Freedom is valued in society, yet when it comes to what we eat, the majority of the population is content remaining blissfully ignorant and instead allowing others to choose what they consume. There is a sense of carelessness that has settled over people in regard to the quality of their food as well as its origin. Food can say a lot about an individual, but it can also reveal a lot about a society. Consumers witness companies stock the shelves of stores with products that have been propagandized to the extent that few feel the need to pay proper attention to its composition. Restaurants fill their tables with food that is meant for convenience and accessibility. When people lose sight of the bigger picture and forget where their food comes from, they unintentionally encourage the unfair treatment of animals, they yield their right to understand what farms put on their tables, and they allow corporate America to push their own narrative of healthy and unhealthy food.
When it comes to food, there is an innate responsibility that lies within everyone, which is to educate themselves on what they are eating and how it affects both them and the world around them. As noted by conservative speechwriter and animal rights activist, Matthew Scully, in his article “Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism — For Animals”, the rights of animals are often written off as a small issue, and one that should not concern them, at that. By taking a similar neglectful, careless attitude, farms who raise and grow the plants and animals that the population relies on, are allowed to adopt lax, even slovenly, techniques. “Kept alive in these conditions only by antibiotics, hormones, laxatives, and other additives mixed into their machine-fed swill, the sows leave their crates only to be driven or dragged into other crates, just as small, to bring forth their piglets”. Scully makes it clear early on that for factory farms such as Smithfield Hog Farm, it is the profit that matters above all else. These profits are provided by Americans who buy into the false narrative that these companies push, which is “…that they are engaged in something essential, wholesome, and honorable”. These farms go as far as to outlaw photographic documentation of their grounds, as it would expose their company for what it is—the only form of legalized animal cruelty. Their morally questionable business subsists on sales that are provided by uninformed shoppers, whose money then goes towards more chemicals which are fed to the unassuming animals, only to make their way back into the system of the consumer to continue the cycle. The issue, then, is that the truth exists, but it is not always simple to find. In fact, it is up to individuals to conduct their own research and to support companies who not only care about the animals, but who care about the quality of the food that is being consumed.
“Eating is an agricultural act”, and in “The Pleasures of Eating, author and farmer Wendell Berry is adamant about informing the public on the connection between planting and eating. With the current busy state of society, many find themselves relying on already grown, prepicked vegetables that can be purchased without putting much thought into how the plant ended up sitting on a shelf in the middle of a grocery store. Given how simple the process has been made, it is easy for people to view themselves as unimportant or uninvolved in the cycle of agriculture, but later on in the article, Berry articulates how one can regain the connection between themselves and their food. “…buy the food that is produced closest to your home…The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence”. By making a clear effort and taking responsibility, people can once again begin to see themselves as less of a consumer and more of a producer. It can be a difficult step to take, but the act of purchasing food, whose origins are well-known, is the first step of the process. Without it, society is at the mercy of opportunists who look for any way to raise their margin of profit. This leaves individuals who are too busy to inform themselves, at the mercy of the dishonest companies who continue to push what makes them more money rather than what is best for the people.
The food that corporate America encourages individuals to consume contains vast amounts of sugar and preservatives. This benefits executive’s wallets, not the population’s health. In “A Healthy Constitution”, an article written by organic restaurant owner Alice Waters, the effect that unhealthy food has on individuals can be seen first-hand as she recounts an experience that occurred at a school for troubled youth. As written by Waters, Central Alternative High School originally served its students processed foods that were high in both sodium and sugar. However, in an attempt to better the student’s behavior, they began to change what was being served at lunch. A campus garden was started, and the students were then encouraged to take an active part in harvesting the vegetables. The project not only provided fresh, locally grown produce, but it also gave the students a sense of responsibility, and the results were immediate. Waters goes on to say, “The healthier meals are delicious. The students love them. They perform better in class and don’t get sick as often”. The new low-fat, low-sodium lunches improved the student’s focus in class and changed how they carried themselves during the day, but what is just as important is that it enforced the lost connection between themselves and their food. It encouraged the students to reevaluate what major contributors they are.
Above all else, it is important that people remember the role that they play in the agricultural cycle, rather than perceiving themselves as mere consumers. Food is the cornerstone of society, and therefore, it can reveal a lot about individuals. However, it is up to the population to educate themselves on the reality of food and where it comes from, as to not encourage animal abuse, but to understand what is in the food that farms put on tables, and how it affects all of society. Both factory farms and corporate America keep crucial information from the public, making it difficult for anyone to know what happens behind the scenes on a farm or to know about the chemicals that are in food. The fix is simple, but the first step is wanting to know more, because as noted by Alice Waters, “I know once people get connected to real food, they never change back.”