Food, Inc. and the Origins of Your Food: 3 Reasons to Remain Ignorant (Plus Free Movie Screenings)

By Elizabeth Lang on 14 July 2009 19 comments

Food, Inc., a movie detailing the origins and production of food, came to theaters last month and it's already ruffled some feathers in the food industry. (Pardon the poor pun.)  Several groups have put up websites combating "misinformation" in the movie.  (See, for example, Monsanto's "Facts" and GreenUpgrader's take on those facts.)

I haven't yet watched Food, Inc. (though I'm planning on seeing a free showing tonight, see details below), but a year ago I read In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto  by Michel Pollan.  Pollan examines what we eat and concludes that we should live by this mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Philip wrote a review of In Defense of Food previously. 

Even though I was already a healthy eater, In Defense of Food dramatically changed the way I eat -- and I highly recommend it for those interested in healthy eating and food production. For instance, up until last weekend when I binged on s'mores, you wouldn't have found any high fructose corn syrup in my house. (And no, the HFCS was not in the chocolate or marshmallows -- it was in the graham crackers.)

While I'm glad I've become more knowledgeable about food, in light of Food, Inc.'s release, I think it's worth examining the hidden costs of being an informed consumer.  [Of course, in spite of the downsides I list in this post, I strongly believe that the pros of being an informed consumer far outweigh the cons.]

Costs of Being an Informed Consumer, or Why Not to Learn about the Origins of Your Food

1.  Money. Once you learn where your food is coming from, you're likely to spend more money on it.  You'll look for organic produce for its environmental and health benefits.  I've never seen organic produce that's cheaper than conventional.  It may not be significantly more expensive, but organic produce will cost more. What's more, upon seeing graphic images and hearing stories of the animals' plights, you'll likely start buying free range meat and eggs -- again, more expensive than conventional products.  (However, in learning about the origins of your food you may decide to become vegetarian or vegan.  Doing so will arguably save you money.)

2.  Time.  Once you're knowledgeable about the origins of your food you're going to start reading labels.  If you haven't looked at a list of ingredients on your bread lately take a look today.  You'll be surprised at how many ingredients there are -- thus requiring a lot of time to read when you're perusing the grocery store aisles.   But what takes even more time than checking to see if high fructose corn syrup in your food?  Cooking healthy food.  Once you start learning about food production and stop buying pre-made items you'll spend far more hours in the kitchen.

3.  Guilt. The immeasurable cost of being informed is guilt.  If you learn about the origins of your food you may begin to feel guilty about biting into your hamburger, even if it is free range.  

While I am a huge advocate of eating "real food" -- we belong to an organic farm share CSA (community supported agriculture), shop at our local co-op, and limit our consumption of meat -- sometimes the old saying really is true.  Ignorance can be bliss.  

Free Showings of Food, Inc. 

As previously mentioned in Best Deals, Chipotle is sponsoring free showings of Food, Inc. in the next few weeks.  Check here for locations and times.

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Guest's picture

I understand completely the angle that you are taking with this article and of course, I understand that you are an advocate of being a responsible consumer. But just to engage an enticing topic, I will offer up a counter argument. If you have to sit there reading labels, put the food back. There aren't any labels in your produce aisle. Better yet, grow some of your own food. I live on a very tiny city plot. It literally takes me ten minutes to mow my front and back lawn with a push mower. Even at that, we still grow a number of herbs, tomatoes, peppers and zucchinis. It's also quite easy to make your own bread. In fact, just like in the Bhagavad Gita, I would argue making your own bread, growing your own food, is quite spiritual, can often be quite a bit cheaper...just a package of seeds, some water and some sweat equity. Replace your guilt with pride in your own creations.

Namaste ~

Guest's picture

Excellent point about the reading labels -- for me, I tend to get stuck on crackers. I love cheese and crackers and while I often intend to make my own, it always seems easier to buy them.

Guest's picture

I completely support buying organic food for environmental reasons, but except for chronically exposed field workers, data from the medical literature don't support harm to humans. It makes sense that pesticide-free food would be healthier, and maybe someone will convincingly show that soon, but it's likely an insidious effect or a quite marginal one. That said, it can't hurt.

Guest's picture

Very interesting and different perspective!

Guest's picture

Pay more now in getting healthy food, or pay higher health care costs later.

Guest's picture

Once you find out, you can't unring that bell.

Guest's picture

I have seen organic produce cheaper than conventional. Sometimes the avocados at my local market are priced that way. The non-certified organic produce from my garden is far cheaper than what I can buy at any store and much tastier too. No transportation costs either.

Also, the organic feed I purchase for my hens, produced locally, is cheaper than the pellets from the feed store that contain dog knows what and come from dog knows where.

I'm with Charley. If you have to scrutinize the label, put it back on the shelf.

Guest's picture
guy barbato

well... i have a very different perspective.

