Category Archives: Big Ag

Chicken Tales

I’m trying to be patient and wait a few years until, if things go as planned, my wife and I move to the Polka Farm full-time, before raising a flock of chickens. But it’s getting really hard to wait.

Drive-In ChickensI like eggs, and I like chicken meat. A lot. At a time when beef and pork prices have increased by about 6% and 13%, respectively, over the past year, I have, like many other American peasants, been forced to rely increasingly on the Factory Chicken for my grilling and roasting pleasure. Of course, new demand has caused chicken prices to rise also, but they’re still very cheap comparitively.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for.

Some of America’s chicken factories have become most adept at producing little 4 and 5-pound vomit bombs, ready to go off on anyone who forgets to sufficiently overcook the meat.

For example, I give you Livingston, Calif.-based Foster Farms. Beginning in March of last year, whole chickens slaughtered and “processed” at Foster Farms California factories caused salmonella poisoning in 634 people in 29 states who reported it (and for every food poisoning case reported to the government, more than 25 cases go unreported). Of those cases, 241 people were sick enough that they had to be hospitalized.

Here’s the hilarious part: On July 31, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced that the Foster Farms salmonella outbreak “appears to be over.” But about a month earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found Salmonella Heidelberg (an especially nasty antibiotic-resistant strain) in Foster Farms’ boneless and skinless chicken breasts. So yeah, one Foster Farms vomit outbreak has officially ended, but another one has just begun.

In case you haven’t figured it out, the moral of this portion of Our Story is, don’t buy anything from Foster Farms unless you really, really don’t like the people you’ve invited home for dinner.

But here’s the kicker: Chicken factories such as those operated by Foster Farms have been running under the watchful eye of USDA food inspectors trained to discover and remove diseased and otherwise digestively unsafe birds from the factory killing line before they make it to the grocery stores.

Considering outbreaks such as the ones at Foster Farms, you might not think the government inspectors are doing a very good job. But consider this: Chicken factores are allowed to run their killing lines at the speed of 140 per minute. This gives government inspectors .43 seconds to inspect each bird. I’m not sure if I could even tell if a chicken has two legs in .43 seconds.

Thus you come to see why so much of our factory-supplied meat is tainted with disease-causing microbes.

And if you thought it couldn’t be worse for the consumer, you would be wrong. Because just last Thursday the USDA gave its final approval to new poultry inspection regulations. You know those trained government food inspectors expected to detect diseased chickens whirring past them at the rate of 140 per minute? Well, now if the factory owners so choose, they are allowed to replace the government food inspectors with their own employees. And there is no training requirement for those employees.

Does anyone think those employee-inspectors will have a whole bunch of incentive to find lots of diseased birds and remove them from the killing line?

It’s for real: Buy a grocery-store chicken and you get a free packet of vomit gravy with each bird.

Buy somebody else’s pasture-raised chicken? Healthy whole chicken can buy you peace of mind and pretty great taste, but it will cost you about $4.50 per pound, or around $24 per bird.

All of which is why it’s so hard for me to put off raising my own.

Also posted in Be Afraid, Factory Food, Government

Hello. I’m Bob, And I Am An Addict

I am addicted to factory food.

If anyone should know better, it’s me. I have attempted to grow and produce an increasing percentage of my family’s food for years now. I know how much effort it takes to produce my own food, and I know the costs hidden behind the grocery store prices. I know the U.S. food distribution system is not even close to sustainable.

Yet I keep going back to the grocery store for more.

This is because I am like (most of) you: I only have so much money with which to pay unavoidable expenses and purchase life’s necessities. I have researched my monthly expenses and, based on past costs, I have allocated a set amount to cover the cost of food. I know that my family would be healthier and my local region would be on an ever-so-slightly stronger economic footing if I would frequent local farmers markets and buy pasture-raised meats and home-produced eggs all the time instead of once in a blue moon.

But I am afraid I can’t afford to devote a larger portion of income to food.

There is hope for me, however. Economic pain, too, but hope. Ironically, it comes from Mexican drug cartels.

I found this out after two recent grocery store trips in which I found that two small, hard unripened limes were being offered for a dollar at one store, while the other was offering a single lime for the price of 80 cents. In the recent past, good, ripe limes were being offered at the rate of five or, sometimes, 10 for a dollar.

Food prices in general have been rising at a very fast pace so far in 2014, but the soaring price of limes has just been extreme, so much so that I attempted to find out what’s behind it, and eventually found this.

