Fill ‘er up!

When my niece’s husband, BJ, broke his back in a work-related accident last year, their sole source of income was encased in a back brace and told to stay horizontal for about three months. Rather than send flowers and chocolates, i offered to take their grocery list to the store when i was in town taking care of something for Mom.

It seemed a reasonable list for a family of four for a week. Bread. Milk. Eggs. Orange Juice. Bologna. American Cheese slices. Generic (store-brand) cereal. Breakfast pastries and granola bars. Baby food for the one-year old. Pound of hamburger. Tortillas, a can of cooked chicken, salsa and shredded cheese. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. A bag of frozen mixed vegetables… Several more items that are considered ‘staples’ for many families. No soda. No beer. No snack foods. But also no fresh vegetables or fruit.

Carefully scavenging through the center of the grocery store, which isn’t familiar territory for me, i found each item on the list. With a shopping cart that was almost full to the top, i was stunned when the total bill for the groceries was $80. “Eight plastic shopping bags full of food for about $10/bag? That can’t be right?” On the rare occasions i do go shopping, i spend at least that much and carry home half as many bags. What the fuck?

Didn’t think much more about it until i saw “Food, Inc.” a few weeks ago. Corn is cheap. Corn is filling. Corn is in damn near everything we eat. No shortage of alarming articles on this topic are out there, but the best source of info i’ve found so far seems to be a book by Michael Pollan (2006) Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.  Corn products include: ketchup, cheese, Twinkies, batteries, peanut butter, Cheez-Its, salad dressings, Coke, jelly, Sweet & Low, syrup, juice, Kool-Aid, charcoal, diapers, Motrin, meat and fast food. It is also the main ingredient in animal feed, so it’s in damn near every bit of meat in the supermarket.

A food additive? You bet! Cellulose, Xylitol, Maltodextrin, Ethylene, Gluten, Fibersol-2, Citrus Cloud Emulsion, Inosital, Fructose, Calcium Stearate, Saccharin, Sucrose, Sorbital, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Di-glycerides, Semolina, Sorbic Acid, Alpha Tocopherol, Ethyl Lactate, Polydextrose, Xantham Gum, White Vinegar, Ethel Acetate, Fumaric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Baking Powder, Zein, Vanilla Extract, Margarine, and Starch. According to the US Department of Agriculture “Corn acreage in the United States has increased from a government-mandated low of 60.2 million planted acres in 1983 [to 87 million in 2009] due to provisions in the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996.“

Never mind that agricultural science has engineered the snot out of our current mutant corn species, and yields are about double per acre over where they were a fifty years ago. It’s a helluva lot cheaper to eat a corn-based diet, whether through cheap grain-fed beef in fast food (“Hey, Give me my fucking 99 cent tacos!”) or filling bags of starchy and mysterious “frooty loopettes”.

No real mystery that my niece is edging up well above 300 pounds, and her fourteen year old daughter is wearing “Huskaroos” from the teen shop… For the price of a dozen tacos at the drive through, you can buy a head of lettuce, 3 apples and stalk of broccoli. And guess which is gonna fill up a family of four better?

So the next time BJ breaks his back and i have a chance to do some grocery shopping for them, i might pick up a cookbook and a few more fresh items. We’ve simply made it too cheap and easy to eat shitty food…

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25 thoughts on “Fill ‘er up!

  1. i am so glad someone has done this post, specifically you. daisyfae you did a great job! i posted on Food Inc back in july although mine wasnt nearly as good as yours.

    i will send Dan over to take a look..he knows more about this first hand than anyone i know of and he’s been telling us for years what is going on here in the US with regard to our food supply and how it is being genetically altered. Here’s my link, if you don’t want it ffeel free to pull it down. it wont offend me.

    Entertainment Weekly:
    “Food, Inc. is a movie that’s hard to shake, because days after you’ve seen it, you will find yourself eating something — a hamburger, cereal out of the box, a perfectly round waxen hothouse tomato — and realize that you have virtually no idea what it really is.”

  2. Our favorite small farm organization hosted a screening with the quote:

    “FOOD, Inc. does for the supermarket what ‘Jaws’ did for the beach” ~ Variety

  3. The only thing surprising me here is how cheap the “food” (and I use the term loosely) is. Pollan has written some excellent – tedious, but excellent – books on food. There’s another book out there about HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), which is almost ubiquitous in the “food”.

    Kind of ironic, don’t you think? The “food” industry reaps great profits making crap to feed the masses, who get greatly obese on the stuff. Which leads to increasing demand for “health care”, which no one wants to pay for.

