Category Archives: Factory Food

Harvesting The Fruits of Slave Labor

On Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced something that has become routine in the United States – in this case, the recall of 8,316 pounds of pre-cooked breaded chicken meat called Mom’s Chicken Extra Thin Cutlets.

It’s possible the meat is infected with Listeria bacteria. Listeria can cause miscarriages in pregnant women. Some people can die from it. So you could say it was a good thing that FSIS inspectors in New Jersey discovered the tainted chicken in a routine inspection and announced the recall because some potentially bad meat got out to the public.

Why did the chicken cross the Pacific?A lot of bad food slips into our grocery stores and restaurants undetected, and for the sake of a safer food supply it would be nice if money was made available so the government could hire more safety inspectors instead of reducing their numbers, but at least when food contaminated with dangerous germs is discovered by the government after the fact, some lives and hospital stays are prevented.

Now, however, you can kiss even this frayed safety net good-by.

That’s in part because of a sad deal that’s been at least a year and a half in the making, in which the USDA has agreed to let Chinese food companies import U.S. chickens, process them into “nuggets” and other substances and then export them right back to America. And in an evil twist, such chicken will not have any labels alerting grocery shoppers that it was sliced, diced and handled in China.

In my opinion, this deal is wrong on multiple levels. Lets start with the fact these chicken “products” won’t be labeled. Why does this matter? It matters because you cannot trust Chinese food processors to give you or your family healthy food to eat. For example, one day before USDA recalled the chicken I mentioned earlier in New Jersey, nine factories in four Chinese provinces were discovered to be processing and selling thousands of tons of chicken feet (considered a delicacy in China) that had been “treated” by being soaked in giant vats of hydrogen peroxide, bleach and other stomach-churning disinfectants unfit for human consumption.

You could tell me that the chicken-foot incident is just an anomaly that doesn’t reflect the quality and safety improvements China has enforced in its food processors, but if you did you would be utterly and horribly wrong.

So, aside from the fact that eating anything produced or processed in China is in itself a risky proposition, the question remains: How could it even begin to make economic sense for a giant American meat processor to slaughter and package whole chickens and then pay to have them shipped to China, then pay a Chinese food processor to “heat-treat” or cook the chickens and process them into breaded nuggets or patties, and then pay yet again to have the processed alleged meat shipped back to U.S. grocery stores?

Two words: Slave labor.

According to various sources, the average hourly wage at many American poultry processing plants waivers somewhere between $11 and $12. Meanwhile, workers in Chinese poultry plants reportedly are paid between $1 and $2 an hour. With that wage spread, the big Ag conglomerates and just take the same high road American manufacturers have driven for decades now. Unfortunately for American poultry plant workers, many of them are about to lose their dangerous, low-paying jobs. Unfortunately for American consumers, they are about to find out once again that you get what you pay for.

Bottom line, giant agricultural corporations have managed to bribe successfully lobby members of the federal legislative and executive branches of government into drastically reducing domestic food inspectors, and now allowing food destined for American mouths to be subjected to the skills of what amounts to Chinese slaves.

And since such alleged food will not be labeled, the only action American consumers can take to protect themselves is to stop buying and eating all pre-processed chicken products. The hardest part of such action, for parents, is that their kids’ schools are always trying to save a buck for their squeezed budgets, so how long will it be before Chinese slave chicken winds up in those cafeterias? (Hint: Really, really not long.)

Meanwhile, don’t think you can necessarily rely on food from countries long certified by the USDA as necessarily being safe. That “New Jersey” chicken I mentioned as having been recalled, earlier in this post? Those “Mom’s Chicken Extra Thin Cutlets” are sold by TNUVA USA, a subsidiary of Israeli food powerhouse TNUFA Food Industries Ltd. The bags of potentially tainted chicken products were, according to the USDA release, marked with Israeli numerals and wording, indicating the products had been processed in Israel.

Except, huh, what do you know? If you look at TNUFA’s background, you find out that Bright Foods, a huge conglomerate owned by the Chinese government, signed a deal in May of this year and purchased TNUFA. That’s three months before the listeria-contaminated chicken, produced from Chinese-owned plants, was discovered by American inspectors in New Jersey. Coincidence?

Also posted in Be Afraid, Government

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, Big Ag, Government

Gardening With Don Quixote

The below couple posts notwithstanding, I labor under no misconceptions about the ability to provide a significant portion of my family’s food via my own efforts gardening or otherwise.

Suffice it to say that I’m just making a tiny dent. For now. All the fresh tomatoes and figs, and herbs, and hot peppers, and later on the Japanese persimmons – those are delicacies I am truly happy to have. But I realize I’m not producing enough of any of them (well, maybe the hot peppers) to equal a year’s portion for the family. Let alone all the other fruits and vegetables we four would consume in a year.

Lets just say I am working toward something like such a goal. Which is why I’m expanding an automatic watering system out at the Polka Farm, for instance, although by the time we can actually move out there, the immediate size of our family may be down to two.

Really though, I gloss this over a lot, but it’s good to realize that if one really is intent on not having to rely on the so-called just-in-time expensive grocery store food, even if just for vegetables, one is in for considerable work.

Aside from the preparation of a very large garden plot (a task not at all to be scoffed at), one might need to grow the following amounts, according to various sources that sound reasonable to me:

→ Tomatoes (my favorite) – 8-20 plants (I grew seven this year, and while they were very productive plants, I am sure we will use up all the frozen sauces and tomatoes I was able to preserve long before a year has passed).

→ Potatoes (not my favorite from a waistline standpoint, but quite the sustaining vegetable) – 40-120 plants. That would eat up lots of garden space.

→ Sweet Potatoes (that’s more like it, better for you but pretty much just as sustaining) 20 plants. Actually, I would probably grow more of these and much fewer “regular” potatoes.

→ Summer Squash – 16 plants.

→ Peppers – 20-30 plants (I am growing 18 hot pepper plants alone, which indeed has provided a year’s worth of fresh heat plus hot sauces. But sweet pepper plants are far less productive.)

→ Peas – 100 plants or more.

→ Onions – 160-240 plants.

→ Spinach – 40-80 plants.

→ Lettuce – 40-48 plants.

→ Carrots – 40-160 plants.

→ Cabbage – 12-40 plants.

→ Green Beans – 40-80 plants.

And that’s just for starters. Add in various other family favorites, add in herbs. Then consider how much room this many plants requires. And then consider the time required to preserve those vegetables for winter use.

The result is that one family member would have to make gardening pretty much his or her full-time occupation, if the goal were actually to provide the year-round vegetable and fruit needs for the entire family.

So yeah, I realize that at this stage in the game my gardening efforts amount to hobbying, not farming. And yeah, I realize how much more work would be required to pull off what my forebears did a hundred years ago or so. But hey, I’m retired now, and I have more time than I used to for tilting at windmills.

Also posted in Economics, Food, Garden

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 Big Ag, Economics, Energy, Farm