In a nutshell, U.S. grocers import most of their limes from Mexico, even the Key Limes you thought came from the Florida Keys. The most important lime-growing regions in Mexico are under the thumb of the cartels. The drug cartels, like other organized crime ventures before them, have learned to branch out. Among many other things, they have become adept at siphoning money out of the lime market, and also the Mexican avocado market – at every level. Read the various news articles listed in the Google link at the end of the previous paragraph if you don’t believe me, or are interested in details of how this has transpired and what the implications may be.

I personally had believed that our food distribution system would be more likely to fall apart due to increasing fuel prices, since studies I’ve seen say more than seven units of fossil fuel energy are now consumed in order to produce one equivalent unit of food energy. I had not considered that extortion from organized crime might become so prevalent that it would cause people to seek more local and sustainable sources of food.

When Life Gives You Lemons - You Don't Need No Stinkin' LimesFor me, I happen to have an abundance of really good lemons. And while I realize that lemons just aren’t as good as limes in some cases, in others, they are. I’ll for sure be using my own lemons before I pay 80 cents for a puny drug cartel-controlled lime. And, while it’s just a tad too cold around here in winter to plant my own lime trees, people locally do grow them in big pots and protect them in cold weather. I might just try that.

On a more serious note, though, the lime fiasco and the major increase in grocery prices overall (due in large part to the major increase in fuel prices) just foreshadows the inherent weaknesses in a system where we obtain a large portion of our food from giant agricultural operations located thousands of miles away, while ignoring local growers because their operations are too small for a Kroger or Walmart to consider.

Eventually, I believe, we’re going to have to buy more of our food from local sources. But the rub is that good, local food will cost us more. Unless we grow it ourselves.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Factory Food, Farm

We’ve Updated Our Legal Terms

Just for General Mills. Yup.

You know General Mills. It’s a big honkin’ conglomerate producing many, many tons worth of processed factory food-like substances your kids clamor for due to multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns engineered by rogue child psychologists to wham on the Youth Sugar Organ tucked into the brain’s lower vortex.

Well, it turns out General Mills gets sued a lot. Like many corporate executives, those at General Mills decided they could save a lot of money on lawsuits by finding a way to force aggrieved customers and the like to use arbitrators rather than hire lawyers to settle their grievances. Now, this happens all the time when a consumer is forced to sign or otherwise agree to what amounts to a contract, such as the purchase of licensed software or cellular service. Lawyers for companies who provide such goods and services know there is nothing worse for their companies than other lawyers, and so they insert clauses basically telling their peasant customers that if they want Internet or cable TV or a mobile phone, they had better give up the right to hire a lawyer should their ears or balls fall off due to negligently configured microwave towers or web packets or what have you.

But until the New York Times reported it today, we had heretofore never before been forced into giving up our right to hire lawyers through the act of eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Now, apparently, we have:

“PLEASE NOTE THAT SECTION 3 BELOW CONTAINS A BINDING ARBITRATION CLAUSE AND CLASS ACTION WAIVER,” the company says, shouting, all in caps, in the “Legal Terms” section of its web site. “IT AFFECTS THE RIGHTS YOU HAVE IN ANY DISPUTE WITH GENERAL MILLS (INCLUDING ITS AFFILIATED COMPANIES AND BRANDS), INCLUDING DISPUTES ARISING OUT OF YOUR PURCHASE OR USE OF ANY GENERAL MILLS PRODUCT OR SERVICE FOR PERSONAL OR HOUSEHOLD USE, INCLUDING GENERAL MILLS PRODUCTS PURCHASED AT ONLINE OR PHYSICAL STORES.”

General Mills’ team of lawyers then goes on to say that you are entering into a “binding legal agreement” and consent to give up the above rights “in exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering…”

The Times says that new lawyer words added to the General Mills web site after a Times reporter called them up now indicates “that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.”

Ergo, eat a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, give up your right to hire a lawyer with whom to sue General Mills.

Now why, I wondered, would the maker of so many fine food-like substances go to such great lengths to keep attorneys so far at bay?

The Times reporter wondered, too, and found that General Mills had paid $8.5 million last year in a suit over health claims it made about its Yoplait yogurt, and was forced in another case to remove the word “strawberry” from its Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, which somehow did not happen to contain even a trace of strawberries.

A little search for both “recalls” and “General Mills” also found:

→ General Mills recalled some single-serve cases of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal last year because they might have been tainted with salmonella;

→ General Mills recalled some batches of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls With Icing last year because they might have contained fragments of plastic;

→ General Mills recalled some cases of Old El Paso Hot Chunky Tomato Salsa last year “due to the presence of glass.”

→ General Mills recalled cans of Progresso Italian Wedding Soup last year after word got out beef used in the soup had come from a slaughter house the U.S. Department of Agriculture accused of processing “diseased and unsound animals” whose meat was not inspected by the government, you know, as is required by law.

