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Chipotle's "Back to the Start" commercial drew in more than 5 million views, and McDonald's has recently unveiled a plan to remove sow gestation stalls. It appears that fast food chains are trying to jump ship from the industrial farming label that's branded the business. But why the sudden focus on animal rights and ethical farming? What exactly do terms like "free range" and "local" mean, and where does our food come from? For this week's GOOD Books, we're looking straight into the convoluted American food industry.
by Upton Sinclair
416 pages. Simon & Brown. $11.95
The bible of meatpacking industry exposés, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair in 1906, was the first of its kind to uncover the nauseating realities of the American meatpacking industry. Sinclair's story follows a family of Lithuanian immigrants who find themselves unable to attain the "American Dream" working at Chicago's Stockyards, where their lives become nightmarish. Sinclair originally intended for this book to expose the perils and exploitation that immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry faced, but the story became the herald for food sanitation. Thanks to Sinclair's muckraker reporting on the industry's rat-infested and waste-water soaked meat, corruption, and its overall sickeningly unsanitary conditions, the meatpacking industry experienced an overhaul. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were both passed following the book's release, and worker conditions slowly improved.
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric Schlosser
383 pages. Harper Perennial. $10.19
Before you roll into another drive-thru and dig into a burger and some greasy fries, take a second to think about the contents that are going be pumping through your body. Chances are, you'll be eating things a lot more horrifying than McDonald's recently exposed "pink slime." In Fast Food Nation, journalist Eric Schlosser forces us to face the feces, E.coli, and chemical-filled foods that Americans pay to eat. Unfortunately, fast food has become a part of America's DNA; Schlosser claims that it's become so rooted in our nation's tradition, "just like apple pie." The question is: can we detach ourselves from the unhealthy addiction? Schlosser travels to factory farms, slaughterhouses, feed lots, and flavor factories to break down the unfortunate realities and human costs that go into the America's demands for quick culinary satisfaction. It turns out that the fast food giant that industrialized "the Happy Meal" is far from sunny. Schlosser writes, "The federal government has the legal authority to recall a defective toaster oven or stuffed animal—but still lacks the power to recall tons of contaminated, potentially lethal meat."
by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, journalist Michael Pollan deconstructs a meal on the table and literally traces it back to its roots. He grapples with the question "Where does our food come from?" by inserting himself into the frighteningly unnatural state of U.S. industrial farming, investigating the backbone of “organic” sustainability, and finally pulling on his hunting boots to shoot, gather and cook his own meal. Realizing what America eats can be queasy and shocking, but Pollan’s humorous narratives seamlessly propel the book from diseased industrial feedlots straight to the forest floor, which makes the truth a little easier to digest.
His quests to present the truth behind the American food industry makes him do things from purchasing a cow who will live and die in a CAFO to following its journey into becoming a standard McDonalds burger. In the process, he works on a grass farm, observes factory farms, and eventually comes to the conclusion that everything we eat, even the menu at mega-chain McDonalds, is corn-based. Pollan unravels the tight ropes on which the food industry is currently balancing, while tackling issues like obesity, food anxiety, oblivion and ethics along the way. The message is unsettling, suggesting that Americans have planted themselves to the point of detriment, ruining not only ourselves but also the very biology of animals that surround us, but hopeful in the sense that omnivores ultimately have the power to shape what to eat.
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
by Paul Greenberg
304 pages. Penguin. $10.88
While poultry and meat industries have been routinely blasted for their problems by various investigators, the fishing industry has had troubles of its own. In Four Fish, New York Times' seafood writer Paul Greenberg investigates the murky issues present in global fisheries—and the fact that the ocean's bounty has limits. The four fish that Greenberg focuses on are the world's dominant wild-caught and farmed fish: salmon, bass, tuna and cod. By weaving together narrative and research, Greenberg, a life-long fisherman, reveals how farming, biotechnology, and overfishing can ultimately destroy the ocean and its creatures, stressing the importance of sustainability.
The American Way of Eating
by Tracie McMillan
336 pages. $25. Scribner.
"What if you can't afford $9 tomatoes?" journalist Tracie McMillan asked herself before embarking on the research for the latest book, The American Way of Eating. McMillan takes the question beyond buzzwords like "organic" and "sustainable" and discovers exactly what it takes (and how much money you need) to eat well in America. She works, eats, and lives with the working poor for a year—in the fields of California, in a produce aisle of a Detroit Walmart, in the kitchen of a New York City Applebee's—and chronicles what it's like to try to eat well while earning minimum wage. She traces the story of food not only to its production, but to wages and work. The inevitable truth she uncovers? Everyone wants to eat good food.