You’ve heard of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Big Oil, but what about Big Food? It’s not a term you hear every day, but it’s an essential concept to understand when it comes to feeding your family.
Big Food exists in all first-world countries. When you visit a supermarket, you see lots of brand names on boxes, cans, and packages. What you might not realize is that these brands often fall under huge companies’ umbrellas.
For instance, did you know that Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, and Ball Park Franks are all owned by Tyson Foods, Inc.? Tyson proves second only to PepsiCo in food distribution and sales.
But what is Big Food? And why should you care about the Big Food complex? Let’s explore the topic in more depth and come up with ways to ensure you aren’t falling prey to deceptive advertising and pretty packaging.
What Is Big Food?
Big Food is the name given by the media to an industry in which a few huge companies dominate the production and sale of food and drink to consumers. While smaller brands certainly exist, they often fail due to diminishing market share.
Food shouldn’t be industrialized and commercialized until it lacks meaning. Many of us have forgotten why we eat food, what food does for — or to — our bodies, and why we eat the foods that dominate our fridges and pantries.
What is the largest food company in the world? It’s Nestle, a Swiss company known for producing candy and cookies, but which also manufactures lots of other food products.
Tyson, PepsiCo, Nestle, and a few other huge conglomerates have convinced us that we need their products to survive. That’s far from the case.
It’s no surprise that many Big Food companies focus on animal products. Tyson alone, for instance, “processes” more than 40 million chickens per week, and they’re known for their poultry and pork products.
But why does Big Food exist? And why is it a problem?
Commercial Farming Resources
Factory farming requires a significant amount of capital. Farmers have to purchase land, equipment, animals, feed, water, and other assets to even become competitive.
Larger companies, such as Tyson, have more resources and can therefore afford more assets. They become the dominant food manufacturer because others can’t compete.
This goes for both animal and plant farming.
The difference, though, is in the impact. As mentioned above, Tyson kills billions of chickens every year so they can be packaged and sold to consumers. We don’t consume every part of the chicken, which leads to considerable waste. Compare that to vegetables and fruits to understand the differences in how Big Food impacts different sectors.
Commercial farms take up land we could use for housing, reforestation, and enabling the natural lives of animals indigenous to various parts of the world. Furthermore, much of the grain production goes toward feeding the animals who are eventually slaughtered rather than into vegetarian and vegan products that humans could consume.
Factory Farming Efficiency
When it comes to most business models, efficiency is a good thing. Factory farming efficiency, however, results in the pain, degradation, and slaughter of millions of animals.
Chickens, cows, hogs, turkeys, and other sentient creatures come into this world with no purpose other than to die — often brutally. As factory farming becomes more efficient, more animals are killed within shorter time periods.
This often leads to animals being boiled alive or suffocated under the weight of their brethren. No animal deserves to be treated so cruelly, yet that’s how these companies make their impressive profits.
Those who side with the factory farmers cite old statistics about the human need for meat products or explain that the meat industry produces jobs, government revenue, and GDP.
However, despite those ancillary benefits, animals still suffer.
Unidentified Origins of Food on the Table
One of the main problems that Big Food faces is the inability to connect people to the items they serve their families. If you buy a package of frozen chicken nuggets at the grocery store, you don’t know where the chicken came from, how it was treated, whether it had illnesses, or how it died.
Now, as more consumers become food aware and start asking questions of the meat industry, Big Food is scrambling to provide satisfactory answers. Often, that comes in the form of vague claims and unkept promises.
For instance, consumers often don’t know what the word “organic” means on a food label. The USDA has created organic labeling guidelines, but they still allow certain products to slip through the cracks. A company might make an inorganic product made from a few organic ingredients. Just seeing the word “organic” on the packaging might lead consumers to buy the product.
One of the ways in which Big Food is combatting the questions and assertions from inquisitive consumers is by concentrating more heavily on food aesthetics.
What is the definition of food aesthetics? The way people are drawn to food based on how the food or meal looks. In other words, consumers make decisions about foods before even tasting them.
One aspect of food aesthetics is particularly grim. When you see a cut of steak, chicken, or other meat at the supermarket, what you see doesn’t in any way resemble a bull or bird. That’s intentional. Neither will you see images of a live animal on the packaging.
Big Food wants to separate what people eat from the food’s origins. That way, we don’t question as many aspects of our food choices. We feel better about purchasing a product that might stem from animal abuse.
What Makes Big Food Dangerous?
Big Food is dangerous because it has a lot of power. These companies make millions of dollars from their often processed food products, and consumers don’t think twice about ringing them up at the closest big box store.
Companies don’t want people to think too hard about what they buy. They thrive on impulse purchases and ingrained habits.
Think about the foods you eat today that are the same as the ones your parents or grandparents cooked. Emotion exists around food — hence the term “comfort food” — and it’s hard to change how we eat.
Big Food capitalizes on these aspects of human nature to profit more — and to treat animals even more poorly.
When something as simple and essential as food boils down to what shareholders tell a company they want, something is wrong. Public companies — the largest food manufacturers — must answer to the people who own tiny pieces of the corporate pie.
This creates an imbalance between what’s good for a population of people and what’s good for shareholders.
Profit Over Health
Speaking of shareholders, the most important thing to any company is profits. These corporations want to maximize their revenue in any way they can, which often means cutting corners at the factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Poor Big Food Policy Governance
Unfortunately, we don’t have much in the way of regulation when it comes to Big Food and animal rights. The USDA is an extremely overburdened agency, tasked with overseeing some of the largest sectors in the economy, and even enforcing the existing laws sometimes proves too big a challenge.
Ingredients Sourced in Unhealthy Ways
Factory farms and slaughterhouses are rife with bacteria and other germs. Animals stand in their own filth, suffer from untreated disease, and pass diseases easily due to close quarters and continuous confinement. Those diseases can easily wind up on your plate.
