Industrial Food: History & Facts

factory farm piglets

Many people go about their days without much thought to their food – especially its source. We all have different ideas of what eating healthy means, and different people care about it to different degrees.

But even among those following strict diets, or otherwise doing their best to eat well, the quality of food source is not yet at the forefront of mainstream American thinking.

All this is changing – slowly. Eating locally is becoming a bigger trend in many American’s diets. But how did we get here? Didn’t we all used to eat pretty much our own local food? Yes we did – up until the mid 1940’s, after World War 2 ended.

The end of the war resulted in a technology boom for agriculture, and this is when Industrial Agriculture really took off in the United States. That’s when mass produced single crops like wheat, soy and corn began to take over small biodiverse farms. It’s also when factory meat farming began.

For those not familiar with the concept, Industrialized Food has many names. It also goes by Big Ag, Conventionally Produced, Factory Farming, Fast Food, Corporate Food, and Mass Produced Food. All these names mean the same thing. Essentially, Industrial Food is any food (vegetables, fruits, breads, grain crops, eggs, dairy, meats, or highly processed food) grown and/or cooked by very large food corporations.

Rise of Big “Farma” – Wall Street Food Producers

big tractor spraying chemicals

Industrial Agriculture is characterized by large-scale farms specialized in producing one thing. In crops, think of the massive corn, wheat and soybean fields you see in the Midwest. This is known as monoculture.

It has also become characterized with heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals are often designed for a particular crop – and the crop’s seeds, in turn, are genetically modified to tolerate huge loads of these chemicals without dying. Monsanto is one of the companies doing this – genetically modifying seeds to tolerate a pesticide that they also produce (Round-Up).

In large-scale meat producers, animals are heavily confined in feedlots. They are crowded into huge pens by the tens of thousands. They are fed grain from the large mono crop producers. In fact, 50% of the soybean and 60% of the corn produced in the United States goes to feed domestic slaughter animals, not humans.

Feedlot animals have also been fed bonemeal and other slaughter waste products of their predecessors (even other species) for generations upon generations. This has caused a buildup of toxins and heavy metals in their fat and bones similar to what you see at the top of a multi-tiered carnivorous food chain (ie heavy metal in Tuna).

Beef cattle on large feedlot

As you can imagine, the slaughter and processing of factory farmed meat animals is just as messy. Disease abounds in both the dirty living conditions and the frenetically-paced processing conditions. This calls for heavy use of antibiotics and sterilizers. According to an FDA report, 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to domestic meat animals.

Unfortunately, overuse of antibiotics within large-scale meat producers has accelerated the rise of medicine-resistant bacteria for us all. These bacteria spread on the packaged meat via skin, fecal and gut byproduct during slaughter, or sometimes in the animal’s body itself.

1970’s Farming: Get Big Or Get Out

Big Ag Fields in Midwest

Industrial Agriculture in the US has also become synonymous with Consolidation. The “get big or get out” mentality of food production is largely attributed to 1970’s USDA Secretary, Earl Butz. Butz was a champion of Industrial Agriculture. He openly pushed policies that would protect big Agribusiness. He envisioned a centralized hyper-efficient food system. He was at the helm of the burgeoning Midwest corn and soy scene.

As a result of Butz’s efforts, the number of US farms declined from 5.4 million in 1950 to 1.9 million in 1997. Wall Street Farming took over small farms, often with contracts subsidized by the government.

To Butz’s credit, one benefit of this consolidation has been cheaper food. Another benefit has been greater exports of monocrop products – particularly all things corn. But cheap food has come with cheap quality.

Today, our food system is completely overrun with too much cheap food. As Smithfield CEO recently quipped, “Someone has to help us eat all this pork.”

Cost of Food vs Healthcare

Closeup on medical doctor woman holding apple and money pack in hands

In the 1950’s, Americans spent about 20-25% of their disposable income on food. By 2008, they were spending less than 10% of their disposable income on food.

Concurrently, our health care costs in the same timeframe have skyrocketed. In 1950, Americans spent less than 5% of their disposable income on health services. But in 2008, that had increased to nearly 25%.

Essentially, since the start of the Industrial Agriculture revolution, food cost and healthcare costs have flip-flopped!

The CDC estimates that $147 Billion is spent annually on obesity-related health issues in the US alone. Combined with other dietary-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, that number could be 5 times higher.

Industrial agriculture was first touted as the way into the future – a technological marvel that would solve the world’s hunger problems and keep pace with our burgeoning population rate. But there is a terrible trade-off to having every food convenience at every street corner, year-round. And what was borne potentially out of the desire to do good, has instead turned costly.

Changing How We View Healthy Food

Heart Healthy Fats

The mission of Dinner In Provence is to be a support guide for local, sustainable eating and living. It is to educate families in our community and across the nation as to what they are putting in their bodies. There are many other critical issues around Industrial Agriculture, like animal welfare and planetary impact (wasting of natural resources, climate change, deforestation, etc). But our hope with this site is to focus on trustworthy, useful, and actionable education about your and your family’s health.

Most of us have become so accustomed to supermarket chains and fast food conveniences that we spend little time thinking about how our food originated. We don’t think to ask Chipotle where they source their chicken. We don’t question how the wheat was treated in our pasta dinner. We don’t consider what other substances might be hiding in it because of how it was grown. We might go to the supermarket, buy a couple tomatoes, and feel super healthy because we ate a vegetable!

