Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation in 2001, four years after Matt and I moved to Nebraska to go to work on the family farm. I had heard of Mr. Schlosser because of his participation in the filming of the movie Food, Inc. but I had never read his book until a couple of weeks ago.
Sometimes the only way you can take a really good look at yourself is through somebody else’s eyes.
I read Fast Food Nation because a group of high school students from Omaha asked me to. They read the book as part of a class requirement and were looking for another point of view. The book focuses on food production practices and cultural eating changes relative to the growth of fast food restaurant chains. Beef production, in particular packing plants and feed yards, appear as a center stage topic.
I felt a myriad of emotions as I read Schlosser’s words. While I agreed with his desire to promote good health through a balanced diet and physical fitness, the beef industry that he described in the book was not the one that I participate in.
When I look out my window, I see something very different from what the author describes. I see my feed yard as a place of integrity, where cattle are well cared for and enabled to make safe and healthy beef. My husband and I also work hard to be environmental stewards using a combination of crop farm and cattle farm to create a sustainable and productive cycle.
While touring the major beef packing plants intermittently during my 16 years as a cattle farmer, I also saw something very different from what the author describes. I toured Swift (JBS) in 1998, Cargill in 2001, National Beef in 2012, and Tyson just two weeks ago. I believe that these packing plants are well run.
In fact, they are all audited on animal welfare, sanitation and food safety practices to ensure quality and professionalism. Most of them have Temple Grandin’s proposed camera surveillance system to ensure constant compliance in addition to third party auditing on animal welfare standards. Additionally, all of them have USDA and FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) inspectors in the plants anytime that they are operational to protect for food safety assurance.
As I think about the book, this quote from James Thurber keeps circulating through my head:
There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.
It is my hope that my Feed Yard Foodie blog is the light that illuminates—showing each of you how I raise cattle and grow the beef that you purchase to feed your families.
It is my opinion that Fast Food Nation is a glare created by a predisposed elitist— obscuring the U.S. beef production system in order to fit a desired hypothesis. No where in the book can I find a cattle farm like mine or a balanced description of a packing plant. For a more extensive book commentary and links to additional literature, please click fast-food-nation-thoughts-for-the-blog-with-links1
I would like to thank the three classes of students (along with their teacher) from Omaha for reaching out to me and inspiring me to read another point of view relative to the industry that I have grown to love. Looking through someone else’s eyes is a great intellectual exercise and allows me continual personal growth and improvement.
Interestingly enough, the students from Omaha decided that Mr. Schlosser would like my feed yard. They likened it to the In and Out Burger restaurants that the author endorsed at the end of the book.
What do you all think?