1st, i buy/consume local, because i like my $$ to stay local. not to finance folks in other places, but NOT because i have any illusions about differences in quality or nutritional value.

2. there is no difference in quality or nutritional value in the food. it IS true that it is easier to get plant-ripened fruits/veggies from local sources -- meaning that may be sweeter/tastier since they have more simple sugars (as opposed to complex carbohydrates); but, from a nutritional point of view -- no real difference (carbs is carbs....).

3. locally grown food is safer. uh. NO, not, necessarily. do you really think that 'organic' farmers sit outside with a shotgun to kill potato beetles, cutworms, aphids, ants, etc.etc.etc???
not even close. they use all sorts of alternatives to combat insects. the most popular is BT (a protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis); the identical protein that is in many GMO-crops. further, some chemicals/insecticides are approved for organic use.

4. if you think your backyard chickens are safer and healthier. guess again. i'll be you a dollar that they have coccidiosis (extremely common in home/fancy flocks). and i'll also bet that 8 of 10 small flock owners are inexperienced in treating it -- or, know that you can't eat the eggs if you do.

5. while i am no great defender of contemporary industrial agriculture -- they do get a lot of things right. there is oversight, and there is no other way to feed the huge population with reasonably priced food.

6. you pays you money and you makes you choice...
mike pollan has several things exactly right. eat less; eat more plants. humans have a huge capacity for excess (pun intended). control it. or ... not ... you can decide for yourself.

but, one system is not inherently better than the other. both have advantages and disadvantages.

balance, grasshopper.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Good one, Elizabeth. I'm scrolling up to check out the link to the free showings now. Thanks.

Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture

I agree with most of what you're saying -- except for that part about reintroducing HFCS into your home through graham crackers. There's a better way! Katie at Making This Home just posted a super easy recipe for graham crackers, so the next time a s'mores craving hits, try whipping these up.

Guest's picture

The environmental impact of eating high on the food chain can also not be ignored. We can lower our carbon footprint more effectively by giving up dairy, meat and eggs, or just having them occasionally as treats. Reducing our consumption and eating lower on the food chain is much more important than simply eating organic products from an animal source. Because even eating happy meat is a hugely inefficient way to get calories.

Guest's picture

As someone who has been forced, for current health reasons and to prevent future problems, to really monitor my food intake, I can somewhat understand your feelings.

It's like people who don't want to know the nutrition and calorie count for foods. It's way too scary and then they have to MAKE CHOICES! and be responsible!

Because that is what it comes down to.

Personally, I want to know as much as I can of accurate and timely information about what I eat. Does it make my life tougher? You bet. Just try finding stuff without HFCS and other awful stuff in ingredients. Even from "natural" and organic and "healthy" food makers.

I'd love to be able to never eat any processed food, but I'm not there yet and probably never will be. All I can do is really limit it and really check those labels.

I resent that we have lobbyists and industries really hiding information from us about our food. Because it affects our health and well-being.

There are millions who never want to know, about anything. That's not the answer in life. It's knowing. Making Choices. Acting on our knowledge.

I don't believe in putting your head in the sand just because you learn something that is unpleasant and doesn't make it easy to continue with your life as it was, before you knew.

Kudos for being honest. You're not alone with the "Ignorance is bliss" mantra. That's what's entirely wrong with our country as seen in finance, politics, etc.

The people who know and try to educate meet with a lot of grief. Unlike the cowards and thieves who want to keep us in the dark, most often for their direct profit.

By the way, I disagree. You don't necessarily need to spend more money (more like reallocating it. If you figure out how much you spend on junk food and unhealthy stuff and apply it, you'll eat less and eat better and often spend less overall. You'll also feel better and have more energy, which you can't buy.)

As for guilt, well, getting rid of it is simple: Act to the best of your ability on what you can do.

And FYI: not everyone feels any guilt once they "know better" about a lot of things. They just brush it off and pretend as if they didn't know. Again, why we have so many problems in the world today.

Everyone can make a difference and I look at any change you make based on new information to be a plus, to make you healthier.

Your choice.

Guest's picture
Audrae Erickson

High fructose corn syrup may have a complicated-sounding name, but it’s simply a kind of corn sugar that is nutritionally the same as table sugar.

High fructose corn syrup is not sweeter than sugar; and high fructose corn syrup, sugar and honey all contain the same number of calories (four calories per gram).

High fructose corn syrup is used in the food supply because of its many functional benefits. For example, it keeps food fresh, retains moisture in bran cereals, and helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist.

According to the American Dietetic Association, “High fructose corn syrup may be used as a sweetener in processed foods and beverages and is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Both sweeteners contain the same number of calories (4 per gram) and consist of about equal parts of fructose and glucose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

Like table sugar and honey, high fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives.

Consumers can see the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at

Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association

Guest's picture
Peter T

The problem is not HFCS but adding sweeteners to all kinds of different food to outsmart the brain's inherent barriers against overeating. Try to find cereal without added sweetener.

