opposed to fast food is portrayed in sad detail as a poor family is shown making their decisions based on such prices differentials. But I would add one more piece to the puzzle here: fast food is not “cheaper” in an environmental or health sense–only currently cheaper to consumers because of the way it is subsidized.
      What kind of society do we live in? Very important question, and one we are answering with our daily choices. Thanks for your comment.

  36. This was a really good article. You make a good point on how most people don’t really care about the quality of their food or where it comes from. I had no idea bout those Monsanto legal cases. I had also not heard about the investigative reporters being fired from fox news over a Monsanto story. At this point Fox news is an absolute joke in my eyes. I’d also like to throw out there that its hard to eat organic and healthy especially so if you don’t have a lot of money and live in a place where there’s no real demand for organic foods. This is the case in a lot of places especially small towns. I feel like our food quality should provide a wake up call to everyone. There is no reason that people should be subjected to foods and practices that cause huge health concerns.

    • Fox news is owned entire by corporate interests– so you might not have to wonder why their news is slanted in the way it is on that station. I think it is a shame when such networks portray themselves as giving even a bit of balance in their reporting. I agree with you about the quality of our food: so does the recent report by the President’s Panel on Cancer– noting that it is about time we heeded the relationship between the growing cancer rate (41 per cent of US adults– and a skyrocketing rate for children) and environmental toxins. They actually stress a preference for organic foods as well.
      And it is time to remove subsidies from fast foods that make it oh, so foolishly, cheaper to buy processed, packaged and environmentally destructive foods transported over long distances than organic food grown locally.
      One thing that I find hopeful in getting organic foods to folks is the rise of urban and community gardens.
      Thanks for your comment, Ben.

  37. I totally agree that we should not eat any food we are not willing to pray over but then I think we should thank God for all his blessings not just the availability of food.

    There may be modern stories that have humans as only actors, creating food without the cooperation of the land but those stories are ludicrous to anyone who has ever lived anywhere other than a major city. Even if you live in a less than huge city you probably have space available for growing a garden and know that using non-chemicals for pesticide and herbicide control is always best. In the big cities, as we have read earlier, have access to urban gardens or community gardens and the same holds true for them as far as controlling weeds and pests in an organic manner.

    Farmer’s Markets are wonderful places for community and the access to healthy food stuffs. We are fortunate to have four farmer’s markets in the area I live. One on tuesdays, one on wednesdays, one on thursdays and one on saturdays. There is no reason, here, not to have access to healthy, reasonably priced produce at least during the summer and fall.

    I enjoyed the example of the farmer with the large egg and the replies he got when asking people where they thought it had come from. When I was very small, before we started moving around, I remember thinking horses were grown in the park because the only horses I’d ever seen were at the Los Angeles City park.

    I have to admit that it made me VERY sad reading about the feathered machines that need antibiotics to survive and the grass-eating machines that are turned into cannibals by the food they are provided with. The part that explained how inhumanly the animals were treated even at the time of their processed passing and the humans that are often injured as well, I felt sick to my stomach. I am just as guilty as the worst offender of purchasing meat at the meat counter without having given even a single thought of the animal that provided it or the life it lived before it got to the meat counter. I don’t know of any other way to purchase meat. My husband hunts elk and we fish but we don’t have the land to raise our own cows or buffalo.

    I read the ‘Story of Stuff’ and didn’t find it as lively as I found it depressing. From beginning to end it tells of the destruction we are causing the earth through production and design. It seems that everywhere I look, instead of finding ways for solution, I find I am only part of the problem. I have a refrigerator, I have a dishwasher, I have a washing machine and dryer. I don’t replace them every 5-7 years the way the story implies I do but except for the refrigerator, and washing machine I don’t really NEED the others. i remember when I hung clothes on the line with my mother and grandmother. My mother never in her life owned a dishwasher and as a kid it was mine and my brother’s job to do the dishes every day. I have gotten just as complacent as everyone else that I need these things because my neighbors and friends have them but that isn’t true.

    I am pleased that grass-roots organizations are getting legislation in their favor for labeling products that tell us the true story of their origins or what damage it will cause. I know that I will definitely make a more concerted effort to be aware of what I NEED versus what I WANT.

  38. I think consumers are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from. Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are becoming more and more popular. I personally love my local farmers market. I like being able to talk to the families that grew my fruits and veggies. Being able to ask them questions about how things are grown, where their farm is located and such really give you a sense of whats exactly going into your body. Not to mention all the fresh produce tastes way better than from the grocery store. The idea of companies being able to market genetically modified foods as organic is very scary. People buy organic because they care about what they’re putting into their bodies and what effects they’re having on the world. Accidentally buying genetically modified foods would undermined all of that.

    • I think there are too many consumers out there that object to this to allow organics to include gmos–but some contamination is inadvertent with gene migration: yellow corn (even organic) is mostly contaminated with gmos. This is a central problem we need to deal with in protecting our seedstock.

  39. Don’t people have the right to know the story behind their food? I have never heard of this Monsanto guy, but doesn’t he have a conscience? I think that I have the right to know where the things I’m putting into my body comes from, how it was treated, and if it contains any chemicals that could potentially harm me. I think that one of the reasons why a lot of western world people don’t have as strong of a connection with the natural world is because they don’t fully understand or think about how much they rely on it on a daily basis. When they think “bread” they don’t think about the fields where the grains come from, they think about the machines and factories that produced them. When they think “clothes” they don’t think about the little kids who spent eighteen hours in a factory (for almost no pay) to make them. If we changed the labeling system of these products then I think it would help to shift the western worldview over all.
    It breaks my heart to think of the livestock that are so packed together in factories that they resort to cannibalism.

    • I think you are absolutely right that we have a right to know the story behind our food– and what we are paying for, which is why I cannot think of a single legitimate reason why gmo foods should not be labeled.

  40. Being a business major I found this essay to be very intriguing. I want to make sure that when the day comes I find an employer that I can ethically agree with. On the other hand it intrigues me, as it should most, because I am a consumer. I understand the marketing gimmicks that corporations use along with the labor practices. It will take our voice to collectively speak up to stop these unethical actions to continuing. If we are smart and conscious of the food we are buying this will help. There are many other issues regarding food consumption in the world today too. Like the giant, state of the art, farms that China has built in Africa. The Chinese government buys the large space of land to help ensure that their people will not starve have an abundance of food for some time to come. Within miles of these farms are thousands of starving African people, that watch these massive amounts of food be grown, harvested, and then leaving their country on jets. Money is what allows this, and that’s terrible. We need to work on all aspect of how we eat for our civilization to continue to grow.

  41. I have only recently started buying organic vegetables and free range eggs and chicken. It was mostly because I didn’t really understand the importance of doing so. I had a roommate when I was in the military, she was a vegetarian, and she was constantly preaching to me about eating meat and animal products. Honestly, I tuned her out because she was so aggressive about it and I was just turned off. I think people want to do the right and humane thing but don’t always know how. I think it also comes down to education and a lot of people (for whatever reason) are just not that educated on consumer products and what goes on behind the pretty packaging.

    • You bring up an important point about compassion in speaking with others, Tiffany. Honoring the values many of us keep in our hearts but “don’t know how” to enact them is one way to do this– and giving options and support for doable courses of actions. Thanks for your comment.

  42. Until the past few years, I had not realized all of what goes into commercially produced food products at the markets. I think that it is important that the public, or those individuals, continue to push mass manufacturers back. These huge corporations want to exploit the “organic” label and compromise the meaning behind it.
    I did not know that organic also meant the seeds were natural and not genetically altered. The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.
    At the store my daughter was remarking on all the things we no longer buy as a result of our knowledge growing. Slowly we are becoming more aware, and making choices that we think are important. She brought this up because she learned through proof reading a peer’s paper that the dyes in food can be harmful, sometimes cause cancer.
    I think the most important change we’ve made is that we are thinking about our choices much more. As she said, “we used to just buy whatever without thinking about it.” I think it a positive change to use our buying power to not only make better choices for our health, but to support people and the environment. Each voice, each choice can make a difference.
    A side note: she and I visited the Eugene Saturday Market booth mentioned in the essay last summer. Neither of us can remember what we guessed what laid the egg, but I suspect we said goat. I think this illustrates the unconscious consumer mind–just buying whatever without thinking about it. Obviously, we both realize now it could not have been a goat, but at the time, we probably we influenced by what we saw–the picture of the goat and the goat cheese samples.
    Large food corporations used this all the time. The put key words to trick consumers into believing that the food inside is healthy. I fear that is why they want permission to use the key word organic–they see dollar signs, a market to tap into. Capitalism at its finest.

    • Thanks for sharing your perceptions here–including the ways in which we see things based on cursory pictures of things– a training that ads give us. It sounds like you and your family are in the midst of an adventure, and you might be interested to know that your family’s health and that of the environment dovetail in organic foods– a strategy mentioned in line with cancer prevention in the recent report of the president’s cancer panel.

  43. I think there is knowledge and then there is knowledge that really effects: I think Food, Inc. is a good start at putting the viewer in the circumstances of our food production.
    I agree with you that regulation is not always a dirty word– not with 80,000 some chemicals out there, only a handful of which have been tested.

  44. One of the advantages of letting local peoples lead development is their place-based knowledge.

  45. I watched a documentary a while back called “The World According to Monsanto,” which describes Monsanto’s aggressive tactics–not just regarding labeling but also in relation to farmers using gmo seed, among other corrupt practices. It’s a fascinating film, which came back into my mind as I read this essay. (I think it can still be found free online, should anyone choose to search by the title.)

    The fact that Monsanto’s own research indicates that consumers would rather not purchase gmo foods certainly says something–perhaps that people are instinctively wary of so-called “frankenfoods.” Unfortunately, the majority of soya and corn crops grown in the U.S. (the two crops that make up the majority of the American diet–especially via processed foods) are gmo crops, so it does feel like we’re being duped into buying/consuming something we are inherently suspicious of.

    The WTO lawsuit against Massachusetts made me think of how important individual choice can be–if an overwhelming majority of consumers chose to purchase only fair trade items, the WTO certainly couldn’t sue them for exercising their choice in a “free market.” I really think that most people just aren’t aware that such a thing as “fair trade” exists, to be honest. For example, both of my parents were surprised when I explained the fair trade certification symbol on a box of tea in the kitchen, and what it meant, because they were under the impression that exploitation was just the modern way of business/life–and this seems to be the case with most individuals I know. Talking about it at the individual level is a good start, but I’d like to find a way to publicize the issue more.

    • I had not heard of this documentary: But I just found it online and reviewed the first part of it. The data here looks very sound–and horrifying in terms of Monsanto’s past behavior. It is here:
      Sharing personal information person to person is a great way to go. I would love to see such a consumer move, Crystal. Thanks for your comment and this video info.

  46. I have to agree! Food is critical, as the saying goes: “we are what we eat.” And if you don’t know what you are putting into your body, how can you be sure what effect it will have? I recently moved into a studio apartment and was delighted to find that there is a farmer’s market held across the street from my place every thursday. I don’t get to park anywhere near home on thursdays, but I get to bring my girlfriend home some of the best tasting blueberries I have ever purchased!

  47. Living in the Middle East everything is political all the way down to the food we eat. Many of the products sold in Israel are produced by settlements in the West Bank. I try my best to buy products that are NOT produced in the West Bank, but sometimes I am faced with a strange dilemma: As a conscious consumer it is also important to me to buy organic products that do not harm the environment, but often this means that I in order to buy organic I must buy from a settlement. For example: Free-range, organic eggs are only made in the West Bank. So how do I decide which is more important? Supporting sustainable agriculture or boycotting the occupation? It is a personal choice and everyone makes their own rules. For me, I choose not to buy if it is produced in a settlement, even if it means I must buy a non-organic alternative. Sustainability is important, but being a “locavore” is more important. Buying locally and supporting (or not supporting, if that is the case) businesses is more important than the environment. But every time I go to the grocery store I am faced with this question and it is never an easy one to answer.

    • Thanks for sharing this personal choice, Hannah–and the dilemma it entails. And thank you also for being a responsible consumer. I dislike it when our production methods put consumers between two not very good choices. I think we must then make our own conscious decisions: this is the important thing. If we each made such decisions through ethical deliberation, we would change our system radically. And having living under the Occupation for a year as a teacher, I certainly cannot fault the choice you are making here!

  48. This essay really points out how ignorant people are about products in the stores we shop at. The story about the farmers market in eugene with the Eggs and the goat picture was crazy! People are so uneducated about the food they eat today. I think we do need to start buying more locally and organically. We could all benefit from having a little garden in our backyard. We would learn to care more about our shopping habits if we did. There does need to be warning labels or some kind of information on the products we buy letting us know how it came to be in our store.

    • I am always shocked by how ignorant people can be about the food they put into their bodies! I am by no means the perfect consumer and I (unfortunately) love to indulge in junk food much more than I should, but at least I am consciously putting *crap* into my body and know full well the consequences each time I do it.

      I do think that conscious consumption is still very much a privilege of the affluent. When you are worrying about what your next meal will be, you are much less concerned about whether it is local or organic. Warning labels would probably be a good way to help everyone make better choices but legislation to encourage the consumption of local products would probably have more of an impact in the long term.

      • At the same time that conscious choices may be the privilege of the more well to do consumer, the poor often take the brunt of environmental degradation–and I find it especially important when they fight for environmental justice on their home turf– or when community gardens put healthy food back in their hands. Thanks for your comment, Hannah.

    • Thanks for your comments, Brandon, both in terms of personal ideas for improving your own place in the food system–and passing on vital information to other consumers.

  49. For once, in all of the essay I have read on this website, I have to object to a topic raised in this particular piece. I do believe that we can have too much healthy food. The mention of Fast Food Nation and Food Inc (both of which I am familiar with) brings to mind a message that I took from both. The message was related to the damage that is caused by centralization of our food sources. Today we have become dependent upon enormous farming operations which rely upon the harmful chemicals we are concerned with finding in our environment and in our food. I am fully behind the movement to end these conglomerated food giants that work outside the realm of nature in their efforts to exceed capacities of their native environments. I worry however, that in our movement toward foods that are more responsibly produced we could end up with new giants who’s inefficiencies work against the problems we are trying to solve. The title of “Organic” in this essay I see as an example of a belief that was then morphed into a word representing a desired belief. Like many of the other labels mentioned in this essay, I am concerned we will begin to focus more on what the word stands for rather the deeper understanding of the problems each try to resolve.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful perspective. We certainly want to be careful not to replace one conglomerate with another! I think that organic (at least, as a current US certification) represents a land-friendly approach to agriculture. Though it is also true that one can go beyond the mere negative of NOT using dangerous chemicals into the positive territory of sustainable and humane practices that increase the resilience of the land and its biodiversity–as did some indigenous cultures. Buying local is another concern, since we are liable to best know the stories of products grown or created in our own neighborhood (where we can visit the farm that raises our food, for instance).
      I think you are right that we must be cautious not to substitute a mere word for the physical content it should represent (a good comment from one raised on political trigger words that have little meaning in reality– like “family values”, for instance, that are in serious need of definition?)
      Good issues to raise.

  50. As organically grown food is becoming more common place, the prices in the markets seem to be coming down, I have heard many people say they do not buy Organic because of the price, but I have found with careful shopping it really does not cost much more to feed yourself and others in a much healthier way. In my personal experience, garden grown vegetables are far superior in taste to store bought and I try to buy at the local farmers markets when I can. It not only tastes better but supports local farmers as well.

    • Good points, Deborah. I think the local urban gardens and farmer’s markets are also helpful here. Thanks for your comment. Of course, all organic foods are not necessarily sustainably raised–or with labor justice, though my own sense is that will be more likely the case. But there have been a few abuses with large scale organic farms who have been given FDA warnings to change particular behavior lest they lose their certification. Chocolate, for instance, that is organically certified may be raised without pesticides, but it is not always “fair trade” (some of it is harvested with child slave labor, especially chocolate raised in Africa).
      Best of all is to obtain local foods from a farmer you know–or raise it yourself in your own yard or in conjunction with neighbors in a community garden.

    • Deborah, I agree with you. The first pear I ate from my pear tree I was astonished at how vastly different it was from any pear I have ever purchased at a grocery store. I think that the need for more food education coupled with poor localized options results in many lower and middle class Americans eating pre-made foods, fast foods, and frozen foods. The happy meal is much more convenient and far less expensive compared to fresh organic produce, organic free range or grain fed meats, and fair trade products which are not always reasonably priced. In addition to being cost prohibitive I think fast food corporations and franchises target lower income communities because results from statistical analysis determine this will increase profitability. Many in the fast food industry have learned that there is a specific demographic they should be focused on. If you have more fast food restaurants than family restaurants and only a few grocery stores to choose from its more likely fast food will be chosen over raw foods that need to be prepared and then cooked. Getting gardening programs started in inner city schools as well as all other k-12 schools could help in starting community gardens. If the children engage with their parents and indicate they are willing to offer something they already learned in school to the community based gardening effort, this could help to stimulate a parents interest and motivation to become involved in a community garden. An activity that is free, and that a parent can do with a child, and the behavior is already changing and hopefully, that happy meal will only be a special occasion thing, not the norm. Of course, the farmers markets occurring in these areas is also necessary and long overdue.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Lizzy– and ideas about ways to combat and change the comparative expense of healthy versus unhealthy food. Your examples also indicate the ways in which healthy food connects us to one another as well as to our place in natural systems, whereas fast food disconnects us from both.
        In this context having a “happy meal” as an occasion for family sharing represents a loss–how different from preparing a meal– and especially, helping to raise it– together.
        All of us concerned about the comparative price issue should watch for ways to support the abolition of the “perverse subsidies” that make a grape transported thousands of miles less expensive than one sold at the local farmer’s market–and heavily processed “happy meals” cheaper than healthy food without a whole system of food processing and preparation behind it.

    • Deborah, I agree that we can afford organic foods especially produce. I find I can shop and leave a store or market with a huge bag of organic produce for less than half the cost of the same bag of processed foods.

  51. I have thought about this many times before. Due to numerous allergies I must be very careful with everything that I come into contact with, including soaps, shampoos, lotions, makeup and of course food. Labeling is really hit or miss and I tend to gravitate towards the products that are whole, fair trade and organic. The fewer ingredients the better and because I read the labels of everything that I do pick up, I think it is fare to say that many foods you would not expect to be more manufactured than not are and these are things people are eating every day in amazingly large portions. I wrote a report on the poultry industry when I was in the seventh grade and did not eat chicken from age 12 on to 32. I started eating chicken again last year because I found more options for free- range and organic poultry, but still question what that really means in regards to the FDA regulations for these standards. This was also motivated by attempting to choose other alternatives to beef. I have heard that organic means a little bit more space in their coops (I have chosen a benign term here on purpose although I understand cages might be a better choice) and no antibiotics, but what does this mean in regard to chickens becoming cannibals due to overcrowding? We have started growing our own herbs for cooking because we do all of our own seasonings and rubs and also have multiple fruit trees which is really good for us because we both control our health and wellbeing largely with our diets. We want to plant more, and although raising chickens comes with the full responsibility of preparing the animal for cooking, this is something we have discussed and may move forward with. I am lucky to be in a neighborhood where this is an acceptable use of our land and where our neighbors would be very supportive of such an idea. In regarding to labeling, another issue with modified foods and other manufactured products that we purchase regularly is the packaging. It has changed so much due to people tampering with products, and crime. The amount of trash and recycling generated by this alone is overwhelming.

