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America's Food

America's Food: What You Don't Know About What You Eat

Harvey Blatt
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    America's Food
    Book Description:

    We don't think much about how food gets to our tables, or what had to happen to fill our supermarket's produce section with perfectly round red tomatoes and its meat counter with slabs of beautifully marbled steak. We don't realize that the meat in one fast-food hamburger may come from a thousand different cattle raised in five different countries. In fact, most of us have a fairly abstract understanding of what happens on a farm. In America's Food, Harvey Blatt gives us the specifics. He tells us, for example, that a third of the fruits and vegetables grown are discarded for purely aesthetic reasons; that the artificial fertilizers used to enrich our depleted soil contain poisonous heavy metals; that chickens who stand all day on wire in cages choose feed with pain-killing drugs over feed without them; and that the average American eats his or her body weight in food additives each year. Blatt also asks us to think about the consequences of eating food so far removed from agriculture; why unhealthy food is cheap; why there is an International Federation of Competitive Eating; what we don't want to know about how animals raised for meat live, die, and are butchered; whether people are even designed to be carnivorous; and why there is hunger when food production has increased so dramatically. America's Food describes the production of all types of food in the United States and the environmental and health problems associated with each. After taking us on a tour of the American food system---not only the basic food groups but soil, grain farming, organic food, genetically modified food, food processing, and diet--Blatt reminds us that we aren't powerless. Once we know the facts about food in America, we can change things by the choices we make as consumers, as voters, and as ethical human beings

    eISBN: 978-0-262-26865-3
    Subjects: Public Health, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)

    Child: Mommy, why do they grow green peas at the North Pole?

    Mother: Why do you think green peas grow there?

    Child: Because they’re still frozen when we get them.

    The conversation between mother and child makes us smile. Ah, the innocence of youth. But vegetables coated with ice are only one of the many unnatural conditions of the food we see in the local supermarket. Down various aisles we find strangely uniform and incredibly shiny red tomatoes and picture-perfect peaches. The apparent perfection reflects the fact that perhaps one-third of the farm’s fruits and vegetables have been discarded by...

  4. 1 Old MacDonald Has No Farm: He Dies, She Dies, Sold
    (pp. 1-24)

    What do Americans think of when the wordsfarm familyare heard? For most of us, raised in cities and on films starring John Wayne, a vision of a rutted dirt road, a farmhouse in need of paint and with a sloping front porch, hard-working pa, pious ma, the young ‘uns, a tired old plow horse, and the faithful family dog come to mind. Depending on the film, cattle barons, rustlers, foreclosures, and sympathetic but unyielding bankers may be in the picture. Does this farm family still exist? Did it ever? Well, maybe it did in 1807 or even 1907...

  5. 2 Soil Character and Plant Growth: Nature’s Magic
    (pp. 25-48)

    Three things are essential to sustain human life: air to breathe, water to drink, and soil to grow crops. All of these were in better condition a few hundred years ago than they are today. Fortunately Americans have awakened to the fact that the air we breathe is dirty and harmful to human health, and there have been many successes with cleanup efforts in recent decades. Similarly, we have realized that the water we drink contains many other substances besides H2O, and there have been some successes in purification efforts.

    But the deterioration in quality and the erosion of the...

  6. 3 Grain Farming: The Basic Crop
    (pp. 49-64)

    America’s grain production has been the envy of the rest of the world, particularly production of the major crops of soybeans, corn, and wheat. The huge annual crop has been produced with federal subsidies by industrial agriculture, in which the motto seems to be to obtain the largest yearly harvest possible without regard to the long-term effect on soil health or pesticide pollution. But the effects of this policy of industrial agriculture are becoming apparent: plants will not accept additional fertilizer, pesticides are present in the food we eat, the soil is being depleted of the organisms that produce soil...

  7. 4 Organic Food: As Nature Intended
    (pp. 65-88)

    Organic agriculture arose in the 1970s as a reaction to industrial farms that confine animals, regularly feed them antibiotics, and use large amounts of poisonous artificial pesticides and chemical fertilizers on crops. Increasing numbers of Americans have become justifiably concerned, and even alarmed, about these practices of industrial agriculture, and for the past ten years, sales of organic food have been booming. Nearly two-thirds of American consumers purchased organic foods in 2005, an increase of 17 percent from 2004. All the major players in the retail food industry now have organic brands. Retail sales have grown at a rate of...