Line at Chipotle for Lunch

We may not realize that our conventional tomato has absorbed large quantities of cancer-causing Round-up that was sprayed on it during growth, or that it has been bred by corporations for chemical resistance in tradeoff for nutritional content. We may not understand that it was harvested two months before it was naturally ripe, then artificially ripened, so it had less time to absorb nutrients from the soil, and contains far more gut-disrupting plant lectins. That same sad little tomato is then transported thousands of miles, absorbing exhaust fumes from dirty fossil fuels and carbon emissions. And because it may be improperly handled during all this, it could have bacterial contamination on it like Salmonella or E.Coli.

That sounds heavy for just one tomato, doesn’t it? But it’s the reality of what we *actually* ingest, when we buy from mass-scale food producers.

Food: Asking What vs Where

Picture of basic food groups

As food educators, we believe that people can do so much for their health by focusing less on what food GROUPS they eat (like grain, dairy, meat, or beans) and instead on their food SOURCE (local vs mass produced).

We need to be given permission to enjoy real, whole food again – and to focus our efforts on obtaining that food from small business sources.

The research is all pointing to the same inevitable outcome: Eventually we will come to understand that it is not certain FOOD GROUPS, but rather CORPORATE PRODUCED FOOD, that is making us sick.

In other words, our health is less dependent on what we eat (as long as it is a real whole food), than on where it came from and how it was grown, harvested and transported.

What this means is that wheat, beans, meat, or even KALE that has been produced by corporate industrial agriculture is going to be more harmful to our bodies than any of those things grown by a smaller and closer food grower.

Changing the way we eat, going to extra effort to seek out less convenient food, is REALLY hard in a modern busy lifestyle! And a lot of times, although we care about animals and the planet, when we are hungry, busy and stressed, we are going to fall back to what society has conditioned us to do.

But we want to help people understand that junk food is not just making us and our kids sick, it is actively killing us. The food industry is going to do nothing to alleviate this. It is up to US to make the change. The change starts within your own body, and the food you feed your family. Healthy families become healthy communities and cities, and then a healthy society.

You get to vote with your fork three times a day.

Corporate Food, Investor Profit

Picture of Wall Street

In the world’s top capitalistic society, everybody’s out to make their dollar. And there’s nothing wrong with that – you’ve got to support your family and plan for your future. But as we all know, some individuals have gotten greedy and gone too far.

As a result, in the United States there are a lot of beliefs about Food & Health that are in fact unreliable. Our beliefs and “knowledge” about food has been primarily influenced by corporations, politicians, government institutions like the USDA, and those out to make a profit (supplement and booksellers). Therefore, a lot of it is misguided.

One of our favorite examples is the book The Plant Paradox. Written by a successful heart surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry, we want to believe that as a medical expert, his opinion can be trusted. In his book, he points out that plants contain a protective chemical called lectin, which is true. But then he goes on to basically claim that lectin is evil, taking a black and white approach. His advice is to stop eating all plants that contain lectin.

Here is the truth: you can’t avoid lectin. Lectin is not a poison found on a few unfortunately substances. Lectin is ubiquitous in all of nature – some version of it or another is found in animals and microorganisms along with every plant species on earth. The doctor doesn’t mention this. Instead, he points you to his website, where conveniently, he has a passive retirement income set up in the form of “lectin blocking” supplements.

This example perfectly illustrates our current culture of nutrition and fitness. We start with a kernel of truth, and then someone twists it to make it novel and new – and subsequently make some money off of it. Over time this has resulted in hundreds of millions of confused consumers doing all kinds of crazy things.

We personally feel that many “branded” diets have done the same thing. But the fact of the matter is that giving up entire classes of food without close supervision by a nutrition professional greatly increases your risk of nutritional deficiency.

Many of the things demonized lately – beans, legumes, whole natural grains, and even nightshade vegetables – contain a massively wide range of beneficial plant chemicals, antioxidants, crucial vitamins and minerals, plus resistant starch (prebiotics), and fiber.

Are we going to give all that up so we can have a bikini body for our next vacation? Is avoiding these foods while we smack our bodies daily with conventional meats and toxic animal fats going to prevent cancer?

Absolutely not. In fact, we are putting ourselves at far greater risk by eating nothing but contaminated animal products that stagnate in our guts. This is just not a healthy long term strategy.

The CDC has stated that 75% of healthcare spending goes to treating chronic diseases, most of which are fully PREVENTABLE – that is, diet-related.

What Can You Do?

Now that we have a clearer understanding of what is lurking in most conventionally produced food (“conventionally produced”, means “Industrially Produced”), we need to take action. As we take a look around and realize that corporate food is everywhere, it may feel insurmountable and inescapable. That is where balance comes in.

Aim to eat local 80% of your diet. Or, just start with one food product like meat or local veggies. Heck, start with one meal! Visit one local sustainable restaurant tonight instead of the big chain down the street.

Change begins with one action. Actions become habits, and habits become movements. Take the first step!

Hand holding organic farm veggies up close

For more on Eating Local, check out the following Dinner In Provence Resources:

Why Eat Local?

Intro to CSA

Where To Shop

For Further Reading/Reference Material

Today’s Food System: How Healthy Is It?

GMO’s Aren’t The Problem. Our Industrial Food System Is

5 Modern Diseases Caused by Factory Farming

It’s Time to End Factory Farming

Hidden Costs of Industrial Agriculture

The Real Story on Lectins

Americans Are Sicker and Die Younger Than People In Other Wealthy Nations

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