Kelly Kollias ’15

“Kelly! Dinner!” my sister’s high-pitched squeals echo from the kitchen downstairs, summoning me from my workplace to the dining room. There I encounter what any other person would consider an average meal: corn, rice, and grilled chicken breast with a mixed green salad on the side. However, after two days of watching Food Inc. explain the process behind preparing chickens for sale, the killing of hogs and cows, and the death of an innocent child, I could barely look at the chicken breast lying so closely in front of me without grimacing. Carefully avoiding contact with it, I piled my plate high with the remaining corn, rice, and salad; although Food Inc. had temporarily stalled my appetite for meats, I found it easy to dive right into the carbohydrates and vegetables.  In my opinion, the movie had shown me that the process behind mass production of field products such as corn and soybean was not as big an issue as the E. Coli poisoning and lack of FDA regulation found in the U.S.’s meat system.

The opening clips of the film show the fattening of chickens through Tyson, one of the U.S.’s top poultry producers, whose goal is to produce an inexpensive chain of same-sized chickens for market in less than 48 days. Subjected to little light in shuttered dens, the chickens of Tyson have redesigned genes that produce larger breasts and faster growth; as a result, the body grows too fast for the internal organs and bones to keep up.  The chickens are unable to handle their own weight and die from starvation or suffocation. Food Inc. next went on to discuss the herding of cows and pigs, sickening me with how they taught the animals to feed off of cheap corn rather than grass because it made them fatten faster. Things only got worse as I saw the negative effects of the corn within the cow, and the poor housing inside the tightly packed, manure-encrusted pens where they lived. My stomach ached at the sight of a manure-stained cow entering the slaughterhouse and later serving as dinner to an innocent consumer. The fact that companies could so easily treat the animals our society depends on for protein and other key elements with so little care and respect was even more appalling.

In addition, I was surprised to find out that only thirteen out of a thousand slaughterhouses once found in the U.S. are still operated today, and that many of these slaughterhouses are not being regulated by the FDA as well as they used to be. My eyes began to tear up in anger as I watched Barbara Kowalcyk, the mother of two-year-old Kevin Kowalcyk, fight for the passing of Kevin’s Law, which would allow the USDA to shut down companies repeatedly producing contaminated meat. Kevin had died in 2002 ten days after consuming three hamburgers containing E. Coli poison. I did not find it fair that the FDA was not taking the situation seriously and had not pushed to shut down or further investigate the company from which the hamburgers had come. It was difficult for me to wrap my head around the reasoning behind their ignorance.

Growing up in a family whose entire income depends on prime rib steak and chicken, I have been behind the scenes of a restaurant and watched the care and precision that goes into making sure all the meat is clean for consumption by customers. As Barbara began finding other children who had been diagnosed with E. Coli poisoning, I could not help but shake my head in disbelief and disgust. Here were innocent children, looking only to consume a delicious treat of meat, and paying for it with their lives. I could not imagine what life would be like if I lost my sister, (as annoying as she may be at times) or any of my family members to such a thing, and began to contemplate the unthinkable consequences my mother would have paid were she to have sold any such contaminating meat at her steakhouse. Not only would it have hurt our business, but it would begin to spread paranoia across the state and other businesses dependent on meat. Watching Barbara be so secretive about the steps she took to make sure her family was eating healthy angered me even more: Why did she have to live in fear of the companies supposedly feeding us clean, well-prepared animals? Had we become lab rats in an experiment we had not signed up for?

Another concern I drew from Barbara was the amount of people who are still oblivious to the health hazards and contamination of food. Blessed with a well-off family, it is difficult for me to understand that not everyone can afford vegetables like broccoli every night for dinner – McDonald’s burgers and fries, a last resort on an endless road trip with my family, has become a common eating joint for many lower class families. As a result, the levels of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes has risen in many young children, raising my concern for the future of my own family as heavily subsidized food prices drop and healthy, “organic” products’ prices skyrocket. I understand that as technology expands, scientists and the government are working to make life easier, which may include mass production of cheap goods that are easily accessible to everyone. However, that does not mean that their approach is in any way right: the government encourages unhealthy food by dropping their prices rather than finding ways to make fruits and vegetables more abundant and nutritious for all. I am not opposed to some sweets or “junk food” every once in a while, but society does not need to become dependent on these meals. The government should start working harder to provide healthy alternatives, and spend money on ways to enhance the vitamins and nutrition already found in many more natural foods. Thankfully, companies that are price-friendly such as Wal-Mart are already taking a stand, putting up signs indicating organic products and expanding the nutritious options in their stores with the help of companies such as Stonyfield, Kellogg, and Kashi.

The unhygienic treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and minimal FDA regulations must be stopped, but it cannot be done without society’s help. If more people do not begin to take a stand and advocate for healthy and safe eating, nothing will change and the world’s food market will continue to spiral in a negative direction. Mark Bittman, a food journalist for the New York Times, agrees with me, saying, “The USDA is not our ally here. We have to take matters into our own hands, not only by advocating for a better diet for everyone – and that’s the hard part – but by improving our own… [allowing] less junk.”[1] As a young girl coming from a Greek (AKA meat dependent) family, it is difficult for me to say I will be able to stay away from meat for long… however, that does not mean that I am willing to accept or am OK with the poor treatment of animals and ignorance of the FDA.

[1] Mark Bittman. Brainy Quote. Brainy Quote, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2013