    What will those “food” industry profiteers do when their target market dies off due to the very thing they’ve been feeding them?

  4. Movies like that give me heebie-jeebies. It’s the same reason why I didn’t see “An Inconvenient Truth” or the dozen or so other true-to-life terror documentaries that have come out in the past couple of years.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I need to sink my head back in the sand.

  5. I have to second Lynn’s comment. I’m so glad you wrote this post so I don’t have to — also because you have undoubtedly done a better job than I would have. I am reading the last chapter of Omnivore’s Dilemma right now, and have watched Food, Inc. and King Corn (also fun) in the last couple of months. Needless to say, I’ve been at the farmer’s market just about every week, making all of my own bread, and I think my brother is actively working to start a sustainable farming movement in his area of rural Tennessee.

    Dammit, I will probably have to do a post anyway some time. But I’m glad to know I will have one sympathetic reader.

  6. babyblizz – welcome to the trailer park! you know, i wonder when north american humans are going to start developing those allergies? you may be onto the cure for obesity in this country…

    lynn – thanks for the link! i have literally been fat, dumb and happy with the abundance of cheap food at my fingertips. when you look at the produce section of a typical grocery store, it looks so freakin’ ‘bountiful’. but the quality? shit. i miss tomatos. i’ve developed the ‘farmers market habit’. least it’s a start…

    e4 – as a smart man who has rebalanced his entire life around ‘growing your own’ while living in modern society, you are a hero to me… besides that, you have a cow. that is just ridiculously cool…

    mrssnell – welcome to the trailer park! thank you for stopping by… although i’m not functional enough to grow my own food, i have modified my habits. my daughter is a vegetarian, and fortunately can cook, so she’s been bringing home more real food… it’s been nice!

    lynn – will send you an e-mail shortly! intrigued…

    rob – once i’m done with the ‘production from hell’, i’m going to get back to reading, and will drill down deeper. love the irony. but do you remember the movie “Soylent Green”? that’s where the food industry may be headed!

    unbearable banishment – i am a skeptic when it comes to many of these documentaries. Even in Food, Inc, my hackles went way up as the story of a young boy who died of e-coli from bad beef played out – when a documentary makes me start to cry, i generally know i’m being manipulated, and it doesn’t seem necessary in this case. the fundamental facts are enough…

    chris – write the post. it’s kinda important. not sure how good mine really is, but in the context of my own extended family, it helped me frame it for my own head…

  7. I’ve noticed that since I’ve been eating “real” food lately, yeah, it costs a lot more. Worth it? Probably, but it sure is putting a hole in my budget. Thank god for Pike Place Market, that operates all year. And that I can bake my own bread, especially at the price of a “good” multigrain loaf. Meanwhile, I seem to be shrinking right before my eyes.

  8. We have been buying our food from organic farm shops for over 5 years now. The produce is fresh, without additives, no added salt, shite, sugar, or starch. I feel better for it, and even spending more time in the kitchen watching it being prepared and cooked is more pleasurable than I would ever have thought.

    My kids were brought up drinking fresh Scottish water, eating fresh fish, fresh veg, and have never craved for junk food other than the odd treat when they were small.

    Scotland is the only country in the world where Coca Cola is not the #1 drink, and has so far seen the closure of 2 MacDonalds outlets.

    It would seem that a new generation of healthy eaters is slowly making a return across the globe.

  9. Hear hear. With autistic kids, we are often encouraged to try the gluten free, casein free diet, but I prefer to plod on with as many natural foods, prepared at home, as I can. Keep the chemicals and crap out!!

    Summer has been a little disrupted with travel, but we’ve concentrated on what fresh vegetables we get from our garden and the farmer’s markets. When fall settles in, I’ll go back to making homemade soups and homemade whole grain bread and cooking from scratch as often as we can. Sure, the other way is much cheaper out of pocket–but is it really less expensive in terms of your health and our future?

  10. silverstar – i think many of the ‘skinny rich folk’ don’t completely grasp just how big a dent fresh food makes in a budget, when the cheaper options can fill your belly…. but it can be done, you are proof, that with time spent in the kitchen lifestyles can be modified and budgets balanced. Go get ’em!

    jimmy – when i think of the early years being a broke college student? i lived on cheap pizza and beer – which can still be used to feed 2 people on a friday night for just about $10 if you have a coupon… i think you’re right that the tide may be swinging back. scotland sounds like a lovely place to be…

    nursemyra – it’s pretty awful. but it’s cooked, ready to stuff in a taco, and stays on the shelf for months… good for the bomb shelter if nothing else…

    awalkabout – i am inspired by your gardening. considering picking up some “end of season” planters for my deck, and may try tomatos and peppers next year. although it might mean i have to give up space currently holding my gorgeous hibiscus trees… it’s worth it!

    lynn – thanks! i am in dire need of updating my blogroll, and was planning to put ‘trippin’ with rip’ on it… i hope to get to it soon!

