Friday, October 8, 2010

The Case Against Tyson

This post is not about nutrition. There will be no science; no expert testimony; no film footage; no first hand experience. This post is about philosophy. Its major point is to demonstrate, philosophically, how one may find fault, at the very least suspicion, in the conglomerate food producer. Its secondary point is to demonstrate how, simply using the tool of philosophy one can decide what to do about a particular subject when facts are not easily come by.

Have you had your Tyson today? The pastoral scenes painted on the sides of large refridgerated trucks; the smiling children on a picnic with the perfect smiling family; the big red barns and flowing green fields. The images are attractive; the tag line "Have you had your Tyson today?" says volumes when coupled with these images. Tyson claims to have natural chicken, beef, and pork. Furthermore, they claim that the nutrition packed into their hunks of meat are necessary if you want your lawn to be well manicured. One commercial implies that there is no way a homeowner can keep his property pristine without a daily dose of "his" Tyson.

And just as I have offered no nutritional values or science to debunk Tyson's claim to providing nutritious products; Tyson has not provided the science or nutritional information to back up their claim (the nutritional information on their packaging notwithstanding).

But Tyson is not the only mega-conglomerate appealing to our "idea" of natural foods and what they should be. One company provides 100% organic syrup at a well known national whole foods chain. Look at the bottle of syrup on the shelf amidst the dozens of others and you see in big artsy letters "Maple Tree Farms" (or some such appellation) emblazoned above a quaint picture of a big red New England style barn atop a rolling hill of green pasture. Below the picture one sees in large type: "100% Organic". We picked up the bottle and contrary to our normal routine did NOT look at the ingredients on the back of the label. These ingredients, by the way, are in sub-8 font and barely legible. Before heading down the aisle to our next stop, we remembered our oath to read labels, picked the bottle of what we believed was 100% Organic Maple Syrup from Maple Tree Farms, and read the lable: two ingredients - 100% Organic CORN SYRUP, Maple Flavoring. See how they play on our senses, our inattention, our imagination? Our brains, in this case, said "We need Maple Syrup." Our eyes saw "MAPLE Tree Farms and 100% Organic". Our brains said "We've got other things to get here so let's move on." Our bodies put the pseudo-Maple Syrup in the cart. Not fair is it?

Up to now I've talked about the marketing philosophy of these corporations and the grocers that supply the products. To sum up - no matter how many times they say it, or show it in pictures - they do NOT have your best interest in mind. Their only goal (or I should say primary goal) is to get your money out of your pocket and their products into your basket as cheaply as they can for them and as expensively as they can for you. That's called profit, capitalism, or the ever present "what the market will bear." But I need to move on to something a little less black and white but , I think nevertheless, just as important.

This product you are buying to feed yourself: how was it produced? Whether plant or animal or mineral - where did it come from? Did the animal suffer? What is the impact on the environment? The people that work in your mega conglomerate to bring this product to the grocers - how are they treated?

This is where the philosophical differences between the mass-producer and the local farm, in my opinion, really challenge us.

Watch almost any documentary on our food system - I think Food Inc. is the best - or read any book concerning our food like Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" or "In Defense of Food" and there is a striking contrast between the small producers and the mega-corps. The small producers are the ones opening their farms to tours; they are the ones talking to the media, writing books, publishing pictures in magazines. The Mega-Corps are silent. They refuse cameras, interviews, answer no questions, and simply go silently on with their pastoral propaganda. My guess is, the mega producers know that should the consumer see and smell the production process, it would perhaps prevent many of us from buying their products.

This is our biggest clue to what is going on all along the assembly lines in these mass food producers and, in my opinion, if they are unwilling to open their doors and let us see how they are handling the products, the animals, what they do with the waste, how they treat their employees, then we should be unwilling to buy from them.

I've never been inside a Tyson plant. I've seen footage of the assembly line in one, or another plant like it. But even those images don't tell the whole story I am sure. We made a stop for gas in Clarksville Arkansas a couple of years ago. While pulling up to the pump at the EH-HEM MART we noticed a smell that reminded us of old coffee or skunk (they do smell similar). When we got out of the truck the smell hit us like a brick wall. The air was thick with the smell of roadkill, rotting flesh. As we gagged and heaved about getting the gas in the tank we looked around desperately to see if we could tell where the odor was coming from. We had to go inside the store to pick up some things for the remainder of our trip so in we went. The entire EH-HEM MART reeked of rotting flesh. We held our breath as long as we could, breathed through our mouth when we had to, and hurried out of there. There was something else odd about that whole visit. We were the only ones, gagging, choking, wheezing, and wondering. Everyone else in the store walked and shopped, spent, and worked normally, as if nothing was wrong. I know now that they had simply adapted. It was common enough an occurrence that it was a part of life. It was normal. It was okay. We did not find out what caused the smell until we pulled back onto I40 and headed east towards home.

Next door to the EH-HEM MART was a processing plant proudly displaying a familiar reddish-orange and yellow logo.

I know there would be a lot of people out of work if Tyson shut down operations, but I firmly believe that the best thing for Arkansas, if Tyson doesn't open its doors and do things the right, humane, and clean way, would be for them to shut their doors for good...this then is topic enough for a different discussion.

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