I had a hamburger today. Not McDonald’s or Burger King, but one prepared carefully by a local restaurant. 100% American beef. I wanted to see if it tasted ok–I used to love burgers–and to test if I could finish it now. I went through three quarters of it, and have been regretting it since.
I think I’ve entered the phase in my life where I’m no longer attracted to hamburgers. Or rather, I have at last experienced personally the phase that the global food multinationals have ushered upon us.
This realization came accidentally. I just returned from a trip to Bangladesh. The taste of fresh ingredients, real fruits and vegetables, natural river fish and game hen, still lingers in my palate. And this is despite Bangladesh’s food quality problems: rivers are contaminated, pesticides are ubiquitous, and many sellers even inject formalin into fruit and fish to keep them appearing fresh.
In other words, globalized agribusiness has swept this part of South Asia with its chemicals and seeds, but not enough (as yet) to have thoroughly altered the nature, shape, and taste of food.
But free-market America is their full domain. Nearly all meat products here now come from miserable factory farms where chickens are “grown” in darkness to monstrous proportions, cows stand feet-deep in own manure through their lives, and fish that don’t naturally eat grain are force-fed cheap corn.
We, in turn, are fed the industrialized, globalized, hyper-marketed product passed as food. For the first time, I felt like I tasted it.
This is the side of globalization that is sick. Literally.
The four multinationals that control most beef in America or the global agribusinesses that are flooding the system with corn syrup will claim that industrialized techniques have made food cheaper for people.
Maybe. But on the other side of the scale the costs have mounted. The conditions in which the food is grown have become hotbeds of strains of diseases that reach a staggering quarter of the population. The chemicals used to alter food affect millions more. The lab-crafted sugary stuff we’re sold — corn products, for instance, are ingredients in an incredible 80 percent of everything sold in large supermarkets — have contributed to America’s health crisis: one-third of children and adolescents now weigh more than they should. The transportation of industrialized food to far-flung places emits thousands of tons of greenhouse gases.
There’s a lot to celebrate about the global spread of local cuisine. But we need to shun the globalization of food content. We simply need to eat locally-grown or organic food to the extent we can, even if the product may be less shiny, less uniform.
And we need to listen more carefully to our taste buds. If they’re telling us that what’s going past them tastes unnatural and more like something to just stuff a hungry stomach with, they’re also telling us that with every bite we’re being sold blind by the global food-peddling businesses.
One last little irony. I brought with me to America a little pack of all-natural home-cooked beef. I duly declared it at customs, and they duly threw it out, stating, “you cannot import unlabeled meat products.”
If the government took up food labeling more seriously, that 100% American beef I ate today should have been labeled on the menu as 100% notional beef.