I finished reading The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of our Food by Ted Genoways.

This book defines investigative journalism. Exceptionally well researched, the author explores the evolution of Hormel, a pork product company, from its inception to the high paced spam factory it is today. Albeit the detail density makes it hard to follow (I can only read in 10 minute spurts at best with a little one running around), you will learn a lot about the pork industry.

And about how humans are ass hats.

The book focuses on the human factor behind the company. It explores how increased line speeds have resulted in injuries to workers and how the company has ingeniously been able to skirt union agreements.

Instead of turning me off pork, this novel instead made me question how our society defines success and progress. The bottom line for Hormel was literally their bottom line. How different would our communities be if individuals and corporations did not focus exclusively on their profits? If business was about more than simply ‘get people buying more crap’? The following quote highlights my point:

“For centuries, [corporations] were considered benign and, in fact, quite helpful. Corporations were not originally created to ‘maximize profits to stockholders’. Their original purpose was to offer goods and services that the community needed. If you think about it in term of a food business it makes a certain amount of sense. A bakery can bake bread using whole ingredients as you would at home. It can save you time and even offer you more variety that if you had to do it yourself. A dairy saves you from having to keep your own cow and make your own cheese. When a food company’s primary function is to serve the customer, it will use the best ingredients and it won’t compromise your safety. But the corporation’s primary function has clearly changed…  When the primary purpose of a food-producing company is to maximize profits for shareholders, it’s more likely to use cheap ingredients and find cheap, chemical ways to mask the taste. It’s going to cut costs and try to increase consumption.”

-Jeannie Marshall, Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products, 2012

At this point in my life it is hard for me to transition to buying higher quality, local meat because of budget constraints. And I would cringe that much more when I watch my toddler throw her dinner on the floor/wall. My first mission has to be to reduce meat consumption, something we are actively doing. We typically have at least 2 vegetarian dinners each week and hopefully we can increase this as my culinary skills with vegetarian foods improve.

I might instead focus on the more manageable task of finding a local bakery. Less of a spike in cost and, assuming I can find a way to transport the bread home, hopefully one less piece of plastic each week. It also won’t be wasted by my toddler who, if I let her, would live exclusively on bread and bananas.

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If you are reading this maybe you can join me. Select just one product you regularly buy from the corporate grocery store and find a new, local source.

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