  11. I am shocked by what people eat… you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well! Insects are free, drinking your own urine can save a bundle of pop and booze, and sawdust makes a mean gluten free loaf…

  12. Here’s the worst. Our government allows the folks that make beer and wine to speed up the process and instead of waiting for the alcohol to develope, they add up to 17 different aldehydes for the purpose of sluring your speech and blurring your vision to give you the illusion that you are drunk. Formaldehyde is one of them. A shot glass full of any of them would kill you and the horse you rode up on. Ever wonder why some beer or wine seems to give you a headache? You are alergic to one of the aldehydes being used.

  13. what? oh mike say it isnt so…now i cant even get drunk?! interesting information i have not heard.

    right now i’m just trying to get this commenter frank off my back, he has turned my post about the egg industry into the frank show! some people you just can’t reason with…

  14. i actually heard my nutritionist vehemently swear about what’s in “food” these days. i’ve pretty much given up on gluten (it makes me feel gross) and eat lean meats, small amount of (non-wheat) whole grains, heaps of fruits and vegetables, and nuts. i feel healthier than i ever have in my life, and i’ve dropped a pants size in a matter of weeks. the only concession that i’ve made is that i can’t afford to shop ‘sustainably’ in order to eat healthy, and so i do purchase my groceries from costco (at least they carry organic foods sometimes).

    – daisymae (the blog is undergoing upheaval)

  15. @Michael Scott: That is very interesting and something I had not considered. Is there any specific place one gets the headache? Reason I ask is that about 10 or 12 years ago, I started to get a severe headache after drinking one, maybe two, domestic beers. The headache was centered in the middle of the back side of my head. Nothing would help, pain pills, nothing. All I could do was wait it out.

    I stopped drinking domestic beer and tried some imports. I’m in Canada and the imports were typically English. Newcastle Brown Ale seems to agree with me as do most other English beers. Of course, nowadays, I don’t drink much of anything, so it’s not an issue.

    I once toured the Coors brewery in Golden, CO. As a chemical engineer, I found the experience horrifying. No wonder their products taste either like shite or like nothing at all.

    Modern production methods should never have been adapted to food and drink.

  16. Seems to me that the veggies I find in the produce section are nothing less than Franken-Foods – oops, I mean genetically modified foods. Hats off to Monsanto ! I wonder what new forms of cancer are developing …. Bon apitite !

  17. Bb – you left out ‘scavenging’. the dumpsters behind fine restaurants are just brimming with tasties!

    Michael – Welcome to the park! Appreciate you stopping by – and yes, i used to have a serious problem with a cheap hungarian wine i drank when i was a poor college student… just roasted me. Nasty stuff. When the ‘bottom line’ messes up the beer? time to move…

    lynn – always best not to feed the trolls… if he’s ignored? my guess is he’ll go somewhere else where people will ‘play’ with him… the blogosphere equivalent of taking your toys and going home…

    little fish/daisymae – one of the most surprising points made in the movie Food, Inc., is that buying your organics at WalMart, Costco, etc. is MUCH more likely to drive the industrial suppliers in a better direction than just about anything else we can do… the big guys make the big buys, and thus, have the most influence…

    rob – i think the love-affair with industrialized food began in the 50’s. my mom still adores canned food – because it lasts forever. stockpile mentality, too. we just slowly gave up our interests in tasty food for the convenience…

    steve – GMOs are another quagmire topic. i’m not an investigative journalist, so i’m not likely to dive into this one, but i do want to learn more. the “franken-foods”, as you call them, are certainly going to be some sort of trojan horse in our bodies… and what is the likely hood that such a gift horse will bring immunities and stronger constitutions? about zip…

  18. @Rob, Well my smartass answer is it is in my head. The fact that you get them after two beers and you don’t get them with the English stuff would be enough for me to stop drinking US beer and wine. My head hurts dead center or at least it feels like that is where it hurts. All headaches are actually on the outside since the brain has not nerves that conduct pain. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Also Germany’s beer is brewed acording to it’s “purity law” from the 1700s, they take their beer very serious.

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