So in response to General Mills’ contention that I have (mistakenly or otherwise) purchased one or more of the company’s products and thus in effect signed a contract that I knew nothing about giving up my right to hire a lawyer and sue the crap out of said General Mills if I eat a mouthful of high-fructose corn syrup-encrusted glass shards for breakfast, I have made some changes to my web site’s Legal Terms, to whit:

IF YOU ARE A CURRENT OR PAST EMPLOYEE, CONTRACTOR FOR OR REPRESENTATIVE OF GENERAL MILLS CORP. OR ANY OF ITS AFFILIATES OR SUBSIDIARIES, BY HAVING READ THIS BLOG POST, GLANCED AT THIS WEB SITE OR THOUGHT ABOUT READING THIS OR ANY OTHER ARTICLE LOCATED AT THIS INTERNET DOMAIN YOU HAVE FOR ALL LEGAL PURPOSES AGREED THAT BOB DUNN AND ALL MEMBERS OF HIS IMMEDIATE AND EXTENDED FAMILY POSSESS THE IRREVOCABLE RIGHT TO HIRE A VERITABLE BUTTLOAD OF LAWYERS IF THEY SO CHOOSE, FOR THE PURPOSE OF SUING GENERAL MILLS AND/OR ITS AFFILIATES, SUBSIDIARIES, EMPLOYEES, EXECUTIVES AND/OR CONTRACTORS INTO SUBMISSION ANYTIME THE MOOD STRIKES AND THEY FEEL SO MOVED.

I’m glad we got that settled.

Also posted in Corporate, Factory Food, Verbatim

‘Sup 2014?

All five of my regular readers no doubt have been wondering, What’s Bob going to do with his blog this year? Well, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!”

But, to be less succinct:

→ I’m going to be writing more about how your personal secret private information is being vacuumed up invisibly before your very eyes, not just by government spies and mobile phone network corporations, but by damn near every retail and web operation with which you come into contact. And why that’s not always virtually never to your benefit. And stuff you can do about it.

Why just this morning, reader MariaB suggested that if I thought Target’s data collection and alleged digital security system was bad, I ought to check out Walmart. I have. It’s scary. For instance, the company acknowledges right in its own “privacy” policy tidbits such as:

If you uninstall the mobile application from your device, the Walmart unique identifier associated with your device will continue to be stored. If you re-install the application on the same device, Walmart will be able to re-associate this identifier to your previous transactions.

Think about it. All that’s left is for them to make it so their swiping machines “accidentally” stamp your finger with a chip implant while you’re typing in your debit card pin number. And its just the tip of a Walmart iceberg containing what the company itself reportedly has described as petabytes of your collective data (fyi, it is estimated that all of the information stored in all U.S. academic research libraries could be contained within 2 petabytes). Which makes you wonder, if the National Security Agency has pressed Verizon and AT&T and Google and Apple and Yahoo and Facebook into service on behalf of mass spying campaigns (and evidence strongly suggests that they have) then is it not logical from a Big Brotherish standpoint that government spooks would’ve pressured Walmart to participate in those same efforts?

Yes, it would be logical, seen from Big Brother’s point of view, especially since a large part of Walmart’s data-gathering efforts are aimed at what’s known as “predictive behavior.” Someone should ask Edward Snowden about that, eh?

→ Factory food and food safety have been of abiding interest to me ever since I discovered I don’t like to vomit that much, while the conglomerates of agriculture appear so intent on producing food-like substances that will make me and members of my family do just that.

From the likes of salmonella-laced peanut butter to E. coli-infected hamburger treated with ammonia to cookie dough contaminated by the same stuff found in animal poop to to little cartons of exploding Greek yogurt, it appears the nation’s (if not the world’s) food production and distribution system is in slow-motion collapse.

And, increasingly, consumers and family members are left without recourse or protection from an increasingly unreliable and dangerous food supply.

→ Which is why I’ll endeavor to provide more hints and methods for growing or otherwise producing your own food, based in large part on the mistakes and corrections I make myself. For instance, here’s a tip: If you plant peach trees too close to areas frequented by deer and cattle, they are going to gnaw and whittle said trees down to peachy nubs and toothpicks.

→ Random sarcasm and alleged humor. I’ve started a new category called Grumpy Old Man Does Retail. It’s true. And because I am officially retiring next month, I will have even more time to devote to grumpy old manishness. Who knows where that could lead? Plus no doubt the reader can enjoy new editions of ever-popular posts about how it got cold so I had to move my plumeria plants all around and other such endless possibilities. Wow, what a year this promises to be.

Also posted in Be Afraid, Corporate, Factory Food, Government