Guest's picture

Research how your body absorbs this stuff people!
It's not just carbs & calories... it's how the chemicals affect your organs & how those oragsn do their job. Some chemicals stay with you for life and can build up.

HFS is not just like table sugar - you body recognizes & processes it differently.
Corn syrup has been singled out by many health experts as one of the chief reasons of rising obesity, because corn syrup does not turn off appetite. Since the advent of corn syrup, consumption of all sweeteners has soared, as have people's weights. According to a 2004 study reported in the American journal of Clinical Nutrition, the rise of Type-2 diabetes since 1980 has closely paralleled the increased use of sweeteners, particularly corn syrup.
Since the fructose in corn syrup does neither stimulate insulin secretion nor reduce the hunger hormone ghrelin, you will continue to feel hungry while the body converts that fructose into fat. The resulting obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic sydrome and such.
""Fructose also increases blood levels of triglycerides, the "bad" low-density lipoprotein form of cholesterol, and the "very bad" very-low-density lipoprotein form of cholesterol. Furthermore, it raises blood pressure, which is associated with overweight and diabetes.""(from "Stop Prediabetes Now: The Ultimate Plan to Lose Weight and Prevent Diabetes" by Jack Challem)

And any person with a corn allergy would definitely disagree with the rest of Ms. Erikson's statement. I've had 3 different medical issues finally completely go away since clearing HFC from my house a year & a half ago. And it's used in the food supply because it's cheap - not because it does X,Y and Z.

There are other sweeteners that do the same thing as HFS -although I question if it's really needed to use a sweetener in everything all the time since regular overuse could cause the pancreas to possibly pitter out and it wouldn't be able to clean your blood as well.

Good luck to you if you choose to only count calories and carbs.

And yes, on the chicken thing - when i used to show chickens in 4H the extension office would send a guy out & test all the chickens for that disease and a couple others. I don't recall anyone ever having a bird test positive so I don't know how it was handled if that occurred.

Guest's picture

In regards to the comments of raising backyard chickens - Raising backyard chickens is a great and economical way to suppy your family with fresh, healthy chicken eggs. It doesn't take much space or money to raise chickens successfully, and they can start laying at as young of an age as 4-5 months laying one egg a day. That's a lot of eggs!

Also, coccidiosis is not "common" among backyard flocks. Many backyard chicks are vaccinated against coccidiosis from birth, as its often fatal to chicks.

Backyard chickens are safe and their eggs are healthy. Did you know that a lot of commercial, battery-cage eggs can be a MONTH or even TWO MONTHS old when you get them? Fresh eggs are so much better. I highly encourage everyone to investigate the issue themselves. You will be surprised to find that many people raise chickens easily in their city backyard. It's not hard, and its a great way to save money.

Guest's picture

A very good point from Guy Barbato about the various pros and cons of organic growing and small flocks.

That sort of critical view is very useful, as I think it's important to look carefully at all sides of the equation when making choices. When we get our chickens, I'll be sure to get expert advice on health issues.

I spoke to a stonefruit grower who said that there were big problems with certain fungal infestations that apricots get, and there was no organic method of treatment. The chemical method was effective and safe, but rendered the produce uncertifiable. It's unfortunate that when dealing with a large scale, things like a grower doing their best to minimise chemical use can't be taken on trust, so the 'next best' route isn't workable.

I'm never keen on legislation that puts blanket bans on things or limits choice in any way. What I love is this trend for us to become informed consumers, and laws that force manufacturers to say exactly what is in their products.

Can't wait to see the movie!

Guest's picture

In Ayurveda (a sister science to Yoga), it is understood that there are three types of food:

* Intelligent
* Dumb
* Dead

Which kind are you eating? Intelligent food is fresh, organic and local. It is prepared using slow cooking methods (fire, gas cooking). It is the best kind to build the best tissues of the body.

Dumb food is highly processed, microwaved, leftover foods or foods cooked under high heat. Microwaved foods actually kill the life force or prana in foods. Prana is what makes us alive. So people who eat this type of food feel lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, have an irratic lifestyle, to name a few.

Dead food is even worse and contains highly processed substances that we typically think of as quasi-food (junk foods fall into this category) and is devoid of nutrients that your body can actually digest, assimilate and use.

Guest's picture

I am watching this movie at school for a project that I have to do. I've heard that some kids became vegan after watching the movie. Sure, its kind of disturbing knowing where your food comes from, put the truth of it is, you can't really do anything to stop it. If you stop eating meat because you feel guilty of what they do to the animals, then you aren't exactly helping them. The animals will live the same life they were living before you found out the truth. You are only one in a million people.
So I can't really say much about the guilt part of the article. I find that it makes me feel better when I think about how insignificant my food consumption is, and it might make other people feel the same way too. I don't know, but what I do know is that it works for me.