    • Hi Lizzy, thanks for your comment and sharing your personal journey with respect to understanding what you are buying for the sake of your health. It is a hopeful point to me that we have non-profit sites that are working on supplying such information to consumers. Fair trade is a good one– and the Environmental Working Group is another (see our links). Perhaps a sense of the success of the latter is measured by the fact that they were recently targeted for a dis-information campaign by the commercial agricultural industry for their ratings of foods that contain relatively high levels of pesticides.

    • While being vegetarian or vegan certainly helps to reduce environmental impact, it is important to remind people that this is not the only option. I too am often wary of how the terms “organic” and “free-range” are applied to the products of large corporations; however I feel confident when choosing local options as I am aware of their farming practices and know individuals who work on the farms. Kudos to you for looking into raising your own chickens!

      • Indeed, thanks for your comment, Breannon–and the reminder, along with Lizzy’s, that we cannot simply rely on labels (without a little investigation on our own until the FDA becomes more proactive) to entirely guide our choices.

  52. While corporations have a strong grip on our capitalistic society, we all still have consumer choice. John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, visited OSU last year and advised that choosing where to spend our money and on what products gives us power and shows that we do not support corporations with unsustainable practices. I feel awareness regarding these issues has certainly increased in the past decade. Living in Corvallis certainly affords me the opportunity of having numerous local, organic options not only through markets but also with some of our restaurants. I’m sure Corvallis has come to be this way because of consumers choosing how and where to spend their money. I know Corvallis tends to be the exception, rather than the rule, in choosing more sustainable and environmentally conscious products. As studies continue to emerge on the harmful effects of many of the genetically engineered food additives and the harmful effects on the environment of current farming practices, my hope is that all of the pockets similar to Corvallis continue to expand.

    • Great points about our personal choices, Breannon. It sounds like Perkins’ visit to OSU had a substantial influence, just as consumer-driven influence, as you point out, has likely done in Corvallis.
      I think the surge in demand for organic products is also consumer driven. I agree with you on the importance of such choices in other arenas. Monsanto has fought the labeling of genetically engineered foods for decades now: an interesting development is a kind of “reverse labeling”, in which labels that a products does NOT contain gmo ingredients.

  53. The egg contamination earlier this year was definitely a wake up call for American consumers and brought the inhumane mega -food processing crisis literally into our homes and stomachs. I am appreciative that it was the Oregon Tilth and other grass roots orgs. not a government agency that organized and saw to market the organic labels. I feel they would have more integrity and commitment to the standards and over sight.
    As for LEED, I agree with the need for standardization of the Green building industry but having been involved with green and sustainable building and design since 1982, I am disturbed by the elite-ism brought into sustainable building by LEED. It is great to have energy efficiency and sustainability standards but it comes through this system of rating at a high cost. The first clients who came to me, after graduating from the U of O , School of Architecture, were so ill from their environments that some were living in tin sheds because they had become so reactive to the world. They could not have afforded a LEED building, most residential clients can’t. So my mission over the last 28 years has been to find affordable ways to insure safety, balance and harmony that we all deserve in our built environments.
    The other area LEED falls down in is toxicity. I make it a rule to follow a product from birth to construction, making sure that there is as little toxicity in the manufacturing process as possible. That isn’t a part of LEED.
    I am in great support of LEED and also know we need to make this kind of oversight available to the average person.

    • Great mission indeed, to find affordable ways to enact our ethics with respect to the environment. You may have heard about the architect in Portland who designs low income housing with such grace and sense of community/shared space that the price for his work has gone up way beyond what low income folks can afford.
      A serious problem with the way we price things in this society– including placing “perverse subsidies” on environmentally destructive and unhealthy food so that these are cheaper than locally produced and sustainably raised food.
      I also know that there is substantial discussion on recent LEED standards in terms of dealing with the toxicity issue– balancing air circulation with super-insulation, for instance.
      Thanks for your comment, Maureen.

  54. I personally feel that our food labels do not tell the whole story in regards to what we are buying and where our food is coming from. The one label that gets to me is the one on our potato chips that says “zero trans fat”. Then you will look at ingredients on the back of the bag and you will see partially hydrogenated oil, which is basically trans fat. The other label is one that says whole wheat bread. Some of these breads that say whole wheat are basically white bread with some brown specks of whole wheat. The only label you can trust is one that says 100% whole wheat or sprouted wheat. I have found along time ago that there isn’t always truth in advertising.

    • Trans fat on the front of the package, but differently named on the ingredients list. Thanks for pointing out the ways in which the labeling here does not tell the whole story of the products you buy– sad that there is such outright deception in such cases. I appreciate the heads up on “whole wheat” as well. Thanks again, Elizabeth.

  55. I wish more people in our country were aware of how disturbing the food industry’s practices are sometimes! Although fortunately, I think awareness is starting to spread. I would recommend checking out for anyone interested in a humorous depiction of a not-so-humorous problem with the meat indsutry. Fortunately, options are available in most places to avoid sketchy food and companies. Here in Corvallis the Coops are excellent in the food that they offer (mostly local grown, all organic). The farmer’s market here is also awesome, including the winter market. If people are willing to look, options are definitely available. And the quality of fresh, local produce is so much better.

    I was also quite pleased with Presidnet Obama’s proposal for a farmer’s market at the White House. He holds a lot of influence over the opinions of many americans, and I hope he opened up a lot of eyes with that!

    • I also see it as a hopeful sign that the knowledge of the food industry practices is growing, Allison.
      Thanks for sharing this link: a sense of humor is important in dealing with such serious issues. We in Western Oregon are fortunate for food choices that might not exist everywhere– but I think such options are growing with awareness.
      I love the idea of Michele Obama’s organic garden on White House grounds as well.

    • Hey Allison thats a very interesting website you referenced. I think it does a great job of showing what is really going on to those people who may be too easily disturbed to watch real footage or photographs of what actually goes on, such as children for example. It also linked to another website that i think is great. You can use this website to find stores, restaurants, farmer’s markets and organizations near you that support local and sustainably produced food.

    • I totally agree with you. There are a lot of very disturbing practices that goes on in our food industry today. There is also another great documentary of the meat production process called “meet your meat” on youtube. What we can do is to really bring awareness of these practices and hopefully that will make a positive impact.

  56. Western industrial modernization principles have been molded and nurtured to support these giant corporate machines. Those in charge of these giant industrial complexes have the greatest means to support their sustainability and therefore do so. Since these corporate entities have grown to amass the majority of societies needs and wants, they have driven out and continue to destroy their competition. Because these companies control their markets, they put greater value into financial gain than the products condition they sell us. These corporations have strong-armed their competition by increasing the cost of production, while keeping the product prices the same. One of the few positive outcomes, of this development, has been the birth of these new formed cooperatives. As can be seen in the meatpacking industry, four giant corporations account for 84% of the nation’s cattle and have been pushing the family ranchers out of business. These smaller ranchers had to join together, developing cooperatives based on producing better products, which the consumer was willing to pay a greater price for and therefore bringing competition back to the four giant meatpacking firms. Monsanto’s labeling battle is just another representation of this process. Those people in charge of these giant corporate machines will do anything to sustain their financial relationships. To them it’s not about the consumer’s well-being, rather it’s about supporting the corporate entities structure.

    • I’m not sure which came first– the “corporate machines” or the “industrial modernization”– I think they rather grew together. Now, of course, corporations are more than willing to enlarge and take advantage of their position– which I think society must do something about if we wish to have both an environment and a community left.
      And I would certainly agree that Monsanto’s fight against labeling is immense bad faith: in a democracy you don’t get to hide the ingredients of what you are selling just because your marketing research says revealing them might make you earn less money.

  57. This was an encouraging post outlining some of the wins for consumers against the food industry. It also reminds us that there is a lot to be done. Fair trade is so important. I was surprised to learn that the entire state of Massachusetts was sued for violating Free Trade agreements. “Free Trade” is a pseudonym for robbery and slavery!

    • I could not agree more about “free trade”, Michele. Thanks for the feedback– I was only relaying what so many others have done in terms of education, so I can’t take personal credit, but this trend heartens me as well.

  58. “Supermarket stacks of saran-wrapped hamburger packages disguise entirely their resemblance to their natural source.”

    This is one of my fundamental problems with the meat consumption in America (or the industrialized world in general). We are completely detached from the origin of this “product”, and the fact that it is an animal’s flesh! Our detachment just further ends our humanity and promotes cruelty and ignorance. If we don’t know what happens in the meat/slaughter/factory farming industry, of course we cannot care about it. And if we do know about it, we just “remove ourselves” from it” by pretending it does not affect us or our meat, instead of researching to find out what meat companies it does affect and how to be ethical with our meat purchases.

    People refer to PETA as “radical”, but the reality is they spread the truth and people don’t want to see it. I am not a fan of PETA by any means (I don’t want animal rights activists to come off as lunatics and for no one to take us seriously), but the information they promote is what is really going on in the slaughterhouses around the USA. Animals are cruelly cut open while still alive, pigs are anally sodomized with electrical prodding rods, piglets are stomped to death, chickens have their beaks cut off without any sort of pain relieving agent (in an effort to prevent them from pecking each other), and male baby chicks are thrown into high power blenders as a means of “disposing” of them. The videos and information agencies like PETA gather is the truth and it is the reality, but people need to open their glazed over, ignorant, and hypnotized eyes to the cruel inhumanity that is our food industry.

    This essay does give me some hope, Professor Holden. I frequently watch Law & Order: SVU on the USA Network (not that I particularly like NBCU either, but that involves the whole Conan debacle and is not something deserving of opinion in this forum… Haha!). Recently, USA Network started running a commercial with one of their actresses (Tiffany Amber Thiessen from “Saved by the Bell”!) advocating for ethical and humane food purchasing! I felt like this was a small step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. Seeing ethical food proponents coming mainstream was heartwarming to me.

    There is no excuse anymore. Even food stamps/EBT are accepted at farmers markets and the food co-ops here in Corvallis. It is silly to not think with the money we dump into food every day.

    • Hi Crystal, thanks for sharing your care and passion on this particular topic. I can only imagine what a difference it would make if we all started purchasing according to ethical and humane standards for both human workers and more than human animals.
      I think objectifying any living being only serves as a license for doing it violence. If we are truly the brightest species, we ought to show it by doing better!

  59. This divergence between what is going on in the real world and what we see in our supermarket is becoming a great barrier to people making healthy and moral decisions as consumers. It is understandably easy to be ignorant of the growing problems in the factory farming and corporate agriculture industries because produce at the store remains ever shiny and polished and the meat is always neatly packaged, as you describe in the article. I think it has become the corporations’, like Monsanto, mission to keep us in the dark to what is really going on because otherwise they would not be able to get away with what they are doing. I think one important thing we can do is simply try to inform the people in our own lives about the things going on our food industries.

    • Your way of putting this “divergence between what is going on in the real world and what we see in our supermarket”, Roman, makes me think of the dualistic nature of much modern technology that removes us from the world in this way–and thus from our capacity for both knowledge and responsibility.
      Knowledge is essential to make conscious choices, which means we need to break down such “barriers” that “keep us in the dark” because that supports additional profit making. Thanks for your comment.

  60. It is important for us to know and understand how our food is grown and where it comes from. I come from a farming town where we are surrounded by orchards, farms, vineyards and gardens. Most people prefer to get their food locally from neighbors and thus, we know how it was produced and where. Because we are all so aware of our farming and produce market we are also aware of the steps we need to take to ensure the survival of our farms. Although raising taxes doesn’t always sit well with everyone, bills almost always get passed in order to help fund and maintain our produce and farms in town. Healthy eating and nutrition is important as is the knowledge of how to sustain that health.

  61. Every fall around my town we have local farmer’s markets tthat sell fresh fruit and vegetables. I try to take up on these opportunities because I get to meet the people who grew the food and I know where it came from. I feel much safer buying my fruits and veggies through the farmer’s market than I do from a grocery store. I also feel more connected to nature when I buy them from local farmer’s markets.

  62. I think it’s very important for us to be aware of some of the disturbing practices that goes on in our food industry. There have been lots of documentaries made about these practices. It’s worth noting that this is a problem that surfaces more in developed countries. For instance when I grew up in China we’ve always had farmers markets until recently, when the economic boom took place in China things became more westernized and now we’re seeing some of the same problems in China as well.

  63. Oh dear, goats laying eggs? Anecdotes such as that one and many conversations I’ve recently had with veg*n friends make me very aware of how privileged I’ve been to grow up on enough land, and in a household, where we cooperated with many different animals for the simple sake of having that partnership with a non-human being and even raised a few – namely cows – for butcher. I am not a huge fan of consuming non-locally produced meat/products in general (when I have the choice), and I think that being able to raise, interact with, and ensure a good life for the animals in my care, and to personally know where they were taken to be ‘processed’ – to have the chance to personally talk to the folks who’d handle my cows, to see their facilities, and to know that it was all local –helped immensely. I know it’s not for everyone, but learning this lesson at a young age really helped me to appreciate the animals who both needed to be cared for and eventually cared for my family, self included. Considering the alternatives – buying meat from god knows where, with xxx numbers of gas mileage to transport, from a factory farm – vs. being able to interact with this other being daily, give it plenty of affection, a healthy and fulfilling supply of food, room to run around and enjoy life… In the end, I feel pretty good about opting out of the consumer cycle whenever I can.

    It’s funny how often folks I talk to quantify their experiences by the material wealth they had growing up – rather than their real, physical experiences…

    Also reminds me of how many veg*ns I know, or read about in popular media, act as though there is a huge divide between animal and human – as though we do not both come from the same physical world, and just as animals are being harmed in unfathomable ways, so are humans (as this essay illustrates), in these harmful corporate processes of production.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective about ways to honor as opposed to objectifying those who give their lives to sustain our own. I think your example of conscious sharing and oversight of such animals is a central one–and opting out of this with “fast food” does nothing for our health, not to mention, the environment and the animals sacrificed so that we may go on living.
      Ecofeminist Val Plumwood has an essay about the divide between animals and humans ironically expressed by some vegetarians.

  64. This is an excellent essay. The stories about where things come from are the missing lesson that we are not covered in the school. I remembered when I was a kid, my parent always told me not to waste rice. They said that, to harvest one grain of rice, farmers had to work very hard. The value was not about the price and quantity; it is about the effort that people put into it. Nowadays, crops are harvested by machine so the lesson of my parent may be old. With help of machine and chemical, the land yields much more products with less human labor. Yet, human are facing a new issue: the limitation of land’s nutrition. Chemical compounds can’t relive lands and water. It is more about how we manage our production. As suggested in other articles, some solutions are applying multi-crops agriculture, planting more trees, and treating water better. About the stories of farmed-chicken and farmed-beef, the only solution for it is eating less meat. If the demand goes down, the supply will go down accordingly. I and my wife are eating meat only once or twice a week. It is not just about our health. It is also about lives of other Earth habitants.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Vu. I very much appreciate all the links under “consumer info” where volunteers are working to share information about the history of the products we buy.
      Your story about the grain of rice is a powerful illustration of how we lose touch with the meaning of our choices when we lose touch with the origins of our food.
      As you noted, the land needs to be nourished if it is to nourish us.
      Your choice to eat less meat shows the connection between your health and health of the planet.
      It also matters a great deal how animals are raised: cattle grazed on grass and never fed grain or antibiotics, whose wastes are used to re-fertilize the land, are less a load on the planet than “factory-farmed” cattle.

    • Vu,
      Like you, I have cut down on my meat eating. I became vegetarian after hearing about and watching videos of how animals are treated in factory farms. Since it is very difficult to know exactly where your food is coming from, I decided not to support the meat industry at all. I know a large part of my food comes from places where people are being exploited during its production and I’m working on figuring out which foods are free from this exploitation. It is difficult to control your consumption of products which cause suffering to others during their production in a country where many people don’t feel it’s wrong or just plain don’t know. Also, with companies like Monsanto attempting to prevent consumers from learning the truth about their products, it makes that much harder to know what is safe to buy and what isn’t. It is a process, first, to become aware of these injustices, and second, to find out what you can do about it.

      • This is one more example that shows our interdependence: where our health and the well being of those (humans and more than humans) that contribute to our food supply are intricately linked. Thanks for both of you in your ethical stances– and the effort it took to carry them out.

  65. What I find astonishing about this article is that Monsanto and others are attempting to prevent consumers from knowing details about the product they are buying. This is similar to the situation with the WTO where Gerber was taking legal action because women were being encouraged to breast feed, which was saving the lives of their babies, because their water, which they were mixing with Gerber formula, was unsafe and causing illness and death. While the WTO example is more dramatic, the fact that corporations are trying to force consumers into buying products, even when the products are shown to be destructive and unsafe, is very frightening. Monsanto, like Gerber, wanted to keep its steady stream of customers at all costs. In the case of Monsanto, the corporation was willing to risk its customers right to choose certain products in order to gain profit, but the case of Gerber was worse, with the corporation trying to force women to buy formula while knowing that the water they had to mix it with would kill some of their children. Corporations have gained way too much power and lost any sign of ethics.

    • This irresponsibility — outright unethical behavior– on the part of corporations in order to control their markets is frightening indeed, Kelsey–a s well as inexcusable. This tells us why it is so important to check out those spreading knowledge on the sites under the consumer info here.
      And I did just read, though I can’t verify it, that there IS a way to tell genetically engineered fruits and veggies (if something is processed, you can pretty much be sure it contains gmos).
      Know all those stickers on fruits and veggies: here is the deal
      four numbers beginning with “4”: regular commercial produce
      five numbers beginning with “9”: organic produce.
      supposedly five numbers beginning with “8” means genetically engineered– though I have never seen one of these labels used.

    • Yes corporations have way too much power. Money has become such a negative presence in our society- it seems to bring out the worst in people and makes them forget about the important things such as life and health. I always think about how it would be if those that actually wanted to help make things better in this world had the money that corps like Monsanto have. I like to think that they would do the good things that they aspire to do when they are broke but I wonder how many actually would and how many would let the greed overpower them.

      I had forgotten about the Gerber incident. That is a great example of how health and well being are nowhere near the top of the priority list for these companies- even a company that one would think cares about the babies and mamas it produces for. Walmart is another one thats right up there with them.
      I agree with you that it is very frightening because it’s to the point that one can’t know who to trust yet because money is such an issue for many they have little choice but to purchase products produced and sold by these companies.

      • It is tragic indeed when money causes such blindness– exaggerated by those corporations who are not above hiding or re-shaping the truth in order to protect their bottom line. They seem to feel that their acts are sanctioned by the culture as a whole–but at some point, with informed consumers like yourself and Kelsey, they have to know differently.
        I think not only of the monetary resources that we might spend better– but of the social resources lost when children are not properly fed everywhere in the world. Thanks for caring about changing such things. The future needs you!

        • Tis true, money does cause blindness. I know that when I have money in hand I don’t care what it is spent on. Perhaps if we educate and get most if not all people on board to go against all of the corporations we might actually see some change, sadly because of money these major corporations will still be around. Make local habit. I refuse to shop places like Walmart or Target now. I go only to local shops and local organic grocers.

        • Good for you in exercising your personal choices here, Jen. And isn’t it a lot more fun– since you said you like to shop for fun– to shop locally, where you can have an actual personal exchange with those who make or grow what you buy?
          I am thinking of colorful markets elsewhere in the world, which are social occasions in the best sense of the world.