  8. 5 Genetically Modified Food: Food Fights Among Adults
    (pp. 89-110)

    What is it that 92 percent of Americans say they do not want to eat but eat anyway? Answer: Genetically modified food.¹ What is it that 90 percent of Americans want labeled but is not? Answer: Genetically modified food.² What products, unwanted by most Americans, are present in two-thirds of processed foods in your supermarket? Answer: Genetically modified soy, corn, canola, and ingredients derived from them.³ What is going on in the United States with regard to our food supply? Why are the clear and overwhelming desires of Americans about the food they eat being ignored by the government? Why...

  9. 6 Chicken, Eggs, Turkey, and Duck: Fowl Weather
    (pp. 111-132)

    The consumption of massive amounts of meat in the United States is a relatively new development in our food consumption. Meals based on grains and vegetable protein such as beans did not constitute a fringe diet; that was the way most people ate. Meat and even eggs were considered luxuries, eaten on special occasions or to enhance the flavor of other foods. Recipes in cookbooks from the 1800s and well into the twentieth century focus on stretching a small amount of meat over many meals. Instead of having bacon for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and steak for dinner, people...

  10. 7 Cattle, Milk, Swine, and Sheep: Raising Cholesterol
    (pp. 133-150)

    Beef, it’s what’s for dinner! Pork: the other white meat! Real men eat beef! Life is just a bowl of pork chops! Great cheese comes from happy California cows! We love our lamb! Ahh, the power of cheese! Got milk? Meat lovers know! The ad campaigns for meat and milk products never end. But who is winning, and what does it mean for animal farming and human health and longevity? Should we all become vegetarians or even vegans? Having lost the meat consumption race to the chickens, cattle and hogs are battling it out for second place. What does this...

  11. 8 Seafood: The Killing Fields
    (pp. 151-174)

    Nearly 71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans teeming with life, with an average depth of about 12,000 feet. The near shore and shallow part of the ocean, where most commercial fishing takes place, is called the continental shelf. It slopes seaward from the beach at a few feet per mile off the Atlantic coast and extends to a depth of about 425 feet, perhaps 50 miles off the coast. At this depth the seafloor slope increases to 200 to 300 feet per mile down to a depth of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, from where the slope...

  12. 9 Fruits and Vegetables: Plants to Cherish
    (pp. 175-198)

    There is no clear botanical distinction between a fruit and a vegetable. We think of a fruit as a minor but edible part of a vine, bush, or tree, such as a grape, a blueberry, an apple, or a cherry. We cannot eat the whole plant with its leaves, branches, stem, and roots. And fruit normally grows above ground level. The plant that yields the fruit does not need to be replanted each year; a peach tree produces peaches this year, next year, and in years after that.

    A vegetable is a plant that can be eaten almost in its...

  13. 10 Food Processing: What Is This Stuff We’re Eating?
    (pp. 199-222)

    Go to your cupboard, pull out a package of something, and read the list of ingredients. Now ask yourself, Which items in this list have I never heard of or have no idea what it is? You may be surprised at the number of unknown words you have just read, words that, for all you know, might be the ingredients for glue or synthetic road-deicer rather than for something you would want to eat. If you check out some of these words in a book on the chemistry of food, you will find that they are assorted chemicals added to...

  14. 11 Eating Poorly and Too Much: Poor Health and Body Bloat
    (pp. 223-250)

    Food is abundant in the United States. And by and large, Americans take advantage of this fact, some of them in a sporting way. To be aware of this does not require searching out numerical data on food production or the number of people who need to be fed. One need only glance around at the size of our fellow citizens. They are large and getting larger.

    Most Americans have heard of the professional golf circuit, tennis circuit, NASCAR, and the professional rodeo circuit. But how many are familiar with the professional eating circuit? To a devoted small minority of...

  15. 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 251-268)

    Farming in the United States has many serious problems, usually unnoticed by the public because urban dwellers live divorced from food production. Hardly anyone is a farmer anymore, and most Americans live in and near cities, where food is an abstraction that becomes real only in the supermarket or at the kitchen table. But a host of unsustainable practices in the agricultural economy needs to be changed or modified for reasons of both ecology and human health.

    The popular image of the landscape in farming country is a visual metaphor for human life in harmony with nature. As described by...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 269-322)
  17. Additional Readings
    (pp. 323-330)
  18. Index
    (pp. 331-336)