Transparency in Food Supply-Systems: Why it doesn’t already exist, and why it’s vital that it should.
“A true free market assumes equal access to information. We are far from it when it comes to our food.” — Michele Simon
Who played left-field for the losing team in the 1958 World Series of Baseball?
Which teams played in that game?
Where was it played?
I have no idea. But I can find out.
Hang on… the ’58 series went 7 games between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees. The Yanks won after going down 3–1 in games. The fateful 7th game was played at Milwaukee County Stadium, in Wisconsin. Harry Hanebrink played left-field for the losing Braves. This information took me about 4 minutes to find: 0.38 seconds for Google to compile a list of informative websites, and 3.62 minutes for me to read and digest the information I needed. With the information I was looking for, I also found batting averages for both teams, full rosters, trade information and a wealth of other, utterly useless, facts about both teams.
Why did I waste your time with that information? (I assure you, knowing trivial information as such is a waste of memory, unless we’re talking Jeopardy. We’re not.) Here are three more questions that will hopefully make my point clear. Remember your lunch:
- What was the name of the farmer who grew the veggies you ate?
- What was the name of the farmer who raised the cattle, pigs, or chicken?
- Who baked the bread?
You probably don’t know, and as of right now, there’s no way for you to find out.
Is it not disturbing that you now know the name of a dead, mediocre, baseball player, but you will never know the origin of the food on your plate?
Even more disturbing is the fact that more people who read this will get mad because I called Harry Hanebrick mediocre, than will get mad because they don’t know the origin of the very item required for them to live.
This article is encouraging the reader to take a step back, and look at the possibility of transparency in food-supply chains as a whole. We’re not anti-technology. In fact, we’re a food-technology company. However, our goal isn’t to decide the processes through which your food goes before you eat it. Our goal is to give you the same level of access to crucial information about your food as you have for trivial matters.
What happens when the consumer is given full-transparency access to the food-supply chains that feed them? According to The Scientific American:
“[b]y 1999, to avoid labels that might drive customers away, most major European retailers had removed genetically modified ingredients from products bearing their brand. Major food producers such as Nestlé followed suit. Today it is virtually impossible to find GMOs in European supermarkets.”
That quote is from an article, the purpose of which is to convince you food-supply transparency is bad. And the article is right. Food-supply transparency is really bad — for Monsanto, Nestle, BPI, McDonalds and their ilk. In fact, food-system transparency is so bad for those companies that they’re willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to impede the movement towards such transparency. Check out this link to read more about the lengths opponents of food-system transparency will go to keep their processes hidden.
As a consumer, you cannot make an informed decision regarding your food intake within the food system that exists today.
Evidence of the impossibility to make better food choices is all around us: “If obesity trends continue, more than 60 percent of adults in 13 states would be obese. More than half of adults in 39 states would be obese and more than 44 percent would be obese in all states; The National Institutes of Health said life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as five years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity; Millennials are finding themselves in food deserts, an urban neighbourhood, small town or rural area without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food (Source). The epidemic proportions of the obesity crisis cannot be attributed to genetic factors alone. The appearance and expansion of food deserts, in which the only affordable option for food is nutrient-bereft, fat-laden factory food must certainly have an impact.
I’ve worked in the food-service industry since I was 18. From salad guy to chef, the one thing that has remained constant in my career has been the maxim “the customer is always right.” Regarding the question of food-system transparency, the customer is practically begging for access to the information held by those that grow, raise, or process their food. Yet those that hold that information are saying outright, “no customer, you are wrong. You do not need that information. Just close your eyes, open your mouth, and trust us.” As a chef, I know exactly what would happen to my customers if I treated them with the same disdain: they would disappear, and so would the restaurant.
So why is there such a drive to keep food-supply chains hidden?
Look back to the first quote in this article, the one from Scientific American: when people know their food-supply chain, they vote with their dollar, and they will vote against factory-produced, chemically-ripened, unsustainable food. Those 3 qualifiers describe the state of the modern food-supply chain, and that chain is breaking.
If, when you sat down to your lunch today, you could have recognised that the chicken you were about to eat was mechanically slaughtered in North Carolina, flash frozen whole, then shipped (by boat) to Thailand where it was thawed, mechanically processed into various forms, re-frozen, then shipped back to a North American distributor (again by boat), passing through hundreds of hands and thousands of kilometers — not to mention contacting an actually unknowable amount of pathogens — would you have eaten it with such relish? Would you, after eating, be even a little confused as to why your lunch isn’t sitting right in your belly? Nope, because you’re the consumer, and you wouldn’t willingly purchase food that actively makes you ill.
One or two things will happen before total food-system transparency:
- GMO and Factory-produced foods will spend a ton of money on re-branding themselves. Watch for new “friendlier” descriptors for GMO/Factory-foods in the near future — maybe these foods will no longer be raised or grown, but only Assembled (as in Assembled in America: slang for wasteful automotive production systems for decades).
- Businesses dedicated to food transparency will start cropping up to fight the current system of blind-testing food-supply chains on unsuspecting consumers. We’re one of those companies, and though we’re small as of yet, we know we have you — the consumer — on our side.
Given the speed of technology, there can be no doubt that food-supply chains will have to become as transparent and accessible as baseball statistics. The only reason we don’t yet have a completely transparent system is the money currently being spent on keeping the near constant failure of current food supply chains a secret. How, as a consumer, can you make educated choices about your food-spend when all of the money and lobbyists in the world are fighting to keep you in the dark? By supporting business that source their food products through a company like ours. Local Line: be a wise customer. By supporting locally sourced, sustainable, transparent food-supply chains, you can in fact always be right.