  66. Great article! I have encouraged a few of my friends and family to check out this website because it provides great insight to so many issues that we value yet are not given the attention they deserve. It seems that so many times people talk about how great it would be if “things” were a certain way but then they don’t do anything about it. I have come across many articles in this site that can encourage people to do what they need to do to make a difference or change- thanks!
    I think that Monsanto is a big bully. Its ridiculous how much power they have over the people, the companies and even the legislature to a certain extent. It is really sickening that a corporation like that, one with so much power to do good if they wanted, could put money above all else. Doesn’t it get to a point where they’ve reached such wealth that they can start thinking about the little guys? I suppose not. Greed is very powerful. I am glad to read that things are changing although I know it’s a long road ahead. I find it so hard to believe that corporations like Monsanto can exhume so much influence that they can actually hide information from the consumers. It is so unethical for them to behave in this way.
    My husband and I do our best to feed our kids healthy and organic foods. We teach and inform them about food and where it comes from and how its produced. We’ve talked to them about fair trade and the importance of being aware of where things are made and how they are made but they are little and its hard for them to understand. I really like the idea that you bring up about the stories behind the food. I think this would be a really great way to teach my kids about all of this because they remember stories.
    The power behind stories can be as influential as Monsanto, if we used it. After I read this article I told my family about the Hershey bars and how they are probably made by some little girl my daughters age and my kids wanted to know more.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Ely. It is a major hope of mine that this site might be of use in the way you describe. There are so many things we need to do together to address our current crises. I feel fortunate to be able to pass some of these idea and links on.
      Great point about Monsanto’s ability to do good with their power instead of acting the bully. Your kids are very lucky to have such conscious parents–and so it the world we share, for the lessons you are sharing with your children.
      They deserve no less from us than understanding the meaning of their own choices as we all act to pass down a better world to them.

    • I agree with you here, too often times people think their voice is not being heard but what is important is to be involved because if everyone said and acted in that way no grassroot organizations would help ensure we enjoy the labels to help guide us to make more conscious choices. Not only are the hershey bars not produced ethically, the sugar that is in them runs through childrens blood stream and creates all sort of health problems from eating too much processed food and sugar. It is crazy what conditioning happens from companies such as Monsanto…. they need to be stopped. 🙂

      • I absolutely agree with you on stopping Monsanto’s destructive effects on our precious food supply– and it seems to me that if consumers knew more about their actions, they would lose their market (hopefully, anyway!).

  67. I know I need to be more aware of the foods I buy, there are no good excuses but laziness for me. I am glad there are more articles like this around to prompt a movement of eating better, more environmentally conscious foods. Half of my family is vegan and I am on my way, going to go find more articles too! Animal ethics are one of the most direct ways that I choose my foods, no meat and only free range cows and chickens eggs. It is good to see more of these items available at large grocery stores.

    • Thanks for your comment, Samantha. I think it is always good news when we choose our actions according to our values– seems that this is personally empowering as well, since it indicates that our values are important enough to stick by them. Congratulations on doing this for yourself.

    • Before watching, Food Inc and the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution, I used to eat candy and fast foods everyday. Now, I don’t eat any of that and eat fresh all the time. If I can’t buy fresh or organic I just don’t buy it. It is hard to find some meats though in some stores.

  68. While I was reading this I thought of an article I read yesterday online where they were warning people of the increase in the price of food because of a freeze in Mexico and crop failures. I thought to myself, if we relied on local food production without the use of heavy chemicals we wouldn’t have to worry about the price of food going up and reading such articles to make people afraid to go to the grocery store because it costs them more money to buy fresh food. Will people go to the store thinking its too expensive to buy fresh food and by default go to the freezer section and buy frozen or canned food? I love the farmers market and although it is more expensive I know it costs more to grow food without the use of heavy chemicals so I am willing to pay the price. What people do not usually think about is the fact that they eat the chemicals that are sprayed on the foods and forget to factor in the health costs of eating such food. It is much more healthy and sustainable to eat local fresh food rather than cheap exported food that uses chemicals. It is a choice you make and at what level of consciousness you are at determines what your choice will be. The propaganda out there and conditioning makes people think it is too expensive to eat organic food but for me personally it is far too expensive to eat the processed food and fruits and veggies sprayed with chemicals. The labels mentioned in this article are an important and if large corporations get involved it will be sad to see the label disappear or no longer mean anything as it is a good way to help people understand they have a choice.

    • Thoughtful points, Angel. There is something else involved here in price rises for food as well: global climate instability caused by human carbon release into the environment. Nature just published two research papers that linked heavy snow and rainstorms to this: so crop failures due to weather are exaggerated by climate change caused in part by transporting food over such long distances.
      Incidentally, reliance on local food would also mean that large corporations would not buy up farmland formerly used for subsistence farming.
      Chemical usage–both in terms of pesticides and fertilizers– is, as you indicate, another large issue. We can do better for the land and for ourselves–and in fact, we will need to do better to safeguard our future.
      Good point about the true expense of processed food.

    • Thoughtful points, Angel. There is something else involved here in price rises for food as well: global climate instability caused by human carbon release into the environment. Nature just published two research papers that linked heavy snow and rainstorms to this: so crop failures due to weather are exaggerated by climate change caused in part by transporting food over such long distances.
      Incidentally, reliance on local food would also mean that large corporations would not buy up farmland formerly used for subsistence farming.
      Chemical usage–both in terms of pesticides and fertilizers– is, as you indicate, another large issue. We can do better for the land and for ourselves–and in fact, we will need to do better to safeguard our future.
      Good point about the true expense of processed food.

    • Our capitalistic society has gotten to the point where most transactions aren’t personal anymore, people are numbers, and numbers are profits. I do everything in my power to buy local or from small business. I shop at farmers markets, buy clothes from etsy etc. Is this expensive? Sometimes. I totally agree that organic food is sensationalized as being pricy, and it really depends on what you buy. Someone who buys processed foods will have a much larger grocery bill than someone cooking from scratch. Ultimately, I feel its more important for someone to cut out processed foods than go organic- and who knows maybe one day they will make the switch!

      Oh has anyone seen the baby carrot ads marketed to kids? They are selling them in vending machines and trying to make them trendy, genius! Stuff like this will be so important in changing the countries eating habits.

      • Thanks for sharing your own decision-making process in buying healthy food for both yourself and the environment. I think you have an important point about processed food–we are very much addicted to convenience. Thus we need to change some habits in terms of meal planning.

  69. All of these different food labels to remember! Do I buy the organic coffee or the fair trade coffee? Local pesticide free, or imported organic? At least I am asking myself these questions. Too many people in our society live off of processed food. I have talked to more people than I care to mention that are anti-vegetable and their diet is almost entirely based on meat and processed food (not including potatoes). I used to be one of those people and I feel lucky I know better now. I am happy there are people and companies out there fighting for proper labels to be included on products so those of us who care have a choice.

    • There is much to remember and understand, Tiffany. Wouldn’t it be great if we simply had a society that structured its food production on what was best for health and the environment?
      Thanks for assuming the responsibility to find out more about what you are consuming–and I agree that proper labeling is very important in gaining the information we need to make wise choices.

    • I am constantly confused by labels just like you are! I never really seem to know what the heck I am looking at in the store when I see things like natural, free-range, organic, etc…it is insane to see things like ‘natural frozen pizza’ and anything in the frozen case that says healthy! Unfortunately, in our profit based society, the companies will continue to confuse people with labels and sayings as long as the regulations don’t make them standardize it!

      • This is one of the reasons why I appreciate the website under “consumer info” on our links page. Also Nutrition Action (published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) has some great info on healthy food choices.

  70. This article brings up great points about farmers markets, and urban gardens but misses another point about the availability of choices for people. I was reading an article a while ago about the proximity to fast-food restaurants and other unhealthy food choices in some cities. People who don’t have much money, rent small apartments, and in general live in ‘bad neighborhoods’ may not even have healthy food available to them due to logistics. Some people who rely on public transportation and state aid may only have corner stores and McDonald’s in there general area. I think it is important to keep in mind that even small urban gardens and community fields in these ‘bad neighborhoods’ can make huge differences with people who may not be able to jump in the car and drive to a farmers market or afford groceries at Whole Foods.

    • It is absolutely true that inner cities and poorer neighborhoods have more limited access to healthy foods. City Slicker Farms in Oakland and at the Detroit urban gardens initiative underscore the importance of your point about the huge differences such urban gardens may make to both community and health in poor neighborhoods. Thanks for your comment.

    • This is an important note, but it should also be noted that although access is an issue, I think that this piece actually critiques the foundational thought process that goes towards supporting these institutions.

      It is so important for us to bridge the gap between the pretty plastic and cheap crap our market puts out, and instead, “vote with our fork”.

      If consumers put pressure on the market to provide better access for whole and good foods, the market would respond.

      Just as the essay mentioned the many individual and community efforts to address much needed labeling legislation in their communities, so too can we that have a desire to increase the quality of our food.

      It does seem archaic, but perhaps even an old fashioned “boy cott” is in order?

      Also, it is important to see this disconnect as part of the bigger picture of a culture without a story.

      • You have a striking point to consider when you mention that we must address the ways in which we have become “a culture without a story”, Shana.
        Obviously, reclaiming our stories will allow us to make better decisions all around. I too see hope in the growing urban gardens movement– as Brad also mentions.
        Thanks for your comment!

  71. Reading this article and being a new father I was curoius about the use of GMO’s in infant formula. I would have thought that companies that make baby formula would use ingrediants that were all chemical free and organic, but I was surpirsed to find out that this is not the case. I took a look at the company I am using, Similac, and found that only its Advanced Organic formula, which is priced much higher meets USDA Organic standards. It was really eye opening to me. Here is the link to the product page.:

    I would think that most other companies in this field follow similar practices. Very interesting.

    • Interesting indeed, David. And of course, infants are most susceptible to problems with things like pesticides and gmos. There are likely other organic baby formula companies that you might be able to locate from our consumer info section on our links page–or perhaps just surfing the internet. In Eugene, finding these would be made a bit easier by the prevalence of natural food stores here that might do the job for you.
      I know you want to protect that new child in every way possible.

  72. Goats laying Eggs?

    How sad that this is an accurate reflection of our current disconnect from the origins of our food.

    The process of food creation is such an invigorating and connected experience I find it very sad that people actually believe that a large egg would come from a goat.

    It reminds me of this reality television show that I watch that featured this very passionate and enthusiastic chef that wished to come from England, and revolutionize the un-healthy American school lunch system.

    Upon arrival in the States, he chooses the most unhealthy city in the country that featured record high diagnosis of Diabetes, High-Blood Pressure, and other chronic diseases that lead to obesity and untimely and early deaths.

    He also chooses to begin his work with the youth in a public school lunch program.

    The part of this documentary that I found most striking was when the chef went into the elementary school with a whole basket of plastic fruit and he began to ask the little children what each individual fruit or vegetable was named.

    None of the kids cold pick out any of the individual items. Whether or not it was cucumbers or tomatoes…they just didn’t know. It was so sad watching that. Not only because your heart went out to the chef that obviously faced a tough battle, but also because these poor kids had no first hand experience with the beauty and understanding of Earth’s raw gifts.

    Much like the ignorance in the fact that Goat’s don’t lie eggs. It is very sad to me. It made me teach my children about veggies.

    Thanks for the insightful description of another example of how we need to embrace our cultural stories so we can more accurately understand ourselves.

    • You are quite welcome, Shana. Such ignorance is sad indeed, as we ourselves and our children after us will need to make choices about survival with respect to the natural world that sustains us– without unnamed plastic fruit as a lesson in identification or goats as the source of our eggs because a sign puts the two of them together.
      I do think there is hope for this to change: thanks for being part of this!

  73. As I had mentioned on another’s post, I really enjoy attending local farmer’s markets, and any other produce stand for that matter. It’s a great opportunity to come together as a community and cherish the amazing foods that our earth and caring hands can provide. Not only are they the foods we should be eating, but they’re delicious as well!
    The idea of “food labels” actually telling how and where the product was created is a mind blowing thought! I would like to hope that people would think differently when seeing such information on their purchases.
    Great article, and Goat’s eggs? Really?

  74. Last weekend, I was in New York City at Yankee Stadium, and I noticed that the calorie count was listed next to everything on the billboard menus. I wondered if it made a difference to people when ordering.

    I agree that labels on food are not enough. On something this important, we need to do more research on what we are putting into our bodies and what we are taking from the earth. Though there is some governmental control on labels, I don’t think it is enough to protect our health and our world.

    • I understand that New York City is one of the first to institute this calorie count idea–and others are taking up the idea of putting calorie counts menus. Whether or not this gave anyway pause, I cannot say.
      I especially think we are lacking labeling of genetically engineered products, as well as supposedly “inert” ingredients in pesticides– which are often more toxic than the labeled ones.

    • I acutally think it does make people think about what they are eating. I only say this because I was out with some girlfriends and when menu ordering many of my friends said they just wanted the salad with dressing on the side. I was not sure if it was because they believe it was the better choice or becuase if they ordered something else we could all see how many calories they were consuming from the other items.

    • I think it’s great that some places are making nutritional information so available. I hope it helps people to make better decisions about the foods they eat. But labeling the nutrition of food is still human-centric. Its goal is to improve human health, and does not take into account the growing of the food, the well being of animals, or the conditions of the people who made the product. I can’t imagine a billboard menu with that type of information!

      • Thanks for reminding us of a more holistic perspective, Isabel. In fact, we rely on the more than human world for our sustenance and cannot be reminded of this fact too often.

  75. I think we have become conditioned to buying things in packages which causes us to forget where it actually came from in the first place. It is sad that money has seemingly become more important than knowlegde. It reminds me of what was discussed in lecture four about how health, quality of life, and happiness should be the ‘wealth’ of our society, not money.
    I found the comments on milk very interesting. I think producers should have to label the chemicals they put in their products rather than hide them. This is precisely why it is important to get back to natural souce of the products we consume. As a consumer, I want to know everything that is in the food I put in my body.

    • And you have a right to such knowledge, Courtney. There is no other way that you can make decisions for the sake of your health and that of the environment. Especially big gap in labeling right now is the lack of labeling for genetically engineered foods- which the vast majority of US citizens want but Monsanto has poured huge bucks into preventing.
      The lack of complete consumer info from our regulatory agencies is why I appreciate the websites who spread such info.

    • It is scary sometimes, to think about the things that could be in our foods. Aside from anti-biotics, there can be pesticides and genetic modifications. I think buying locally or growing your own is the best, so you know exactly what is in/on it.

  76. I think its important to remember, that at the end of the line, it is consumer demand that allows companies to conduct business practices such as those mentioned. That it is not solely the duty of government to regulate these entities (especially with how much money gets spent by those groups in lobbying), but instead we as consumers have a responsibility as well. I tend to look very closely at things I buy, both on whether or not I actually need them, but also at whether I can consciously support the way they’re produced, be it products that contain animal ingredients or products produced by sweatshop labor. If enough people do that, and especially if they can educate others and convince them to do the same, then there’s a possibility for change. And I think with that would come a sense of empowerment.

    • We do indeed “vote” with our consumer dollars every time we make a purchase, John. And when many consumers unite in their refusal to buy certain products, that hits the corporate bottom line. On the other hand, it is hard to make such informed choices when corporations like Monsanto spend millions to prohibit labeling of their genetic engineered products. I also think that we ought to limit ads targeted at children, who cannot be held responsible for consumer decisions.
      Congratulations on making consumer choices based on your conscience! Let me know if you think there is something I ought to add to our “do not buy” list here.

    • You are completely right it is the consumers responsibility to determine if a product should be in the market place or not. Most people are unaware of the conditions their products are under but knowledge is power and technology has made information very free flowing and soon enough people will be able to make more educated decision about our foods and truly determine the market.

    • This is a really good point! I talk to people who say ” Oh I feel so bad for the poor cows!” Then they dive into a big hamburger…They say that they won’t make a difference, it is only one little hamburger, no one will even notice if they buy/eat it. That is not correct! If everyone stuck to their principles, we can change the way things are.

      • Indeed, if “everyone stuck to their principles” we would indeed change the ways things are. To say what we choose makes no difference demeans our lives– and adds to the toll of destruction of our world.

  77. O my goodness, the part about the goat makes me laugh. Having grown up on a goat dairy farm and having participated in 4-H it is true that people are not educated in ways others are. When I did dairy goat 4-H many years ago I was always faced with the general public’s comments about the udders of the goat being genitalia. It was embarrassing having to correct them for fear that they would pass their current knowledge to their children. Very good point about how we focus on money and what it really comes down to is what we have learned in our life and the wisdom we take from it, Grandma Aggie is a prime example of this.

    • I just hope that egg-laying goat does not come about as a result of our current genetic manipulation =)– I think the same folks who are distant from the knowledge of the natural world are the ones who feel humans can get away with manipulating it in any way they wish!
      I am glad those folks confused about the difference between udder and genitalia weren’t trying their hand at milking. You obviously had to learn a bit of tact in correcting this misinformation.

  78. The food war is a brutal area with some very powerful corporations that may have good intension’s at first but get caught up with the bottom line and want to be better, faster, and cheaper then their competitors. This is the reason the animals are treated harshly and are given chemicals that are not natural to them. Since consumers are ignorant of the situation most of their decisions are based only on price and do not support the local more natural producers of produce. Once this message is spread and the effects of the conditions we put on our food and produce starts making a negative effect we will then make the major change but it is hard for people to not by the least expensive product.

    • Hi Jake, you use of the term “war” with “food” here indicates the sad atmosphere surrounding that with sustains our lives. We might look at it (and the natural world which gifts us with our sustenance) as a blessing for which we should be grateful– or– since we all need to eat, we can look at it as an opportunity, basically, for extortion as a means to earning short term profits.
      With “perverse subsides” in the mix, consumers need to assess the real “costs” of what they buy–and what they are getting for the health of themselves and their families and the natural world that sustains us.

  79. I often think back to the quote regarding the foods we eat, that we should be willing to pray over it. Let’s say I get a prepackaged snack of some kind. How do I know what was put into this, or how it was created? If I was religious, would I be willing to give thanks for this questionable item? It is something to consider, if I don’t know what it is, and where it came from, I tend to stay away from it.

  80. Ethically produced food is important on several levels. As mentioned here, fair trade food protects workers. Organic food protects the land and the consumers. Humanely raised food protects the animals from abuse. There are so many reasons to support “real” food and only one reason not to- which is money. Yet eating industrial food is actually cost-prohibitive because of the negative health effects. How much does diabetes, heart disease or cancer cost a person? Or even a simple doctors visit because the food they eat is so devoid of nutrients?

    Our societies’ disconnect with animals is quite comical, as illustrated with the goat eggs. This Easter, we visited a friends farm and I posted a photo of my son holding a brown chicken, his new friend, on facebook. Several people replied “Ewww- what is that?” and one person pondered how could I let him hold “that dirty thing”. They didn’t recognize the animal as a chicken because it was brown and all of the depictions of chickens they had ever seen were white!

    • When is a chicken not a chicken–when we don’t recognize it because it does not conform to our factory farm images?
      Your first paragraph is well said indeed!

    • It is interesting to think of how simple the connections are between each of these levels. Fair trade and workers, organic food and consumers, humanely raised food and animals. Yet, as a society, we still have trouble demanding that each of these be taken into consideration in the production of goods. This isn’t only present in the food industry, but in each other industry out there. For some reason, there is a disconnect between doing things the right way and doing them the easy way. We’ve gotten lazy, and now we are facing the consequences.

  81. One of the scariest things is doing a PCR lab to try and detect GMO food. Because GMO food doesn’t have to be labeled as such, it can find its way into any food that we eat, even organics. This is also because of hybridization with non-GMO crops and farmers have no way of knowing if their crops are contaminated….that is until Montesano comes around and tests their crops. If a farmer that has not purchased crops from Montesano is found to have “illegal” GMO patented Montesano crops than they will be sued. Lovely. I try to buy locally and organics, but I know that will never protect me from buying GMO in the United States because the FDA refuses to label them. On another interesting note, certain produce, (I think it was a tomato) had to be regulated by the EPA, not the FDA because it had a GMO that was a naturally occurring pesticide found in soil which had been spliced into the plant. And no, I didn’t find any of this info from an environmental organization, but Cellular Biology for Majors class! The more you know, the scarier :’-(

    • Thanks for sharing this with us, Stephanie. I agree that having gmo seed that not detectable–until Monsanto sues you for having it is a scary–as well as unjust– situation. Yet another reason to label gmos–and to use the precautionary principle in creating them and releasing them into the environment.

  82. I find it odd that so many people find the tactics and products of Monsanto to be completely reprehensible, yet the company continues to enjoy amazing economic success. Just goes to show you how much power they have. I recently wrote a paper on GMOs and have learned some extremely disturbing things about Monsanto. For example, they started as manufacturers of DDT, all the while touting the “safety” of that product. In fact, commercials for DDT actually used to show people eating spoonfuls of it. We now know that DDT is very harmful. Interesting. How is it that a company goes from making nasty chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which they still make) to selling us Roundup Ready seeds, to magically providing a solution to world hunger through GMOs? Good marketing strategy, but I hope Americans are smarter than that.

    I agree that we have been living in denial about where our products come from and the process by which they got to us. Every time I see a diamond, I wonder if anyone died for that rock. I feel the same way about coffee and chocolate – always make sure I buy fair trade and thought that was enough.

    I also agree that it is very important to buy “real” food. Somehow we have lost the connection between the soil, it’s products, and the fuel that our bodies survive on. You don’t put dirty gasoline in your vehicle, why eat garbage food?

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective on Monsanto-and the history of their involvement in DDT. You bring up an important point– we economically reward corporations for things few of us want. What’s wrong with this system? The good news (from my perspective) is that there is a growing movement to confront and change Monsanto’s tactics.
      Good for you for buying fair trade coffee and chocolate as well as “real” food! We are so fortunate to have so many local farmers and farmer’s markets in Eugene.

    • I love that line “good marketing strategy, but I hope Americans are smarter than that.” I feel like the answer is obvious. We may not be guilty as a public who ignores major issues, but we are guilty of taking for granted how much knowledge we have of the world around us. Both the natural and corporate world have secrets that we, as humans and consumers, may never fully understand. I feel like the connection here is kind of ironic.

  83. I agree that we are completely detached from the sources of our nourishment. I, personally, do want to know everything that is in my food, the conditions of the animals and processing, and the conditions of the workers that produced it. But I find it nearly impossible to find accurate information. I appreciate and purchase items with labels like “fair trade,” “free range,” and “sustainable,” but I don’t always feel confident in these stories, as I don’t know exactly what they mean or how far a company can stretch the meaning.

    I find farmer’s markets to feel altogether healthier. Healthy, locally produced foods, that support the community. And you often get to meet the very people who produced the food. It is especially great in the summer, shopping outside for whole foods instead of inside grocery stores in fluorescent light for heavily processed and packaged foods. Grocery stores are entirely unnatural, their food items so far removed from nature.

    • Congratulations on being so conscious about your food choices, Isabel. It is unfortunate that we cannot always rely on labels–and that some things that should be labeled are not–as in genetically engineered foods–even though the latest poll indicates ninety per cent of US voters want them labeled.
      Here is great outline of what labels do and don’t mean in a handy pdf you can download (also linked in the essay here on consumer labels):
      We are very fortunate to have so many local growers and farmer’s markets in the Willamette Valley– wonderful for all the reasons you say. And ironic that the grocery store, as you describe it, is so far removed from a place anything would grow.

  84. I like the point about aspects that are hidden from us rather than just being invisible by nature. There are many instances where naivety isn’t necessarily the problem, but the fact that the corporate world doesn’t want consumers to understand every aspect to a situation. The people who are taking a stance against this behavior, like the milk industry in Oregon, should be commended and used as an example for what is the right thing to do. It isn’t fair that “the man” keeps important information from the public, but there is also a chance for knowledge about the truth to be extremely dangerous. The truth sometimes causes an uproar, so this is a situation where everyone loses before we can all work toward making positive changes.

    • Thanks for reminding us of the link between knowledge and choice, Jenni. There is an important link between ethics and knowledge as well– we simply cannot choose ethically without information– which is why I appreciate those on our links page and elsewhere who work to make information public that is otherwise hidden from us.

  85. My mom was a vegan, so growing up I ate a lot of organic foods. Even tho organic isn’t necessarily better for you, I think it definitely had a positive effect on my health. My mom was very careful about pesticides and harmful chemicals, as well as about finding food that was grown sustainably.
    I myself have recently undertook a temporary vegetarianism, believe it or not, it was all an attempt to save money. I figure that if I spend the money I would normally spend on eating out at fast food on healthy foods (like organic vegetables), I would actually save money. In some ways, eating organic foods can be not only healthier, but cheaper, because eating out at fast food, and other unhealthy dining, can be very expensive.

    • Good perspective, Caleb. Fast food and processed food is not cheaper than organic. There is not only a cost to health–but a cost for all that processing and packaging. Though an organic apple may be more expensive than a “commercial” one– an organic apple is cheaper than some semblance of apple that supposedly appears in a breakfast cereal, for instance.

  86. Food consumption and overconsumption is a major issue in this country. It astounds me how little thought is put into most food purchases. I am blessed to live in an area with an active farmers market, and have a number of farms close by that also sell direct to the public. Personally, I opt for buying locally grown food from local farmers and ranchers then buying “organic” food from a grocery store or mega-chain store. To me supporting our local economy and keeping our local farmers in business is an essential part in a sustainable food supply.

    • It is a great loss to put so little thought into our food choices, as you note we do, Amanda. Good for you in supporting local farmers and a sustainable food supply. You may be interested in the forum in Science cited in our latest “quotes to ponder” page here.

  87. Madronna, I highly admire your writing of this essay to call attention to a very key issue, the exploitation of animals through the technology of factory farming. I too am passionate about raising awareness about this deplorable practice for profit, because consumers often don’t realize that it is happening right under their noses (more than 99 percent of animals are factory farmed) and that a part of the solution is easier than we might think. It all comes down to the choices that we make, by refusing to purchase these products. And farmer’s markets are growing in demand, which makes it easier to make alternative purchases.

    I just love the farmer’s markets here in Corvallis — they are always full of people, their children and their dogs, and I feel a solidarity with my community in our common goal of supporting the local farmer. The fresh colorful flowers, homemade jams, eggs from healthy happy chickens, and plentiful organic produce all show that sometimes the best technology, for the environment and us, is good old-fashioned agriculture. It doesn’t have to be modern to be a successful business.

    • The markets are a great joy here in Eugene, as well, Marissa. It is absolutely true that we make a statement to business– as well as voting in favor of empathy for other creatures and care for our environment when we make wise food choices. The sad part is how little many have on which to base such choices– which is why I think the information on many of the sites on our links pages is so important.

    • Not to also forget that a local farmer’s market instills a sense of community and gives people a destination to go for entertainment rather than a stop along the way home from work to pick up a few things. The only concern I have wish some of the products they sell at the farmer’s market in my area is that for meats and seafood they do not properly store the products. Having fresh sushi baking out in the sun doesn’t give me a good feeling. But as far as fruits and vegetables I’m always interested in what the market has to offer. We also have the county fairs once a year, but it seems like they are too far away to really consider taking any food home.

      BTW… we can’t take dogs into our farmer’s market because of California Food and Safety laws… So the good folks in Corvallis are lucky that they don’t have to leave their pet out of the fun.

      • There are no dogs allowed at Eugene’s Saturday Market either– would just be more chaos in such crowded positions and leavings on the grass where people sit to eat would not be good. Eugene’s Market is certainly a destination and community gathering as you state, Jon! The meats at the Eugene Market that I have seen are solidly packed in ice and in the shade.

  88. This essay hits close to home. It amazes me almost everyday at peoples lack of knowledge about food. It is so true that, “money rather than knowledge is the key to our survival” is the main thought.
    I have grown up with a large garden, working at farms, and my mom traditionally processing food.

    So many people I have talked to do not know the seasons of produce. They only know the grocery store which carries everything all year round. They don’t know when strawberries are ripe or how raspberries come after. I was talking with a colleague who did not realize this year has been a very strange growing year. My corn at home for example is usually ripe by mid July and is not even 3 ft tall yet this year because of the uncommonly wet and dark year.

    My mom holds valuable information as well that would help more than money for survival. She knows how to can most anything. While this process is really not that hard most people have to idea where to start. Because my mom does this we use our own produce or local, to make salsa, peaches, pears, jams, chutneys. green beans, etc. Every time people see our shelves of food they are amazed and look they are seeing an alien! This is the way many people used to live and had a connection with their food. Not only is it healthier and safer it is knowledge that is being lost. Key note on the safety of canning, we can our own tuna and now if we eat any tuna in tin cans from the store, the metal leachate is quite apparent and makes you wonder just what you are really eating in so many of the products from stores.

    • Great for you in growing up with such healthy food resources, Carly. I am glad others have a chance to see your shelves of preserved food–and begin thinking themselves that such things are not “alien” but a way to feed ourselves well. BPA is in many store cans as well- it is great that your taste for good healthy food is well developed.

    • I agree that there is not alot of awareness of seasonable vegetables and fruits in a given area. In California, we are lucky to have a great growing season and have the opportunity to have a list of produce available nearly year round. However, while having a discussion with a friend living in LA, I found that she understood about fashion having seasons but not about food being seasonal when she complained about the unavailability of good berries in the winter. There is such a large separation of processing food and our consumption even though LA is seen as a “foodie” city and people care about their health and appearance. Maybe your mother can make canning your own produce the new hot trend by saying it is a quick way to save money and work your forearms!

      • Interesting point that “fashion” could be looked at at seasonal, but not vegetables– that says something about our society. Nice point about money saving and healthy exercise in processing one’s own food!

  89. It is great that the Oregon dairy farmers were able to band together and defeat Monsanto in a legal suit. We would all have a better food supply if only Monsanto would put as much energy and capital into developing healthier foods rather than hiding their deceptive ways via lobbyists and legal suits.

    Last quarter I took a nutrition class and started to understand the effects of Organic food versus hormone processed foods. Since then I’ve tried to buy organic and buy local. Fortunately, I live in southern California where we have many local organic farmers in the California region. The grocery bill has went up since changing to organic, however, the food is healthier and I feel better when I eat healthier. I think part of the reason why most people don’t switch to organic foods is that it costs more than the regular processed foods. Thus, if there is no real education on why the organic foods are better then there is no incentive to move to a more organic food supply.

    • Great observation about the potential results of Monsanto’s putting as much money into developing healthier (not to mention more diverse and democratically distributed) foods instead of enforcing their monopoly.
      There is more and more data coming out on the nutritional benefits of organic food– not to mention that it excludes so many toxins. Health is worth paying for (rather than paying the doctor later) and you are right about education. Thanks for being part of this process.

  90. The labeling of types of goods as organic, free-range, rBgh-free, etc. is important for the education of the public as they are helpful in making purchasing decisions. However, they require alot of trust from us consumers as how are we to believe the label is actually correct of representing a harvesting method? If we are not notified of the foods that may be GMO, how can we trust when they say they are not? I find the lack of labeling on this cause of GE food is atrocious and causes me to distrust governing regulations on our food sources.

    Another note, understanding what the labels are takes a great amount of research, something that the general public or immigrants do not recognize the importance of. My parents were raised in India where all their vegetables were organic because local farmers did not believe in and could not afford pesticides. They came to a country that provided a great deal of choice, however they cannot fathom the amount of alteration a vegetable can go through before it comes to the supermarket. Sometimes I think if it wasn’t for my pestering emails about what is safe to consume and what money should be spent on, my parents would be in the dark as many of the other public are because it just isn’t convenient or known as necessary to do the research behind products that are sold over the counter.

    • Labeling is very important to consumer’s right to know in a complex society such as ours. Of course, if we all bought from our neighbors, we would not need such labels. We also, as you point out, need to trust the certification process for these labels. Tilth in Oregon, for instance, has quite a good history of organic certification, so I feel that they are trustworthy. And it is indeed outrageous that gmo foods are not labeled when the vast majority of US consumers want them to be.
      It is great that you can offer your service to your parents, but sad that this is an individual rather than community-wide sharing.

  91. If civilization made processed foods more expensive and real food cheaper more people could get the food that is good for them. A sad fact is that it is expensive to buy most foods that are organic and humanely raised. There is an average difference of $1.50 a pound. That may not seem like a lot but have you ever had to deal with your child crying of hunger because you spent that extra money to get stuff that was better for her but you then could not buy her food the next week? When you have 5 people to feed and only get $1200 a month that difference can be astronomical.

    I love the summer here for many reasons but a main one is that summer is Farmers market season. I am lucky that our farmer’s market here in Tualatin takes SNAP because not many do. The only reason ours is able to is because of a program that Whole Foods runs where they will give you farmers market tokens for an equal amount of SNAP. Without it we could not afford to go.

    • I think it doesn’t take civilization to make processed foods more expensive, Tamara. This good idea could be actualized by simply lifting economic supports for those manufacturing the processed foods and giving them to those who produce healthy food. From a simple economic standpoint, it hardly makes sense that a food that takes so much processing should be LESS expensive than something straight from the farm.
      Yay for the SNAP program–and also, do you have gleaning programs you can take advantage of (picking food in the fields or on trees that would otherwise go to waste?)

    • I think it’s great that the Farmers market in your area takes SNAP. I believe they do that here in WA as well and I think I saw the CO-OP does.
      It is tough to buy healthy when your on a tight budget that is for sure, but I think that choosing some is better than none. I think another good point is to not eat meat with every meal, which is something our society tends to lean towards. I am trying to break my husband of that habit and it’s not going over well, LOL!

      • Good luck on the retraining, Brandie! If we lived in a world in which all subsidies were removed from unhealthy food, we could purchase healthy food a good deal cheaper. It is a tragedy that the ability to feed your family well fades as income drops.

  92. The movies listed in this essay as well as the documentary King Corn all helped open my eyes to the realities that I have been consuming for most of my life. Many of the processes and practices utilized in our food industry are completely disturbing and disgusting. No wonder the food companies like Monsanto devote so many resources to hiding the truth from the eyes of the American public. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that even with full knowledge and disclosure, many people would still consume these products. We’ve known for decades the vast health risks of tobacco, but cigarettes are still bought and utilized countless times on a daily basis. Of course, at this point, people can’t claim to not know the risks of smoking. Without exposing these food practices, the public is not able to make the same informed choice about what they eat as what they smoke.

    • You stress an essential point, Dale: without information, no one can make conscious decisions. Further, without alternatives (access to fresh, healthy, affordable food), some feed their families any way they can. Time for a change!

  93. I have been wanting to watch Food, Inc. but I know I will not be able to handle it. Not exclusively because I would get a slap in the face most likely about how the food is processed but also to see how the animals are treated would break my heart. For our family I am making slow transistions to better choices. We recently enrolled in a CSA that provides us with local organic produce (yummie!) and I have been trying to find a place to our meat from locally. I would like to find grass fed free range beef, and chicken. The nice thing about most of the farms that do this is that you can visit them and see the animals and how they live and are treated. This I think is important because you are not removed from the process like we are now.
    While I don’t eat horribly, changing any habits that you have been doing for most of your life is hard and making that transition does require money. However, like the article said in the long run, its cheaper. The health benefits alone would outweigh the cost of the food.

    • Food, Inc. is a powerful documentary indeed, Brandie. Be prepared to get angry at the food-industrial complex’s behavior as revealed there.
      I think enrollment in a CSA is a beneficial move in many ways: I am about to leave to pick up my CSA share this afternoon!
      Health benefits must be factored into the cost of food, indeed, if we want to calculate things as they truly are.

  94. I love this line: “Modern markets also give us the sense that money rather than knowledge is the key to our survival.” That pretty much sums up the mentality of all commerce, trade, and sustenance in the world today – especially in regards to entities like the WTO. The almighty dollar is more important than learning about sustainability and indigenous techniques used for thousands of years in the spirit of cooperation, reciprocity, and respect for the environment. Yes, we need to eat, but there are better ways to cultivate food than to genetically engineer it or treat the animals who are sacrificed as if they are nothing.

    An example of the reach of these capitalistic entities is that “the World Trade Organization whose rules specify nations cannot discriminate against products based on the means of production—so that it sued Massachusetts for boycotting products from the terrorist regime in Myanmar.” I think it’s a damn shame that they can tell nations who they can and cannot do trade with. Oh, that’s right…they have cornered the market on trade, and don’t like it when nations try to stand up for what’s right, including what is right and wrong in production methods. They don’t want their profits undercut by natural, humane methods. If we all decided to stop buying their production-line crap and moved toward only buying things that were produced by (proven) age-old techniques, then maybe they would take notice…but I doubt it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be more conscientious about the method(s) of production for the foods we buy.

    • You bring up an excellent point about the WTO enforcing the “money rules” approach on an international level. The worst current decision of this group is forcing the EU to take genetically engineered foods that they have resisted for decades now.
      Thanks for your comment, Kim.

    • I really like the point you made in your second paragraph about the “cornered market on trade” and the disregard for ethical production methods. I think one of the biggest problem is that, while there ARE people who do care about where there food comes from and how it is produced, we – as consumers – seem to be near helpless in doing anything about it. Such large corporations have so much pull over the industry and are making such a larger profit off of the GMO, etc. foods that they do not care about the health and natural consumption of their consumers. So many of these consumers appear to be apathetic about the situation, that the people who are do not seem to get enough support on the pressing issue. While we can always raise awareness, many consumers seem to have the same attitude as these producers – that having these GMO and unnatural foods is simply cheaper and easier to produce AND purchase, so why change anything? I truly believe that if a larger percent of the population felt as more conscientious about their food intake and the quality of their foods, then these corporations and agencies that are “cornering the market” would have far more opposition and, ultimately, be forced to change.

    • Like so many other ideas in theory free trade looks great for the world, but in application it is not so great. The proponents of free trade tout only the positive effects and brush aside any negative ones. Personally I think this happens because of greed and corruption to that end. No one ever said the World Trade Organization was the World Fair-Trade Organization after all. Take the North American Free Trade Agreement for example. When it was first proposed it was supposed to create jobs in America, but in actuality that is very much not the case. As anyone who has followed the job losses of the 90’s and those more recently also knows, many of the layoffs are coming in the manufacturing sector. While there may still be many manufacturing jobs in the U.S., to generalize the situation hardly anything is actually made here anymore. Looking at the research, one must count both sides of the table, the imports and the exports. Job losses here mean jobs created elsewhere, but that’s another area where I think free trade is a bad thing and is a main critique of NAFTA. There are no agreements on maintaining labor and environmental standards. This creates an unfair market and therefore it is no wonder manufacturers want their plants in Mexico, China, etc. and not in the U.S. Proponents tout the word ‘free’ in free trade, but truly nothing is ever free. Both the planet and consumers are paying the cost of this ‘freedom’.

  95. After reading this article, I feel unsettled in a way that I often feel after grocery shopping in a regular, non-“all-natural” grocery store or eating out at an average restaurant. One of the most important things that we need on a regular basis is what the nourishment that keeps us alive – yet it is often something we know so little about. It’s strange to think that not too long ago, (relative to human history), people knew exactly where their food, particularly their meat, came from on a regular basis. Today, purchase and are served food that we have absolutely no idea how or where it was obtained. Eating at a restaurant, there is no way to tell if the food/meat was obtained locally, or even internationally. We cannot know how long it has been sitting around or even how it was produced. We know just as little about our bought groceries. Many times we buy items that, as stated in the article, share no resemblance to the animals and sources from which they came.

    As a consumer, I am usually at ease when I purchase a product stamped “USDA ORGANIC,” but there is still more I would like to know about the products I consume past the fact that they are not GMO. I was surprised to learn that there are serious petitions that want food producers to disclose more of the full story about their production. I can’t imagine what would happen to the food industry if more laws like this god passed, but I believe that many companies would go up in flames! So much of the unethical actions and tactics of these industry producers are general knowledge that most people choose to ignore – such as McDonald’s and KFC – but I think that if the stories behind how most of today’s food was made were in the face of the consumers, they would be more inclined to change their habits. I know for a fact that I would read through every label of every product I purchased to make the best decisions about food for me and my family. I hope to see the day when this happens. Until then, I suppose it is up to the individual to do the research on these producers. With the rush and time-restraints of daily life, I understand that sometimes it falls to the waist side.

    How can we, as a global community, share a deeper connection to the natural world when we are so far removed from it? We take the nourishment it gives it without so much as an acknowledgement of where it came from and how it was obtained. This is such a profound disconnection to the rest of life on Earth.

    • These are dilemmas (and responsibilities) we face daily as consumers, Amanda. I know these choices are not easy, but each of them makes such choices not only on behalf of ourselves, but of one another. Time to change that disconnection you speak of into an honoring of our connection with one another in the global community.

  96. For America, our capitalist-based economy seemingly makes it a point to be much more concerned about cost effective policies that in turn means more profit and a higher stock valuation than they are for the welfare of its citizens. The world is getting more competitive and for us to maintain our advantage we exploit nearly everything we can. It’s the same reason we didn’t ratify Kyoto: too expensive. The American public currently knows far too little about the effects of GMO’s and the government has done little or nothing to inform them because of intense and successful lobbying efforts from MNC’s and the like.

    European nations typically get coined as ‘welfare states’, but as a whole they tend to be more favorable of sustainability and have taken a much tougher stance on the use of GMO products inside the Eurozone. For the most part companies there don’t wish to rake in enormous profits, just enough to be viable and maintainable. I am in great captivation with European governments and their refusal of GMO products. The outcome from these types of foods is obvious, but with enough money and political clout opponents are hushed. The politically corrupted system that allows lobbyists to fill Federal positions and vice versa is a sham. Such is “democracy” in our great nation. Personally I feel it’s a travesty that the FDA allows as much garbage ‘food’ to be consumed. It really shouldn’t be a great mystery why Americans are getting fatter and unhealthier with illnesses like diabetes and cancer on the rise.

    Awareness along with education of GMO’s possible effects should also be increased. People don’t know enough about what’s happening because they don’t hear about it. Many get there information and knowledge from the media and if even the media is muzzled, it’s an impossible battle. The only way this will happen of course is enough people harass their congressperson to enact this change. With the infiltration of corporate lobbyists into politics I don’t see even this as possible. GMO education, much like the organic, sustainable, and other similar environmentally conscious movements are being forced to take on the grassroots type effort. Thus to questioners they seem more believable and factual, but to others they will remain a fringe element that impedes greater economic prosperity. An example of this fact and is therefore encouraging is the growth of farmers markets throughout the nation. More and more each day I am finding hope in the non-GMO, sustainable and organic movements that are spreading across the country and world. There is much more to life than simply increased profit.

    • Some good points. The increase in farmers markets is a hope for more people being aware of how unhealthy most of our food choices are. Even with corporate lobbyists in control of most of the federal legislation, when enough people fight for a change, it will happen; still in the name of making a buck, the market will shift. I believe that is happening with sustainable foods anyways. Now that’s democracy!
      Also on your comment about Americans becoming more obese, the generation of kids born after 2000 have a lower life expectancy than their parents. This is the first time in recorded history this has happened, and it’s because of the unhealthy choices some people feed their kids (including subsidized school lunch!). I’m not sure of the ratio of kids who will become obese and/or develop diabetes earlier in life, but I believe it is something like 1/4!

      • I agree that choosing local foods raised by neighbors or those we can speak with at Farmer’s Markets is a dynamic of democracy in action, Nick. Certainly choosing our health and that of the land– not to mention, that of our children is a central element in any society run by democratic choice.

  97. I wanted to share some information that was shared with me about the PLU, the number code on a sticker on produce in the supermarket. There is a system to label organic and “conventional” foods, and a tentative system to label genetically modified foods. Organic foods have a five digit number starting with a nine. “conventional” or pesticide soaked foods have a four digit PLU and genetically modified foods, if they are labeled as such, have a five digit number starting in the number eight. I have read that the labeling is optional, but it is another thing to look out for in the store and another way we can empower ourselves to understand the coded labeling of our food and the ramifications of those labels.
    Beyond the disconnect that we have created between the sources of our food and our tables, is the disconnect between what resources go into making the packaging and advertising that we attach to our food. So often I see single serving sizes of fruit and juice, even water, and I wonder what it took to make that package, ship it, design it, decorate it and get the food into it. One way we can make productive choices about our food consumption is by buying bulk and reusing containers. Recycling can be a very resource heavy process, but it is simple and easy to reuse containers from other foods like yogurt or margarine, and avoid food that comes in single serving packages or with excessive amounts of packaging.

    • Good info, Rosie. I have placed the PLU code info elsewhere on this blog– though likely buried in some former comment. Perhaps I should add it to the “do not buy” list as handy consumer info.
      Recycling is more or less resource intensive, depending on product and process– but you have an excellent point about re-use. I fill my reusable bag with some of those plastic (clean washed) bags that multiply in my drawers before I go to the farmer’s market and use those rather than new ones. I still don’t how I seem to keep getting more and more of the things.

  98. This change in how food is marketed and perceived is relatively new. My grandparents milked a cow, had chickens, forged mushrooms, grew gardens. It has only been in the last few generations that this separation between food and food source has become so profound. Granted, my family has its roots in rural areas, but I think even the big cities had the farmers markets and individualized stores: butcher, baker, produce, etc. You are spot on about the hershey bars…this exploitation of labor crosses over into a myriad of industries. However, knowledge creates discomfort. Not only do people not know, people don’t want to know. I know when I found out about slave labor in the chocolate industry, chocolate stopped tasting as sweet and fair trade chocolate is so expensive… I was not happy to have received that knowledge, as I had enjoyed my ignorant bliss. Yet, as this article points out, blissful ignorance is destined to be short-lived, as current production methods are not sustainable. Then our ignorance on how to feed ourselves will be devastating.

    • It seems that your family history has taughtyou something about how to feed yourself, Amy. Michael Pollan in his book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, describes Polyface Farm, which is a complex system increasing soil fertility as it produces outstanding yields of multiple foods. It seems that sustainable farming can only exist of models like this in the future. Notably, this farm invites those who buy there (they must show up in person, since the farm emphasizes local foods) to see exactly how they operate– a far cry from “factory farms” who tried to stop photos of their processes from becoming public.
      As for chocolate, yes, Fair Trade is more expensive, but perhaps it can be a special treat instead of any everyday indulgence that few of us need.

    • I agree with you that the change in how food is received and marketed is a new idea. It amazes me also how our generation is so separated from relying on local food, to now relying on international foods. Also when I first found out how animals for food were treated so terribly, meat just didn’t taste the same. Yet I guess after I didn’t think about it for a while I was back to eating what I wanted in ignorant bliss. I think it is important that people know where their food comes from. If people are reminded of it enough maybe we can begin to change our eating habits. Or begin a sustainable healthy future.

  99. We moved into a corner rental house in SE Portland nearly two years ago. Last winter, we decided to tear up the south facing side yard that sits between the garage and the sidewalk and put in a vegetable garden. We were simply trying to put to better use a strip of land that generally was only visited when it was time to mow it. It has turned out, however, to be an amazing community builder as every person passing our little garden while we’re out working in it stops to comment and often stays to chat for many minutes. It has also been a great teaching tool for my son to learn at least where this part of his food comes from.
    The goat-egg story reminds me of a time many years ago when a nine-year-old boy was visiting our house. My daughter came in from the back yard eating a pear and he asked her where she’d gotten it. When she told him from the tree in the back yard, he laughed as though that was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard. I asked him what he was laughing about, and he answered, “She said she got that from a tree!” I then asked him where he thought fruit came from and he answered, “From the store!”

    • Congratulations on your garden–and its teaching and community-building attributes, Neyssa.
      A very illustrative and sad story– thank goodness you had a chance to teach this child something different. The knowledge might well come in handy at some point in his life.

    • Wow! I can’t believe this little boy really had no concept of where food came from! Growing up, we always had a vegetable garden and my brother and I were a part of every step of the plants’ lives. Props to you for being such a great mom and not only teaching your kids some important basics of life but also utalizing the space you had available to make healthier choices for your family. I need to remember to stay grounded when I start my family and remember to teach them all the basic and provide them with knowledge so they can make their own smart decision. Thank you for setting such a great example in your neighborhood!

      • Great personal goals for your future, Justine. I can’t think of anything more important than nurturing the future generation by giving them this kind of information–and that story of the boy who didn’t know about the fruit of trees is perhaps all too predictable as well as sad.

  100. I don’t disagree with introducing more gmo foods but I don’t think they should be labeled as organic and I really don’t agree that Monsanto is trying to hide the fact that they are gmos. Consumers can make good informed decisions when armed with the proper information, but that information needs to be given to them up front and not hidden behind the words “Organic” or other label tactics. If dairy farmers want to inform their customers that there cows are healthy and don’t receive hormones they should be able to. I guess I don’t understand the logic behind trying to divert a nation from making healthy informed decision, it seems as though there is much more to this issue that is still being covered up. I am definitely guilty of making uninformed decisions at the supermarket. I buy the milk because it’s non-fat and the yogurt and fruits because they are on sale and the Hershey bar to get a good chocolate fix. I apparently don’t know the half of things that are really going on with my foods and need to seek out additional sources of information so I can make healthy more life friendly choices. I do love farmers’ markets and take advantage of them whenever possible. Corvallis had some great places to buy organic, natural free foods. Looking back, while living there, I took advantage of this. However, in Hays, Kansas there are no such places. I will have to do some digging at the grocery stores available and see what I can come up with.

    • You may even find some local, organic and diversified farms in the process of your search– even in the midst of this commercial agricultural area. Good point about the right to know on the part of consumers. We can’t make decisions unless, as you note, we have the basis with which to do so.

  101. I support the idea of knowing where our products come from. People would be more inclined to make healthier product choices if they knew where their products came from. Healthier product alternatives to corporate food are farmers markets and organic food. The problem is large corporations put so much money in marketing junk food and sell it relatively cheap. It makes it hard for the organic food growers to market their product and compete. I agree with the quote“We have to remember our source of nourishment. Or we will starve.” To me this means humans need to stick to a diet that consists of natural food or else we will destroy our bodies. And the quote, “We should not eat food we are not willing to pray over”, means that humans must be able to respect their food. For example I would be more inclined to pray over a deer I killed myself than to pray over a hot pocket. Corporate processed foods result in cruelty to animals. I am disgusted whenever I hear about animal cruelty. I took a class in sustainable resources last year, and we looked at pictures of such animal cruelty. The pictures showed animals that were closely housed and needed antibiotics to survive. It was not a pretty picture. I admit it has not stopped me from buying processed food. Yet if I had the convenient choice I would instead buy local food. The local product market is so small compared to the huge corporate market, and that is the problem. It is not healthy for humans, animals, or the environment to treat animals like this for our food. A healthy diet of local fruits, vegetables, and meat from the local farmers market is the solution. We must stop eating the corporate processed garbage.

    • Zach,
      So true that large corporations put a lot of money into selling junk food. How many soda commercials do you see vs. commercials for carrot sticks? I also think that a lot of people have no idea where their food is coming from and if they did they may change their mind about what they are eating. When I was in 4th grade we took a field trip to a cattle auction (I lived in a small town). I was so upset by how closely the cows were packed in and how they were swatted around while being auctioned off. I remember crying and not wanting to get back on the bus until my teacher did something. She reassured me that they were just here temporarily before going to live on a big pasture. But that trip always stuck with me and I know it is one of the reasons I turned vegetarian years later (and now vegan). And I agree with you that there are just too many people to feed in our country and the world. Smaller markets are better, but with such a huge population we have resorted to mass food production.

      • Manufacturing need (for junk food) takes substantially more effort than selling people what they REALLY need– wholesome and nutritious food that satisfied their appetites? There is something else here highlighted in Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma– simple food has not much growth potential in terms of its market, so large food corporations try for a “value added” appropriate, packaging and repackaging the same foods into forms enticed to get us to continue to purchase more and more.
        I don’t think it is the large population that has led to large food producers, but a process of monopoly and consolidation that has to do with capitalism. Look at Kerala, 35 million people feed better and more sustainably than US citizens on local decentralized production. Though agribusiness is more convenient for those who head it up, small farms produce more per acre (and do so more sustainably). Of course, they also take more human labor and resort less to machines.

  102. The battle over labeling GMO’s in the U.S. is a hard one to win. All of the corporations and lobbyists for them make the law very difficult to change. I believe the EU countries have all mandated that GMO’s be labeled, maybe even banned? The problem with free-trade is that it sounds like a positive thing between nations, but the underlying effects are defiantly not! Fair-trade on the other hand is a grassroots label worth the find. Great article and I hope that more people search out products that are certified as sustainable including seafood because sustainable fisheries are disappearing very fast.

    • Here is a link for a sustainable seafood and sushi mobile app!

      • Hi Nick, you are not the first commentator to add this link, and in fact, it is on our “links” page under consumer info. Obviously it has gotten around–and all for the better, there is much good info there!

    • I agree with you on the point of consumer responsibility, Nick. I am heartened that there are websites where one can obtain fair information (that is, information gathered without an agenda of profiting some corporation somewhere).
      The EU originally banned gmos and then the WTO forced them to rescind this as being “unfair to commerce”, since the WTO sees commerce as more important than health. Being forced to take these products in trade, the EU has been in a flurry to see that they are properly labeled.

      • It is infuriating that the US government does not implement the same labeling standards as the EU. Just like these companies have the right to sell their products in the market place, I believe I have the right to know what is in each product, and choose whether I want a genetically modified or non-genetically modified option.

        • It IS infuriating that corporations that do genetic engineering, especially Monsanto have worked so hard to stop labeling, Alicia.
          There is a good deal of energy against Monsanto’s tactics these days; hopefully, it will come to something.

  103. I really enjoyed this article. I am very conscious of what I am eating and where it came from. I recently heard of this cave man diet from a friend. People work out by throwing rock, jumping off of logs and other I guess cave man like activities. At first I was laughing at it but then realized that part of this diet is also what you eat. No process foods or foods that are genetically modified. It’s really just getting back to the basics. Like this article mentioned eating natural non-processed foods have multiple benefits, our health, human rights issues, animal rights issues, and the environmental effects it has on nature. I’ve been vegan for over 10 years mostly because of the animal rights issues. My husband turned vegetarian because of the negative environmental impact eating meat has. Too often too many of us don’t think about where our food came from or what all kind of preservatives are actually in it. One last thing- although the long term benefits of eating more natural foods outweigh the short term benefit of buying cheaper less processed foods it’s really not that simple. If you’re a family with three kids to eat and getting most of that food from using food stamps you want it to go as far as it can. And the reality is junk food and processed foods are cheaper than the real deal. Society as a whole pays more in terms of health insurance, but for an individual just trying to get buy less healthy is often cheaper and the way they go.

    • Giving up on processed foods seems like a wise course of choice on several levels– but hurling stones because that is what we think of “cave men” doing does seem like something out of a satirical cartoon.
      I think you have an essential point in the fact that much environmental abuse and health problems of our current health system stem from consumers who haven’t an idea where their food comes from– and don’t take the trouble to find out. If we all had such information, I can’t imagine that all of us would continue to eat as we do.
      We certainly DO need to stop the “perverse subsidies” that make processed food raised on chemicals and transported over long distances cheaper than other food.
      It is especially sad that whole foods are more expensive and less available in the poorest urban communities.
      This is why I am so heartened by the urban garden movement, school garden projects, and local CSAs who contribute so much healthy produce to low income families.

    • Healthy, whole food should be a fundamental right to everyone, but I agree with you and know there are many barriers to achieving this. Where I live, I have a New Seasons, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes within 5 miles of my house. I am very lucky in that I can choose which one to go to and that our family can afford supplementing our diet with some organic food. But I know the majority who live in the same city cannot afford to eat much else other than cheap, processed food. It is unfortunate that in some cities, there is very little fresh, whole food available, and most low-income families must rely on small convenience stores that offer very little in fresh produce. But I was pleasantly surprised by a story I read highlighting some positive changes in Harlem in recent years where farmers’ markets are cropping up all over the place and providing some of their produce to these convenience stores. I heard about the Borough of Manhattan’s Go Green Initiative in a documentary called “What’s on Your Plate?” Their mission is to “help reverse decades of environmental injustice and degradation by bringing leaders and Manhattan residents together to develop a plan and an agenda for greening a neighborhood where environmental disparities have been most acute.” I was impressed to hear that someone was standing up for those with very little power to do so for themselves. I’m hopeful that this trend continues throughout the nation, as well as globally, and that eventually everyone can have sustenance from food sources that nourish both themselves and the land.

      • Thanks for sharing these New York City initiatives. Great to hear! It is true that the poorest neighborhoods have the worst access to healthy food nation wide–and pay the most for them. It is great to see communities resisting this.
        And it is also great that we can now shop at Trader Joe’s again since they signed the farmworker’s agreement just yesterday, yes?

  104. Change is difficult and scary. How the majority of our food is produced in this country is not a pretty picture, indeed. But we can turn our heads away at the unsightliness of it all or we can look it squarely in the eyes and say the earth and ourselves deserve better. Many of us have gotten caught up in relying on “cheap” food without understanding the repercussions. And even those who understand the disastrous consequences and want to vote for healthier, sustainable food with their dollar are unable to afford such food. I’ve often asked myself how my own family of five would eat all organic, sustainable, non-GMO, and fair trade food on our budget. And my answer every time is that we would have to make enormous sacrifices in other areas in order to make it happen. And like I said, change is difficult. But for our family, it’s not about making monumental, all-at-once changes, but rather attempting small, meaningful changes over time.

    I’ve talked to so many of my friends who have been changed by great documentaries such as Food, Inc. The way it was made, it was extreme enough to inspire change but not so marginalizing or judgmental that people couldn’t receive the message (although I know it is likely to have offended a great portion of our society). But the truth hurts. And the reality is that the reality is horrifying and gruesome. And it’s so much easier to cover our eyes with our hands and peek through open fingers than it is to peer over the factory farming fence and see all its ugliness. I saw a documentary recently called “Earthlings” which all but destroyed by appetite for any kind of non-vegan food. In fact, I couldn’t watch it in its entirety because its images and content were so grotesque. But every time I tried to relay the stories within the documentary to people I knew, they shuddered and covered their ears. So if it takes peeking through hands that tightly cover our eyes, I suppose that’s better than turning our heads away completely.

    Here are two beautiful quotes about embracing change….

    All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. -Anatole France

    When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
    – Viktor Frankl

    • Hi Staci, I love the quotes at the end of your comment here. Seems like they may find a place on some upcoming “quotes of the week” here!
      I do think there is a balance in showing people horrors. Sometimes these can drive them over the edge into denial because the reality is so unpleasant– and makes people feel hopeless. I found FOOD INC quite watchable by contrast.
      As for your family budget: things you and others reading this likely now:
      Processed food is by far more expensive than any other food you can by– though making everything from scratch may take a bite out of another part of your budget– time. Making things as a family helps this.
      Next come items we could just as well do without, like colas and candy and coffee. These are luxury items both our budget and our bodies will appreciate cutting down on.
      Shopping for bargains in the areas that are left is an issue, but there are ways to cut down on these by connecting with local farmers. Today, the Farmer’s Market in Eugene, Oregon had wonderful winter veggies–some staples not that pricey. And in fact, most stands also sold “market cards” that allowed you to pay ninety dollars and get one hundred dollars worth of food during the season. I think of going to the Market as an outing on the order of going out to some other entertainment event. What if we counted it as part of our entertainment budget?
      And of course, there are things like old orchards to glean–and I for one have far more fruit than I know what to do with from the trees in my yard (which are basically zero maintenance as long as I am willing to put up with a few blemishes, which I much prefer over pesticides).
      Morever, sharing cooking and planning several meals (a big kettle of soup) at once can be a shared time with your children.
      I like your idea of doing things step by step; substituting little changes until they become habits– and then adding more.
      As you point, change is not easy but this kind of change is beneficial on many levels. Congratulations on making those steps forward.

  105. With regards to the concept that “[farmer’s markets and urban gardens] illustrate there are human hands and other natural lives involved in producing “the sources of our nourishment,” I think it is impactful to remember that we are sustained by nourishment from the earth and not from machines. I applaud consumers and Oregon farmers and dairy men who fight to tell the story of their products. This “story” reinforces this connection to the earth.

  106. After reading this article, the saying “you are what you eat” cannot be more evident. There is so much commercialism and false advertising on food products in the local and national media that you have to be very careful what you purchase and put into your body, especially when they’re finding that processed foods are causing cancers and other illnesses. The title “fair trade” can be very deceiving because in reality we have an unfair global work force and women are the target of this discrimination. I am currently enrolled in a gender issues course and I have learned that women are now making up 40% of the global work force and are working for unfair wages and in harsh conditions in these export processing zones. For example, Nike is one of the biggest national corporations and there are women and children making these shoes for about 80 cents per shoe, when in reality we are selling them in the United State for over $80 a pair. This clearly isn’t fair and I believe that alot of people in the United States are unaware of these conditions. The same is true for food production such as the young hands who make our chocolate bars. We really need to pay close attention to where our food is coming from and the story behind it. Labeling is so important and one must be able to trust in the labels put on food products.

    • Good points on consumer labeling–and actually “fair trade” is a particular label that is certified by an international organization. Perhaps you mean the term “free trade” is problematic– since it is in the name of “free trade” that the World Trade Organization carries out policy supporting some serious economic injustice and environmental abuse of the kind you cite here.

    • I had no idea that Nike used women and children in other countries to manufacture their shoes for such a low price. That is not fair at all, especially for how much the shoes are actually sold for. Everyday I learn about more and more companies that use these same tactics. Sad.

  107. “Without healthy water and soil, food will not grow.” A quick look at the environmental aspects of “food” production – I’d be the first to admit that a certain amount of animal wste can be put to use as fertilizer but large scale animal production goes way beyond any “healthy” amount of animal waste. Too much is called pollution – soil, water, and air. On top of the vast quantities of natural resources that are used up for the production of meat for food. It’s bad enough that we are conditioned to believe that we need to enslave animals for food but we are supposed to believe that they are happy to sacrifice themselves for our benefit. Of course, like anything else big business gets involved with, how beneficial can it be to us anyway. We could do a lot of cleaning up of the environment if people had to kill their own dinner or even if we had video of the production process in the meat section of grocery stores. As for humane treatment of so called farm animals – there is nothing humane raising animals to rely on us for their well being and then betraying their trust by slaughtering them. If given a choice, I find it hard to believe any animal would choose to be raised as food.
    A farmer’s market at the White House is a great idea. It could be made wonderful if the government would end agricultural subsidies for ethanol production and use the money to help establish farmer’s markets for the rest of the nation.
    Honest labelling has been and continues to be a constant battle with the government doing everything it can to help big business confuse, mislead, deceive, and outright lie to the public about what we are eating. Even with all of our labelling victories you can bet that the Monsantos of the world are looking for ways, while we celebrate what we’ve won so far, to use our victories against us.

    • Many good points here, William. One other problem with the waste from concentrated feedlots is that the cows and their waste are full of antibiotics.
      Honest labeling is important AND a struggle. Meanwhile it is up to the consumer to find out what s/he can in order to make good choices for both health and the environment.
      Thanks for your comment.

  108. I believe that it is incredibly important to be a consciousness consumer. The more I have learned about factory farming and genetically modified foods the more conscious I have become. I no longer eat meat, and buy food from farms and the farmers market as often as possible. As I learn about companies, such as Heresy’s, using child slave labor I rid their products from my shopping list.
    I refuse to support companies that use processes I find inappropriate.

    It is important to keep spreading t knowledge about what is going on behind and before the packaging of our food. Awareness about these issues will really help make a change. Though much work needs to be done, I am encouraged by the changes that are currently being made

    • You make a great point Alicia about awareness. I struggle sometimes wanting to “advise” friends and family about these kinds of issues, yet not wanting to come across as judgmental or “holier than thou”. I’ve found that there can be a fine line between informing and preaching. I have however suggested to everyone to watch Food, Inc. if only to feel a little uncomfortable and perhaps glimpse the bigger picture. For those consumers that understand, I think it is also important to be able to answer questions about free-range, organic, IPM, GMO and such that might come up in conversations at work and around the community. I’m inspired by your “leading by example” changes in food choices!

  109. It is great to read essays such as this to help validate the actions one might be choosing to do such as paying more for organic, fair trade and humanly raised products. It is reassuring to know that labeling is under scrutiny and there might be some “truth in advertising”. This is great for the conscience consumer but how do the rest of the buyers get educated? It is abhorrent that profits are put before public health and as the quote from Valarie Fowler points out, the health cost to the consumer (person, human) associated with consuming unnatural foods. I’ll add that these costs are placed not only on the individual affected, but extended onto our society as a whole as heath care costs continue to skyrocket. It appears that we all pay for the greed and bad judgment of these giant corporations even if we as individuals elect not to purchase and consume their goods (bads?). I like to think that leading by example, such as the White House farmers market, is a great way to inform and encourage alternate views, just like composing this essay has done.

    • You are right we do need to educate our whole society about the food they are eating and where there food is coming from and how it is raised. If we did that there would be a change in what food would be bought at the supermarket. More people would shop at farmers markets and plant gardens. I think this would be an eye opener for a lot of people and it would be a good thing. One of the leading causes of death is cancer and cancer is directly related to chemicals that we put into our bodies.

      • Education is a key here, Christi– since we are not able to rely on government monitoring to protect us, we need to protect our families and communities with our own choices– which takes information. I am heartened by all those pitching in and volunteering to share information we might not get any other way.

    • Hi Scott, leading by example as well as personal choice are very important–and changing “perverse subsidies” so that the government is not paying for the agribusiness practices we don’t want is also important (see the Union of Concerned Scientists’ campaign on this). Thanks for your comment!

  110. Yes our body if given good nutrition and vitamins can fight off disease even cancer. I watched a show about fast food production and how they dominate the food markets today. All the meat if full of antibiotics and growth hormones as well as the eggs and milk we eat and drink. This is the leading cause of cancer and disease today. So basically we are killing ourselves with the food we are eating. A study showed that high doses of vitamin C have been known to treat cancer. Why are we not pushing vitamins instead of medications to treat people that are sick? They are sick because there body is malnutritioned. I could go on and on but yes I think it is wrong how the packaged food in the supermarket says its farm raised and farm fresh when in fact that’s a total scam.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christi. It is sad indeed that there is an epidemic of cancer that hits even young children today– when we can chalk so must of this up to pesticides in our environment.

    • Well said. I know it is a sensitive issue but you can correlate the person’s health and weight to what is in their cart at the grocery store. I see it all the time, the unhealthy and overweight people almost always have their carts filled with processed foods. My cart is always filled with vegetable sand fruits. I dont buy much that comes in a box, unless I know all the ingedients are natural and actually food. I guess you call it whole foods. 🙂

      • There are two issues here: one is that yes, healthy food choices directly correlate to individual health. However, they don’t necessarily correlate completely to weight. I am not saying that your food choices have nothing to do with this, but there are genetic predispositions to particular weight “set points” and now, distressingly, there is more and more data coming in about “obesegens”– chemicals (plastics and pesticides) that cause obesity by upsetting body metabolism and balance. Especially sad is the fact that exposure of a pregnant women to some of these chemicals may correlate with obesity in her child.
        This is not even dealing with the ways in which particular fast food producers use science to combine salt, sugar and fat in the right proportions to cause cravings tantamount to addictions for their foods.
        Where these two things come together is of course that choosing healthy unprocessed food is also choosing food largely lacking in such obesegens– although there are environmental exposures as well, which becomes a matter of justice in keeping such toxins out of our commons.

  111. More education is definitely needed, at all levels. I volunteered for a couple of years with Sauvie Island Center in Portland – they bring elementary school groups out to their organic farm and talk about plants from seed to fruit, what composting is, and the importance of pollinators. Kids who come out in the spring get to plant seeds, the the kids in the fall get to harvest. They learn that different parts of the plant make differnt things for us to eat. They learn about seasonality. Many of the students were from inner city Portland and quite a few had never before tried the fresh veggies they were planting and harvesting. If kids don’t experience this kind of food in their daily lives they may never learn about it or try it. These field trips can open doors.

    I also support Oregon Food Bank. They offer classes to adults and their families, showing them how to cook with whole foods. They learn how to use a knife, read a recipe and put together a shopping list. Attendees and instructors swap notes on where to shop for deals on ingredients.

    If you’ve never had a fresh tomato or made your own salad, you don’t know what you’re missing and you don’t know how easy it can be or how inexpensive. This programs help people realize that while they might not be able to afford organic everything, changing even one meal a day can improve their health and save them money.

  112. I really liked the linking of production of things to having a story. We all know stories, we can recognize when someone is telling us a story and we can all tell stories. I think what happens, maybe as we age or as we label ourselves as higher beings – I do not know, but we begin to categorize between human and non-human. In this we believe everything that is human has a story or is a story and that which is non-human does not have a story. For, as I think the mindset goes, how could an object or stuff have a story if it does not perceive itself going through an experience (and by experience I mean a moment that has action and is motivated by emotion and being consciously perceived as happening). But as you discuss in this article everything has a story, for anything that is made has a beginning, a middle and an end – in the simplest of definitions is this not what a story is? It seems if we, humans as a group, could take the time to listen or research the story of stuff, I would think we could drastically change our outlook at consumerism and we would rethink some of the products we buy. For me, after researching the story of Nike and listening to some of the children’s testimonies I do not buy anything that is made from Nike and I try to tell Nike’s story to people who will listen. Similarly to Nestle, after seeing the documentary “Flow: For Love of Water” and seeing how they release their toxic waste into the rivers of India (contaminating most of the water sources that people bath in, drink from and wash clothes in) I do not buy Nestle products (although have you ever looked to see how many products come from Nestle? So many!). We humans have been given the amazing ability of imagination – and I think if we could use our imagination more often and brought forth more empathy, these “things” stories would trigger something deep into our core and we would fight more for doing the right thing.

    On a side note, where did the Huge egg come from? What laid it? I probably would have said a dinosaur!

    • I very much like Annie Leonard’s cartoon series, “The Story of (Stuff, Water, Citizens United, etc).
      It is great that you are assuming personal responsibility in response to learning the story of Nestle and Nike.
      As you also indicate in the case of Nestle, many corporations have stories that hard to track in terms of their multi-=faceted businesses. We could start with chocolate and baby formula. And I think we become part of such stories in an important way when we join with others to let the corporations execs know WHY we are not buying their products.
      The large eggs came from geese.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  113. It is embarrasing to admit but I did not know where beef came from until I was like 20. I just saw the meat in the store and never understoond which animal it came from. I am now a Muslim which means that I only eat what we call ‘halal’ meat. I don’t eat the meat from the store. One of the requirements of being halal is that the animal has to be treated humanely and killed as humanely as possible. Every animal before it is killed has to have “In the Name of God” stated. I don;t know how stricly these practices are followed but I think that if more mainstream people would start eating less meat but only local halal meat, it would be a good thing.

    As far as labeling, I really wish we would have the GMO foods labelled and I was very upset when the push to do so did not succeed.

    • Obviously “halal” meat has standards that far exceed that of modern factory farming, Summer. I concur that if we applied such standards to all the beef raised and consumed in the US, it would turn around much of the current environmental and health abuses involved in factory farming today.
      I am with you on the labeling question; there is absolutely no excuse to withhold the information that they are purchasing genetically engineered products from their purchasers.

  114. I have been wanting to watch Food, Inc. but I know I will not be able to handle it. Not exclusively because I would get a slap in the face most likely about how the food is processed but also to see how the animals are treated would break my heart. For our family I am making slow transition to better choices. We recently enrolled in a CSA that provides us with local organic produce (yummie!) and I have been trying to find a place to our meat from locally. I would like to find grass fed free range beef, and chicken. The nice thing about most of the farms that do this is that you can visit them and see the animals and how they live and are treated. This I think is important because you are not removed from the process like we are now.
    While I don’t eat horribly, changing any habits that you have been doing for most of your life is hard and making that transition does require money. However, like the article said in the long run, its cheaper. The health benefits alone would outweigh the cost of the food.

    • Food, Inc. is a powerful documentary indeed, Brandie. Be prepared to get angry at the food-industrial complex’s behavior as revealed there.
      I think enrollment in a CSA is a beneficial move in many ways: I am about to leave to pick up my CSA share this afternoon!
      Health benefits must be factored into the cost of food, indeed, if we want to calculate things as they truly are.

  115. This is a great article. I live in oregon and we work hard as a family to purchase organic food from the local farmers. We are pretty lucky because other than chicken, which is a main staple for us we have direct access to fruits and vegetables and local farms that raise beef and pork. I am still looking around for a local farmer to purchase chicken from.

    One of the things we have committed to is not purchasing foods that travel here from more than 250 miles. At times this limits us on foods, such as bananas.

    I have also been interested in watching Food Inc. There is another documentary a friend recently told me about that is discussed from the platform of local dairy farmers, and it targers the labels some dairies are using.

    My cousin is dating a dairy farmer and recently I asked his mother if they used hormones with their cows. She said no, but they don’t label their milk as such; and the labels have actually caused a problem for small daires who can’t afford to put a label indicating they don’t use hormones. Although most dairies these days have joined co-ops so our “local” milk is a vat of milk from daires along the I-5 cooridor from California to Washington.

  116. Remembering how our food is processed before it reaches us is extremely important. I used the advice of a student who commented on one of my earlier posts on a different essay to change the meat I buy. After watching several videos on animal factories and food processing companies, I have no other option but to change what I put into my body. I am disgusted that we have allowed such horrible things to happen to other living creatures, but also to ourselves. The amount of hormones found in chicken (one of the most popular food items for children) is astonishing. At one point, scientists blamed chicken for the increase in hormones in young girls that became a leading factor to early pubescence. Why are the scientists not blaming themselves for allowing that to happen? Obviously, it was a scientific process that aided in the increase of hormones put into chicken. I am fearful that we are not holding anyone accountable for the decline we are seeing in the processing of our own nutrition. We have rules and regulations for everything, but yet the government allows “breakthroughs” in science that eventually turn our nourishing food harmful, as with adding extra hormones, pesticides etc. There is definitely a certain reaction received from watching the actions at animal factories, but we should have that same reaction when not knowing where our food came from, or how it was processed.

  117. When I was shopping at Whole Foods the other day, I got to thinking about this article and food labels. I was surrounded by organic, local and healthy. And all the while I watched people make their grocery selections with care and thoughtful consideration. Baskets were not overflowing and foods were not flying off the shelves. Instead I noticed that people were asking questions, thinking hard about what they needed and only buying what they found necessary. Later in the week I had to make a quick stop at Costco. Weaving my way through HUGE isles and carts jam packed with jumbo containers of food I noticed a stark difference. People were grabbing whatever was in sight and throwing it onto the already existing heap. It was then that I wondered–would a food label make a difference or would cost make a difference. If everything costed a little bit more would we ask ourselves
    1. Do I really need it?
    2. How long will it last?
    3. How many ways can I cook with it?
    4. How healthy is it?
    5. How much do I need?
    6. Where did it come from?
    7. How far did it travel?
    8. When does it expire?
    9. How fresh is it?
    10. How local is it?

    While I don’t know the answer, it is something worth thinking about and regardless, I think that an honest label and a price tag could trigger us to think hard about what it is we are holding in our hand and putting into our bodies.

    • Great questions to consider, Rudy– not only in outlining the full story of consumer products– but in developing (or refusing) our relationships to them.
      Thank you.

    • Question 7 was interesting to me.
      I do not really know the answer for these question either.
      If we start considering those stuff too much our brain will blow up at some point. Maybe it is good to think about it a moment since we do not like to think about extra stuff. If we stop and think a bit, then we might have different results.

      • Tracing the stories of consumer products in a society such as ours can be overwhelming! That is why I appreciate the volunteer consumer groups such as those listed on our links page that do a good deal of the work in finding out this information.

  118. It is important to remember that it is the consumers responsibility if the food production should be there or not. Most of people do not realize that we actually make that decision for the food companies. In the last paragraph of the essay said “Ethically produced food is important on several levels. As mentioned here, fair trade food protects workers. Organic food protects the land and the consumers. Humanely raised food protects the animals from abuse”. I agree most of them, but I just want to mention that organic food might hurt you too since we have been eating some kind of food which agricultural chemicals are used. We have been losing the way to protect bacteria which are killed by chemical now.

    • It is true that “organic” does not automatically mean “healthy”– as indicated by recent research in which people were more likely to load up on empty sugar calories of something labeled “organic” that they would never otherwise eat.
      On another level, it is very important to keep organic standards up to par (the TILTH certification is one I trust, for instance)– as the Organic Consumers Organization is working to do. It seems, for since, that certain genetically engineered chemicals passed off as supplements in baby food are allowed under the organic label–and this organization is working to change that in order to protect the integrity of the organic label (not to mention, the health of babies).
      It is also true that the FDA tests only a very small percentage of foods labeled organic– which is why it is the best policy to know your local farmer if possible.
      Thanks for your comment.

  119. This whole thing was pretty eye-opening. I got that feeling people sometimes get when someone says something I’ve known my whole life but never really paid attention to. I do try and make an effort to recognize where the food I eat on a regular basis comes from, but not as much as I should.
    The part that got me was “They illustrate there are human hands and other natural lives involved in producing ‘the sources of our nourishment.'” This statement really personifies all of the collaboration that goes into every bit of food we eat. It’s not by any means one individual’s experience. In fact, any food item that I can think of eating today was put on the shelf in the market by people, maybe farmed or grown or made by people by using things that came from the land or animals fed off the land. The cycle is big and crazy to think about, and it really speaks to the initial quote by Elizabeth Woody that encourages us to just be aware.

    • Joce- I appreciate your comments about recognizing all of the people who go into producing our food. It is something that is easy to overlook. In Montessori elementary curriculum, there is a lesson on the “interdependency of human beings” that your comment reminded me of. In the lesson, there are cards to represent the farmer, the miller, the baker, and the grocer on the first pass. Then we mention how someone had to transport it between all those people/places laying out cards for each of those. Next, we talk about how at a bakery, there are multiple roles such as the oven tender and the person who packages the bread… and on (much less the other roles at every other stop along the way!). So, when you have all these cards laid out you get a more visceral experience of appreciation at how many people were involved in just getting that piece of toast you had for breakfast on your table!

  120. The line that struck me most from this reading was “we should not eat any food we are not willing to pray over.” Wow. I eat pretty healthy about 90% of the time- vegetarian, local, organic… yet, I do have my vices- mostly chocolate. While I mostly buy chocolate from a local chocolatier (go Euphoria!), I do sometimes eat other treats when others offer them, even though I would not normally do so. I saw Helen Caldicott speak years ago and heard about how radiation from 3 Mile Island possibly contaminated the area where much of the dairy for Hershey was produced. However, we don’t know, because no real research was done and Hershey was supposedly buying off people in the area to keep it from becoming an issue. So, for years, I would not eat anything from that company (it was before I lived in Eugene and was as aware of local food issues and such- not that chocolate is local here, but at least better options). However, every now and then, I have a piece of something offered to me- even though I feel slightly wrong about it. I think this idea about grace could help me stick to my convictions better. When I read this line, my immediate thought was regret for the junk I have eaten in my life that is not worth praying over. Yet there was also appreciation that now, most of my food is worthy of this moment of gratitude.

    Peace, Jen

    • That line also held a lot of power with me. I am very guilty of picking at food throughout the day and really not even conciously aware that I am eating. After reading this line I have made a resolution to say a bit of gratitude in my mind before eating because there has been a lot of hard work and sacrifice behind every bite we eat and I need to become concious of that fact. Congratulations for having the convictions and will power to eat so well, this is something that I admittedly struggle with but work very hard to teach my three children about. It is very sad what large corporations get away with, but if we as a society make a concious effort to make whole food a priority then these corporations will slowly begin to lose their power because as Michael Pollan puts it, “We vote with our fork.”

      • Thanks to both of you for the reminders of not only what we want to model for others, but how we choose to live our lives– and the power we each have in this respect, even when faced with the manipulations of large corporations.

    • Jen, thanks for sharing this and the responding to my comment above. It really is crazy to think about the process (not to be confused with “processing” or “processed food”) that goes into every bit of food we enjoy.
      I’m right there with you on the having our little vices bit. But it seems to me that you make up for even those by being aware of the problematic things that are in the bigger brand chocolate treats (potential radiation from Three Mile Island– really??) The idea of praying (and therefore caring) over the food we put in our mouths is a good one. I’m glad that the place you are currently living has encouraged you to make decisions in favor of local and organic foods!

      • The Hesheys facility and the cows whose milk they use for milk chocolate grazed very near Three Mile Island when the accident occurred. I haven’t kept track of whether they are still there today–but some types of radiation still persist in the area: a reason to be cautious about nuclear energy as well as certain corporate practices.
        See my response to Jen about child slavery on African chocolate plantations as well (also outlined on the Do not Buy list here).
        It would be sad to give our children “treats” with this kind of history.

    • A local chocolate choice might be great, Jen, IF the chocolate were grown locally. However, Euphoria is not able to tell its consumers that its chocolate is “slave free”– as some of it (sourced through European middle folks) originates in questionable areas of Africa that employ enslaved children on its planatations. They used to carry an organic chocolate that was “slave free”– but no longer. You might ask them about this– the more they hear from their customers, the more likely they are to respond. Check out the section on chocolate from the “Do Not BuY” list here– look for Fair Trade chocolate.
      Thanks for reminding us about the reverence we might express toward the sources of our nurturance– human and more than human. I am only working on fully achieving this myself.

  121. I love that local food and sustainability is beginning to enter the limelight. Big business may be able to pay off polititians but if the people have a drive to become educated on food and the destructive consequences of processed foods then change will occur in great numbers. I wanted to mention the other aspect that has become lost with the booming of convenience, and that is community and relationships. The most facinating thing about farmers markets is the passion and pride felt from the farmers and producers. When entering a farmers market the first thing I notice is the sound of a local band or a bongo player or even a magician putting on a magic show for children. I then see the children’s eyes light up when the trick is revieled or a toddler dancing to the bongo drums while sucking on a green juice popsicle. And when the food comes home it needs to be cooked, on an actual stove;-) I have had so many great conversations with my children while we are all in the kitchen chopping vegetables. I have even had to kick my 6 year old out of the kitchen for continuously grabbing veggies while I have been cutting them(sharp knives and little fingers can lead to disaster). The bottom line is that when we do not take time with our food then we not only lose important, life sustaining nutrients but we also lose quality time with people. I believe that this fact is just as important as fighting off diseases as the vitamins themselves.

    • Thanks for sharing these delightful family and community images here.
      I think you are absolutely right about the health that comes from shared community–and we can take this further into the idea of “vitamins” themselves, which attempts to isolate a particular potent or essential part of a food to take as a pill. Now a number of studies are indicating either that the vitamin does not impart the same level of health to the human body in a pill form as when it is part of (a community within?) a food.

  122. A really interesting article that makes you appreciate where your food comes from and how it gets to your home. In this country, we seem to take for granted our farmers and ranchers. We just assume that the food will always be there when we need it and do not appreciate the amount of work and effort that goes into raising cattle or growing produce. In fact, many children today do not even know what a cattle ranch is or how the meat makes its way to their table. I have also spoken to children in the past that did not know that apples grow on trees in local orchards and are had picked by workers and then delivered. We need to educate our children about their food and stress the importance of respecting where their food comes from and instill in them a desire to shop locally and visit these farms and ranches themselves. We as a society, all need to take a vested interest in our food supply and respect these men and women who work tirelessly to bring these products to us daily. This article also brings to mind the idea of allowing our children to grow their own fruits and vegetables, whenever possible, to appreciate the amount of work involved and the freshness and nutrition of their food firsthand.

    • Thoughtful response, Jamie. We certainly do our children no favor by neglecting to educate them about the natural sources of their food. Not doing so only leads to the assumption that those natural sources are not important, since humans produce everything (as if they did so without help from the natural world).
      I also think it is essential to look at the differing ways that different producers bring us the food that sustains us.

  123. I think it is interesting how impersonal food has become. Not only do we not produce it or gather it naturally for ourselves, we also do not know where the food came from or who gathered it for us. It is great that some of the responses show how people are taking a more active interest in their food; visiting farms and farmer’s markets, and buying locally!
    I have become obsessed with finding locally grown and organic foods and it is not only healthier and more humane, but a fun family occasion as well. We started raising our own chickens for eggs, and are growing a large vegetable garden. We supplement our diets with food from the enormous farmer’s market that runs every weekend.
    In these ways, we have made food a family event. It is fun to walk through the weekly farmer’s market and find meals together and go out each morning and evening to care for the chickens and the garden.
    I hadn’t ever thought much about food packaging and how it completely overlooks the whole process of the production of that food. I went on a search in my kitchen to see if there were any food items that gave more information on the product and found that most of the food simply has a picture of itself on the package. So, you know what the food your buying looks like as a finished product, but what about the production?
    I have only recently become aware of all of the issues involved with food production, and hope to be able to continue my education so that my family will be healthier and hopefully food production will become more humane as more people become aware of the issues.

    • Good observations, Rebecca. It is telling when something so intimate as that which we take into our bodies to sustain our lives has become, as you note, impersonal.
      It is wonderful that you are working to make feeding yourself and your family both a personal and community process– not to mention, an exercise in delight! Congratulations on seeing beyond the packaging of the modern food industry to the human hands and natural lives that produce the food that sustains you.

    • Rebecca,

      Our family has recently made the switch to organic and local food. Once your eyes have been open to the “food process” that brings most goods to your supermarket it definitely takes the shine off the apple. Anytime my husband and I are out with friends if the organic food subject comes up we get a lot of strange looks. I even have had people tell me they would rather not know how their food is made for the expressed purpose of not having to deal with the ramifications of a corrupt and broken system. Not to mention dangerous. With so many incidences of food born illness lately it makes you hesitate when you want to grab that easy meal from a fast food window. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to the animal cruelty of factory farms. In the case of the food we eat, out of sight out of mind is not a healthy or safe mind set.

      • Congratulations on making the switch (not always an easy one to make) to local and organic food. Have your read Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle– you might enjoy her family adventures in this regard.
        The cruelty of factory farms is tragic indeed.

  124. My husband and I were introduced to Food Inc about two years ago. It made us think about our food supply and where it was coming from. Much like this article points out, we are very disconnected from our “stuff”. I took a look at the Story of Stuff website and watched several of the videos. In the system we have and with the disconnect that occurs with purchasing an item we don’t have to be held accountable for things like fair trade and environmental pollution. I think this also fuels the fire for the throw away mentality we posses. No accountability and easy access to new products doesn’t encourage us to hold on to items. I think thriftiness is a value we have strayed away from in society.

    • Annie Leonard’s “stuff” videos are great short introductions to some very important environmental and social issues. As you indicate, we might well get back to the ethic of thrift– or at least more care and responsibility for our materials “stuff”.

    • I also watched “Food, Inc.” a few years ago–in my high school Economics class, believe it or not–and was actually disgusted with some of the images I saw. Since then I have definitely tried to eat “fresher” foods; one problem I run into though, as I’m sure is true for most young people, is money. I hate that my financial situations has a negative impact on what it is I consume. I try to stay conscious of what the negative impact is when I eat certain things. I will have to check out Story of Stuff to become more aware.

  125. I very much agree with your essay and lately I have had an overwhelming urge to help make changes in the small town I live in. Food Inc. is a wonderful eyeopener and it actually changed my sister-in-law from an omnivore to a strict herbivore by witnessing the way our meat is raised and processed. It made me question where the meat originated, those poor butchers at all the major supermarkets could not tell me where the meat came from. I received many puzzled looks and hardly any answers.
    Another informative show, called “Fresh”, points out the need for more local farming in the modern government run food system. This show has inspired me to put a plan together and start a school farm where kids grow, harvest, and cook the food. It is true that people are so removed from their food, yet successfully growing and preparing food is the basics for survival and should be part of the school curriculum.

    • Great goals, Melissa! We need this kind of energy everywhere. Now if you were fortunate enough to live in Lane County, Oregon, you could support a school garden program that currently boasts 59 garden sites at local schools!
      You have a good point that basic knowledge of where our food comes from– if not skills at producing it should be an essential part of school curricula.

    • The show ‘Fresh’ that you talk about, is it a podcast or on the radio or tv? I would love to try to catch it some time. I am in complete agreement with you that there should be more emphasis on food and how it plays into our future and sustaining the planet and ourselves or there will be no need to understand math or social studies, etc.
      I have to point out that it isn’t necessary to be an herbivore if one practices moderation and buys sustainably grown meat. By opting out of the commercial meat industry, we avoid much of the problems of meat, and of course if people eat only the modest amounts of meat appropriate for our bodies, there isn’t the effect on the atmosphere that we are seeing now. And, of course when cows are allowed to be grazing and not overcrowded, etc, they are not suffering the terrible treatment seen in the large CAFOs.

      • Or perhaps we might even need to be able to add and subtract without a calculator? I heard recently of a contractor who had trouble hiring assistants, since they could not read a tap measure– all their number learning came from what machines told them.
        Shunning both the produce and meat produced by factory farms is a great way to move to ethical purchasing– though it may be hard, and prohibitively expensive to find ethically farmed meat in certain areas of the country. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver writes that the latter was the reason why her own family was vegetarian for a time.

  126. There is no doubt that we are a culture of consumerism. It is heartening though that more and more people are becoming aware and demand transparent labeling and information on sourcing. It is very easy to fall into the trap of “out of sight, out of mind,” especially when a growing number of us are forced to perhaps buy the “cheapest” product. This leaves very little leeway for us to “vote with our dollars.” It is also unfortunate that the “cheapest” product for us to purchase monetarily generally has the greatest negative impact environmentally and socially. The final quote by Valerie Fowler does address this however. Perhaps our societal priorities are wrong. If we should seek to spend our money on anything, “real” food should be at the top of that list. Not only the health of the planet, but our physical health depends on it. And, in the end, the two are not so dissimilar.

    • Indeed, supporting our own health and the health of the planet are “not so dissimilar”, Josh.
      I also find it heartening that more and more people in our consumer society are seeking vital information on what their dollar buys.
      Voting with our dollars is a serious challenge, as you indicate, when you have fewer and fewer dollars with which to vote–and our government and our economic system yields “cheap” products which turn out to be the most negative for our health and that of the environment.
      Many are making more choices in the food arena by creating urban community gardens– or buying co-ops– or challenging the fact that poor communities often have the fewest options for healthy and moderately priced food or that venders pay schools a percentage for placing pop machines there.
      The many challenges in spending our dollars ethically can become opportunities with more knowledge and community support.

    • Josh, indeed we are live in a culture of comsumerism. But, everyone but the rich are between a rock and a hard place. To buy cheap and non-nutiriotnal food or buy more expensive heathier food and feel stressed with your bank account. I think the best way to “vote with our dollars” like you have stated is to go to a local farmers market that are not partipating in the local capitalist profit ideal. But, in the winter time we have no choice but to find a grocery store. I also agree with you that we should spend our money on “real” food because that will benefit us in the long run for our personal health and our planet. There are many barriers to overcoming this issue as well so we just need to contnue to advocate for a healthier lifestyle.

      • Hi Kayla, I don’t know where you live, but there are new year round and/or indoor farmer’s markets in the Eugene-Springfield area. There is also a local online ordering website that offers foods to customers all year round.
        There was a farmer’s market in Eugene many decades ago that disappeared for several decades, and now has become firmly established here once again. We are fortunate indeed in the Pacific Northwest to have such foods available so that we can “vote with our dollars.”

  127. This essay is one that more people need to read. I am so glad to have this website for future reference. Most of the people I know just don’t understand why they should buy organic or locally produced food, or better yet grown their own food. However, just the act of sharing our produce and eggs with them, seems to motivate them somewhat, they are slow to act, but they at least are starting to have some awareness of the difference in quality of the food. Many people look at me like I’m crazy when I speak of the evils of Monsanto, or the ways our actions as consumers can help the planet and not future generations.
    This summer as we go about our canning and food preservation tasks, my 10 yr old daughter has friends who are so excited to be part of that, and that is exciting to me, since otherwise they would never experience the gratification of knowing they picked these cucumbers right out of the garden and made them into pickles or strawberries into jam, etc. It’s also very exciting to hear my children talk about the reasons why we eat the foods we do, even they know how we shop, which foods we choose, and even some of the reasons why.

    • wow, parenting done right! It is sad to say that many kids are taught basic health principles from school and their parents but never involved enough in the process to make proper choices when on their own. However, when a child is involved in canning food, and being involved in the shopping and decision process on food choices like it seems you do. They are much more likely to retain the information and make good choices when on their own. It is easy to see in college which kids have been taught nutrition and educated on shopping and which kids purchase the worst quality food, when they could make healthier choices within the same budget. I think that more college kids should be taught how to do “urban farming” with just building raised beds with tools from home depot, its easy, fun and you can grow delicious veggies and fruits!

      • I like your apt phrase, “parenting done right” in the sharing of such basic skills, Aakash. I like your point about college students– there is ample lawn on various campuses that could be but to good use in making a garden (if they can do it at the White House, we can do it on a college campus). This also is a way to stretch the limited budget of college students, allowing for healthier food choices.
        I also like your perception that the sharing of things such as planting, canning and harvesting is liable to make these skills stay with a child– it is also a way to make them feel needed as a contributor in the family system.

  128. Kendra, that is a great gift that you are giving your children and their friends. It are these lessons that we pass on, that are the most important. It is great that you live what you teach and I applaud you for being a natural educator.

  129. So many people today lack the awareness and concern of their own sustenence. Whether due to monetary decisions, lack of education, or pure unawareness, they have put themselves in a very precarious position. It is upsetting that many times people lack the ability or choice to feed their family quality food due to this. The fact that we live in a society that puts profits ahead of the ability to care and feed your family healthily is shameful.
    I recently shared the short video about “The Story of Stuff” with my 6th grade class. I wanted to give them some perspective of what we do as a society to appease our false sense of need. As I was grading their writing assingment that I partnered with it, I think that I opened the eyes of more than a few of my students as to where and what their choices have on society. If we start to rebuild our social responsibility, then awareness of our choices will go hand in hand. When we have concern and awareness, then we will have fewer of the problems that we currently have today.

    • You bring up a point to ponder indeed that one of the things that we place below profit is the ability to feed our families healthy food (and the knowledge of the ways in which to do this).
      It is great that you shard this video (and a follow up thinking project) with your eighth grade class– such topics certainly need to be part of our curriculum if we are preparing this young adults to be for their future.
      Annie Leonard’s videos are great educators in so many ways–and I think we do not credit our young people enough with their concern and care, especially we share information with them.

    • Travis, I can’t agree with you more and thank you for showing your 6th grade class! I think awareness like this can start at any age and earlier is always better! Also, if parents are helping with the change as well. If there are healthy snacks and food in the kitchen and no junk food, kids will grab the healthy snacks. But, I do understand that sometimes is it more convient and cheaper for us to do it the easier way. But you know, if we are able to buy healthier foods, we won’t need to see the doctor so much and also not spend so much on medication that we do not need. In this article Holden talked about Obama being a supporter of a farmer’s market, well Michelle Obama is also working towards a healthier American by changing the foods and drink choices in our school system. I think this is another way to help out Americans and bring awareness.

  130. First off, thank you for writing this article because I feel like this issue need to be talked about more and brought to our attention. I really liked the quote by Elizabeth Woody that stated, ““We have to remember our source of nourishment. Or we will starve.” We often forget where our meat comes from, our dairy, treats, as well as our fruits and vegetables.I do know of a few investigations that I have seen abour animal brutality and harsh killings, but everytime something is brought up, there is a uproar and then nothing changes! It is as if it never happened. This is sad because these animals deserve respect regardless if they are going to butcher them soon. With this, I think grassroot campaigns are most benefitical because they are always working towards change and continue to bring this issue to attention.

    In addition, I also applaud President Obama for wants to bring a farmer’s market to the White House. He is such an amazing President because he always thinks of people rather than the size of his wallet after he signs a bill.

    • It is important indeed to remember that all these things that sustain (or even just bring us a bit of delight– as in the treats) come from nature– no matter how long the chain they pass through between their growth from the soil and their being placed in our hands.
      I know it does seem that “nothing happens” in response to consumer knowledge, but I think there are changes– such as the info websites under the “consumer” links here. I agree with you on grassroots campaigns. Not to mention, on your judgement about a president who is less taken up with money and protecting monied interests than his opponent– who plans to keep the tax rate for the highest earners at its current deflated rate put into law by the Bush administration.
      If I had my wishes, I would see the Toxic Chemicals Reform Act get through Congress in spite of the aggressive lobbying of the American Chemical Industry (assuredly not the “green chemists”, these– see our links page for a connection to a green chemistry page). Here is a link to an analysis of ACA spending to defeat TCRA:

  131. This was an interesting essay to read after I recently saw the documentary, Food Inc. I agree with the point that this essay brings up, “There is a limit to the ways in which we can force the land to yield more.” It is absolutely jaw dropping to see some of the techniques/measures that farmers and scientists are taking to really enhance and improve the efficiency of being able to make our Earth produce more food. Farmers and scientists are constantly looking for ways to make livestock fatter, meatier, etc. How to make our strawberries brighter red and larger? Rather than trying to genetically engineer our food, our focus should be on learning proper techniques on how to cultivate our Earth and how to reuse the space we have and build upon traditional methods. This way this will lead to a larger amount of healthy food that is available.

    • I agree completely. The time and money put into genetically altered food and farming methods is a waste of energy that could be placed into “building upon traditional methods.” Our consumer culture cares so much about appearance that not only are we altering our bodies and trying to stop aging, we have now set to make strawberries larger. Bigger is not always better, we need to get back to quality over quantity.

      • Genetic engineering (Monsanto style, in which 80 per cent sold is devoted to “RoundUp Ready” crops) is not only a waste of time, but a dangerous one, given the longlasting effects on soil and the human digestive system of such crops.

    • Indeed, too things the technical race for “more” in terms of food production misses out on (besides the “more” of profit for certain corporations) is true nutrition and sustainability. Food, Inc. is a real eye-opening documentary. I also recommend “Failure to Yield”, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on the failure of genetic engineering to fulfill its promise of more food produced on less land.

  132. The realities of so many animals in this world is devastating. How is this okay? While I know it is true that less people would purchase food if the horror stories of where it came from were described I also know that so many people would not care.

    As a supporter of fair trade and organic food, I am constantly hearing the argument that the organic food is too expensive and has no flavor. These comments to me are shocking. How is helping to ensure better wages and working conditions for women and children given a price tag? How much are the cows, pigs and chickens lives worth in dollars and cents? To respond to the flavor comment, just because something is not drenched in salt or sauce does not mean it lacks flavor. Broccoli was meant to taste like broccoli and almonds like almonds, not processed versions of themselves. Further, to tag onto Valerie’s statement, you are not saving money when the food you eat is killing you and adding expenses in other avenues of your life.

    • Thanks for this comment–and your important support for organic and fair trade. I have never heard that organic is tasteless– in fact, it seems to me that an imported tomato ripened by nitrous oxide is nothing like a local organic tomato in terms of taste. Perhaps the “tasteless” refers to the fact that fresh organic foods are not manipulated with fats, sugars, and salts to pique addictive responses in us as do fast foods. This would be sad indeed–and indicate that it is high time to re-3educate our tastebuds so as to find out what we are missing.
      We certainly cannot be reminded too many times that it is no “bargain” when the food we eat is killing us!
      I also think we can make the case that when we treat other lives as “things” values only in terms of dollars and cents, our devaluing our own lives cannot be very far behind.

  133. This was a very informative article. It is nice to see smaller grass roots efforts by local companies like dairy farmers in Oregon refusing bovine growth hormone and labeling their products Bgh-free. It is interesting to read about how much effort and money corporations like Monsanto put into trying to hide information from the consumer. I read about a company that sells “chicken wingz”, and it seems like just a fun way to market chicken wings, but the reason is the product contains such little actual chicken it cannot legally be labeled “wings”. The health risks associated with this won’t be fully known unless laws are passed to make food labels more transparent. The benefit to society would be a healthier public and more informed consumer.

    • The points you make indicate some of the reasons why I think it is important to pass prop 37 in California (labeling of genetically engineered foods). Something is wrong when industry is spending one million dollars a DAY to defeat that proposition, with ads that falsely claim, for instance, this would raise food prices for consumers. It doesn’t raise food prices to label the amount of fat and protein in any food, for instance. The gmo industry is afraid of something else entirely– which is consumer rejection of their food.
      Sadly, prop 37, which started out with an 80 per cent approval rate, is now down to a neck and neck contest in the wake of the media ad blitz.

  134. This article is an eye opener. On the website Labeling Ecologically Approved Fabrics. A pair of jeans takes 920 gallons of water and 71 pounds of CO2 to produce one pair of jeans. Every year, the global textile industry discharges 40,000-50,000 tons of dye into rivers and streams. Today China is the largest provider of textiles for American companies. As American companies outsource jobs they also outsource their pollution to China. I was unaware of how much pesticides and water is used to produce a pair of jeans.

    • Thanks for passing on these additional facts from this site, Kim. Julie Schor (she is at Boston College) has written pointedly about the over-buying of clothes in the US. Given these manufacturing stats, this is all the more important.

    • Wow, I haven’t made that connection between outsourcing work and outsourcing pollution! I almost choked when I read that it takes 920 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. I just learned that the average American uses about 300,000 gallons of water each year. Maybe that number should be a bit higher if we factor in all the jeans we own. I just checked my tab on the pair I’m wearing and yup, made in China. Add to that the other pairs I own and I have well over a couple thousand gallons of water hanging in my closet. How wasteful!

      • Thanks for sharing this personal assessment that many of us might make, Jamie. Let us hope it changes future buying habits–and whatever happened to buying more second hand clothes?

  135. I have recently started purchasing meat and dairy products that are listed as organic or cage-free. (I know there are others I just can’t remember them at the moment). I choose to pay a little bit more for these foods because I feel like I am giving back to the community in a way. I choose to support these industries that take the time to ethically farm the food I eat. These foods are healthier because they have less genetically modified hormones, their food intake is natural and not a mixture of chemicals, and it makes it seem like they live fuller, richer lives than the inhumanity that happens at slaughter houses. I have a lot of family members that practice raw diets, and although I love my greasy meat too much to give it up, I have changed the brand I am buying to ensure that the correct companies are getting the profits. I find it very important to make even these small changes in my life to ensure that I am part of the solution instead of contributing blindly to careless companies manufacturing for profit over health. If they don’t care what goes into my body, I don’t care to put money into their pockets.

    • All good things, Jamie. Do look at the labeling section of the Do not Buy list here. Turns out “cage free” is not always what the consumer thinks and hopes it would be. It may mean that a group of crowded chickens get to run around together in a relatively small space and never go outside.
      In general, however, eating organically and locally (and fair trade where it is applicable, as in chocolate and coffee) is a way of “giving back” as you aptly put it. It helps both you and environment.
      Your point about conscious consumption is very important. We have no right to take what we want without any sense of what it took to produce it.

    • Hi Jamie,
      I do too try to only purchase organic food, when available and take account on how companies treat their livestock’s. Everyone needs to care about the foods they eat, since we only have one body. We need more laws to protect people from eating GMOs.

    • I think that buying locally is more important than buying organic foods. It is true that less pesticides are used, however, there is no definitive evidence in food science that organic foods are healthier for you. I think that it is important to be aware of the foods that you are eating to get the most nutritional food and most ethically raised meats. I think that if you wish to give your money to the best people, that you should buy locally. Start buying foods from the coop or straight from the farmers. Understand where your food comes from by visiting the farm if you can. Many farmers have their own websites today, in our electronically driven lives. In today’s economic situation, it is very hard to pay for organic foods when so many have unemployment. Support local farms instead of the larger companies that don’t have a face.

      • Actually, there IS definitive science that indicates organic foods are healthier. There was much flap about the holes in the study that supposedly publicized the contrary last year: check this out (Charles Benbrook’s analysis of this study:
        The issue with organics is an entirely different one: the rules are sometimes lax (USDA does not check organics often enough to catch abuses; however, Tilth certification is better) and foreign countries, especially China, have been found to label things organic that are so far from it as to not be salable commercially in the US. (See the Do not Buy list here– which also has more to say about pesticides).
        There ARE local farms without organic certification that do not use toxics or other petro-chemical inputs and farm sustainably- doing a better job of it than large corporations like Horizon that purportedly farm organic, but have had their license pulled for abuses, including mistreatment of the cattle at one facility.
        Organic does not automatically guarantee good things, but coupled with knowledge and commitment of a farm or natural food store is a positive step in the right direction for the health of your family, especially for children’s health.
        Cutting back dramatically on pesticides is also the only way we are going to reduce the soaring cancer rate (see President’s Cancer Panel report) or cut back on the 243-some toxics now found in the blood of newborns. Buying organic or supporting farms whose practices you know to be organic (which means, of course, buying local) is a substantial way to do that.

  136. This article reminds of a a person I met recently for a class at Oregon State University. Her name is Alicia Jones and she and her husband own Afton Field Farms in Corvallis, OR. She owns 106 acres of land and raises cows, hogs, boiler chickens and some vegetables. The goal that she and her husband have is to educate people about how animals should be raised and how that affects the food that people are eating. She says that they raise their animals using organic practices but not with organic labeling. The way that Alicia Jones and her husband raise their animals allows them to give their customers better quality foods. To learn more about her, go to Alicia Jones’s blog “High Heels in the Barnyard”. Her life is inspiring.

  137. It is necessary to educate people on where their food actually comes from, which is rarely done. A great example of this is the ‘goat egg’ mentioned in the article. It is really shocking that many people though goats lay eggs. If the images of these slaughterhouses and chicken farms were displayed at the grocery store I doubt many people would still purchase these products. Not only do people not understand where their food comes from, but they rarely are aware of the chemicals placed on them or the environmental damage that product has caused being produced. The average american is incredibly detached from their food sources. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. The amount of resources it takes to raise and process meat for a low nutrient food is appalling. I think that if everyone was educated on how our food is processed, we would save both ourselves and the environment.

    • Good points, Gina.
      And actually, the water cost of producing beef varies with the type of production. Grazed cattle that are never fed grain have a much lower water consumption production cost–and crazing cattle or other animals on lands that are not suitable for agriculture actually help sustain particular ecosystems.
      It is certainly true that if many knew more about the sources of their food, they would not buy them. Thus the new “Ag Gag” laws, whose goal is to hide factory farm production practices from consumers:
      You’re are absolutely right about the responsibility of educating ourselves as to where our food comes from–and the reciprocal responsibility of producers to make their practices transparent.

  138. Being someone who is now buying their own food now that I am on my own and not living with my parents I have tried to buy local and organic and when buying from the store I find it somewhat expensive. Its also very hard to follow the labeling because as I learned in my eco science class las year that GMO companies don’t always have to label their product. Keep in mind this was a year ago I took the class, but I remember their being some legal loop hole that made it so they didn’t HAVE to label their product as a GMO product. Personally as a consumer, I would choose any other product or nothing at all over a GMO product.

    • Companies like Monsanto know the data on consumers like yourself who would avoid gmos if they were labeled which is one reason they are meeting in the White House to draw up laws around this. They see the writing on the wall in creating local labeling initiatives and if a federal labeling law is drawn up to their satisfaction, it will pre-empt anylocal law that might be stricter.
      One way (so far) to avoid gmos is to eat organic unprocessed food. But as more and more veggies become gmo, that is a problem: many organic corn crops have been compromised by cross-pollination with gmos, and there is a new issue in the Willamette Valley. The regulators have recently allowed gmo canola, which readily crosses with organic soy. There is a proposed law in the state legislature to prohibit this in the Valley. Something to watch.

  139. I find it interesting that we care if sweat shops make our clothes, but we don’t care where our food comes from. I, too, have watched Food Inc and read Fast Food Nation and found myself profoundly disturbed at the efforts of big corporations are going to in order to prevent the public from knowing the truth so they can make a profit. They are no better than slave traders in this regard because what they are doing is killing the individual farmer way of life, people’s individual sustainability, and biodiversity for they sake of a profit. The government does very little to stop some very unethical things that have gone on the in farming and meat industries. It’s disturbing. While consumers can vote with their wallets by not buying these corporate wares, there also needs to be a policy shift at a federal level. The FDA and the USDA needs to have real protocols that enforce valuable regulations that prevent some of the atrocities which are causing catastrophic extinction of edible plants. For instance, Monsanto’s seed pattens-why is Monsanto allowed to own life. Doctor’s don’t own the lives they save, why should Monsanto. Even criminals have to give persmission to take their DNA.

    • Thoughtful comparison about sweatshop and factory farm production. Though I am not sure that we care (or at least enough) about the production of our clothing or we would not have as much outsourcing of clothing manufacture as we have–and as much patronizing of places like WalMart that are principle buyers for the clothing made by those trapped in the fire in the Bangladesh facility recently (which killed over a hundred workers).
      Not that I do not agree with you about Monsanto– I just don’t think we are doing any better with our clothing production.
      Why is Monsanto allowed to “own life” indeed?

  140. I just had a similar conversation with my daughter (11yo) about why we don’t support certain things. In her case, I was making a statement about Justin Bieber, because she wants his CDs and likes his music, but I cannot and will not support him financially because of his remarks on gay marriage and that “rape happens for a reason”. She argues that it’s just because he’s young and doesn’t know better, and I think that’s a cop-out answer and he is old enough to not be stupid and discriminating. 🙂

    We read labels, we know where our food comes from and do our best to avoid ‘food products’ and stick with the farmer’s market and organic foods, very little meat, etc. We are very small farming at this point (about 500 sq ft), and will hopefully have chickens in the fall. Eggs is one thing that gives me the creeps when buying in a store even when they say free range/vegetarian/etc. ESPECIALLY after hearing on Food Network (not sure which show it was) that supermarket eggs can be months old and still considered ‘fresh’ based on the processes used on them before market. That totally disgusted me. It saddens me to see people in the store with a cart full of crap. I want to talk to everyone and tell them why they should care, but it’s exhausting! My great grandmother, and grandmother used to say “Don’t care was made to care” and I find myself saying it now too. It’s true, eventually those people who say they don’t care, will end up realizing they should have (and probably too late)…….

    • Interesting that an 11 year old is cutting Bieber some slack so that he can, in effect, grow up!
      Making your own personal based on health and ethics is an important step.
      This is, after all, where we are most empowered– in making conscious personal choices– which also models choices for others. I have seen a good deal of change in consumer awareness in the past few decades. I would love to see more, especially in the arena of agriculture and clothing manufacture.

    • Unfortunately, the only way we can really express out disgust with the processes by which we get our food and products is with our wallets. Even then, it doesn’t seem to be enough to really stop some of the unethical and cruel things being committed in the name of profit. Now marketers are catching on to the general disgust and adding new buzzwords to packaging to give consumers the illusion that these products are produced in an ethical, responsible manner. This has made it more difficult now to distinguish between the gimmicks and the truth. I think it’s admirable that you are trying to get your daughter to expand her worldview to consider the downstream effects of our instant gratification.

      • Good point about distinguishing between the “grimmicks and the truth”– thanks for the supportive comment. We need teachers of all sorts in this respect– and mothers are among the most important!

    • I love what you had to say about Justin Bieber. My mom used to have the same outlook when I was a kid and I never understood it until I got older. I did not get how in supporting him I was supporting the cause that he stood up for. I am a true believer in equal rights and gay marriage and I hope that teen girls do not listen to Justin Bieber’s beliefs just because he is a celebrity.

      • Thanks for the supportive response, Sara. You illustrate the way that our actions can model something or plant a seed we only really understand later. Important to remember for both parents and teachers!

  141. I have always been a true supporter of “you are what you eat.” My parents have always told me to eat organic food, and local is better. My towns farmers market was every sunday and it became almost habit to go. Yeah it is more expensive but honestly it makes you feel so much better. And as the essays explains, the better you eat the less visits to the doctor you will have. I have a perfect example of this because last weekend my roommates and I decided to have a “cheat weekend” where we ate all the junk food we could. All though it was amazing to eat cake and cookies, things I do not normally eat, it took me almost a full week to recover from feeling tired and unproductive. This past week I started eating organic and healthy again, and I find myself waking up early and having more energy throughout the day. I like to know where my food comes from. I have a lot of friends who have chickens and their family never has to buy eggs. You hear about all those horrible stories of chickens locked up in a tiny cage being fed steroids to put on weight. That absolutely disgusts me and I would rather pay more knowing the animal I am eating was not tortured.

    • Hi Sara, I’m right there with you when it comes to feeling awful after straying from the healthy and organic foods I usually eat (and shell out a lot of extra money for). It’s like having a hangover.

    • I definitely appreciate the, “you are what you eat” line, there is a lot of truth to it but there is another side to it. I wrote a paper last quarter about how we aren’t just what we eat but what we do. You can eat as terribly as you want and workout all the time and still be well fit. It is when you find a happy medium that you truly find yourself happy and healthy. So it is really not just what you eat but what you do.

      • You have a good point there, Kelsey. Wouldn’t you think these two things (what you eat and what you do) are complementary– as in the example of at two of the recent commentators here who share how little they are able to accomplish after eating poorly.
        I love to move, especially with exercise that moves me outside, and I also know the effect good food has on my energy level. If it effects younger folks, I am here to tell you it really effects older ones.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience with healthy and unhealthy eating, Sara. I had to smile over your response to the cheat weekend. Congratulations on getting the point right away! It takes more than one trial learning for many of us (including me!) but one key is paying attention to what our bodies really want and how they react. If I eat sugar in the mornings, believe me, you wouldn’t want me to be replying to you!

  142. I have work experience in a “green” industry for a “green” company. But the green concept they marketed was just that: marketing. There was hardly a green thing about the place, but they pushed one aspect of their product because the “greenness” is a buzz word that sells. It makes money.

    I sometimes fear this is the case with organic food or organic markets. I wonder how much of what I am paying so much extra money for because it’s fair trade, free trade, organic, or whatever, is actually just a pretty label on recycled paper turning a nice profit for a food company profiting from recent awareness about modern farming practices.

    This, I realize, is a negative outlook, and I do not carry it with me. It is simply a question in the back of my mind, which I suppose I will always have unless I start raising my own chickens and growing my own produce.

    • We should not succumb to manipulation of media in any arena, Aften. I certainly become cynical when I see ads from petroleum companies who are lobbying against alternative energy proclaiming how much they love and care for the environment.
      Two things about organics: knowing the source of your food and your farmers (local is best) is a great way to assess the way things are really done on their farms. And note the labeling cues on the end of the “Do Not Buy” list– these tell you which labels mean something–and which don’t.
      Also you can weigh in as the FDA fiddles with the “organic” standards that their label certifies. At one point, for instance, they wanted to include genetically engineered foods under that label. They received such an avalanche of public outcry, they rescinded that idea.
      All in all, knowledge is power.

  143. This is an argument that I hear almost on a daily basis. I work at the grocery store as a cashier and every customer that comes through my line that is buying organic produce and I always hear the same story, it is better for the environment and it tastes better. I wouldn’t know if this is the truth or not because I myself don’t make the conscious choice to eat organic like many others but I hear a great number of organic customers comment on the food of the customers that were in line before them. How the food is so bad for our earth and terrible for the body. It always just surprises me how intense people will get about their food choices.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Kelsey. I must admit I would be one of those (annoying?) customers who buy only organic. I have just seen too much data on commercial products to spend my money anywhere else.

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