Animal Suffering for Human Consumption
For people to eat animals at scale, which is the current situation, Big Food forces animals to live in squalid conditions that result in severe injury, debilitating disease, no social outlet, no fresh air, and other depravities. Such conditions for sentient animals aren’t necessary for humans to meet their dietary needs.
Big Food thrives on exporting its products to other countries. Livestock and meats are among the top agricultural exports from the United States, according to the USDA, with beef alone accounting for $7.3 billion in revenue. Pork follows up closely at $6.5 billion.
It’s bad enough that we’re using resources in the United States to ship meat overseas for huge profits, but it’s even worse that we’re exporting livestock. These animals don’t understand transportation and become stressed on the trip.
Beef and Veal Agricultural Exports on the Rise
As of March 2018, the international demand for beef and veal has driven the prices even higher as the U.S. ships its meat to other countries. The beef exports increased by 12 percent from 2016 to 2017 when measured by the pound. The United States ships the majority of its beef to countries like Japan, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, and others.
What does this means for cows and calves? More slaughter.
Competition Is Rising for Big Food
The good news is that Big Food faces many competitors. Though they’re small, for the most part, they’re steadily growing and acquiring louder voices as ambassadors. As more people become cognizant of the food they’re eating, more people will put Big Food products back on the shelves.
Most people would rather eat produce from a sustainable farm where harsh chemicals and radiation aren’t on the menu. Sustainable farming initiatives are often co-ops or privately owned, which means that the owners remain in control of product quality.
Additionally, smaller farms have large local followings. By supporting local businesses, no matter where in the world you live, you can improve your family’s health while helping locals’ businesses thrive.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
Additionally, more people continue to switch to vegan and vegetarian diets. By avoiding meat and, in the case of vegans, animal by-products, people can avoid the health risks associated with eating beef, pork, poultry, and other products.
Additionally, vegans and vegetarians send a strong message to Big Food: “We care about what we put in our bodies, and we don’t want animals to suffer for it.”
Big Food doesn’t care about how many animals suffer in service of profits. It cares about maximizing revenue so it can pay out big dividends to shareholders.
Sourcing Local Produce
As mentioned above, many sustainable farming initiatives thrive specifically because of local patronage. They don’t have the infrastructure available to Big Food, so they rely on people who physically come to their farms and buy produce.
Sourcing local produce isn’t just good for your health. It also takes dollars out of Big Food’s pockets. Instead of settling for produce that has been genetically modified beyond recognition and sprayed with unknown chemicals, you can get delicious produce from someone who lives in your community.
The Battle Against Unhealthy Ingredients
Animals in factory farms are often injected with hormones and other chemicals to improve the output of meat. After all, a cow who weighs 400 pounds is more valuable to Big Food than one who weighs 300 pounds. Consequently, these animals become unhealthy, lame, and despondent.
Furthermore, the products you find on your store shelves are optimized for taste. They include ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, added salt, and MSG. For food aesthetics, they’re unnaturally dyed and packaged with images that don’t match the product’s contents.
People have become aware of these commercial tricks and don’t want any part of it. Although humans still struggle with healthy diets, they’re more aware of the dangers of unhealthy ingredients, particularly for their children. That’s another strike in the Big Food checklist.
Scale and Supply Less of a Factor
The Internet has made it easier for smaller food companies to scale. They can reach larger audiences, tell stories, find influencers, and get their names out beyond their communities. This is great news for ethical farmers who want to grow.
Those farmers who don’t raise animals for slaughter, but instead grow healthy plants, can increase their profits by relying on third-party infrastructures for shipping and distribution.
Plant-Based Meat Substitutes as Competition
We now have plant-based meat substitutes for people who want to go vegan or vegetarian, but still want the taste of meat on their tongues. Even though frozen and processed foods made by companies like Boca and Morningstar are still unhealthy, they don’t contain any actual meat.
Even more exciting is the potential for clean meat on supermarket shelves. This product doesn’t require any animal suffering or death, and is a lab-grown product that promises to taste like “real” meat without the cruelty. Developments like these make preventing animal abuse far easier.
How People Around the World Eschew Big Food
Many countries have adopted vegetarian and vegan diets and opt for food that comes from gardens and small farms rather than Big Food. We know that India is the most vegetarian country in the world, with 38 percent of its population avoiding meat.
Countries whose populations observe religions like Buddhism and Jainism respect animals and avoid eating them for that reason alone. They believe that all animals have a purpose and a right to live in peace.
Additionally, people in many countries value food too much to buy processed foods. In countries like Mexico and Columbia, for instance, meal times are considered sacrosanct. The entire family gathers to talk, share food and drink, and celebrate one another. They use whole ingredients to prepare epic feasts on holidays as well as on regular days.
What Can You Do to Keep Your Family Healthy?
If you’re concerned about Big Food and its influence on your health, you’re not alone. People all over the world worry about what they’re putting in their bodies, serving to their kids, and overlooking as a potentially dangerous food choice.
So, how do you keep your family health in a Big Food world?
Switch to a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet
One of the best things you can do is adopt veganism or vegetarianism. By avoiding meat and animal by-products, you turn instead to whole plant-based foods that give your body more nourishment and reduce your risk for many diseases, from heart disease to diabetes.
Buy Fresh Produce From Local Sources
Visit your local farmer’s market, find local farmers in your area, and steer clear of processed foods. Not only will you get healthier foods for your family, but you’ll support your community with dollars that would otherwise make it to Big Food conglomerates.
Read Labels on Supermarket Products
Don’t just grab packages off the supermarket shelves. Examine their ingredients list carefully. If you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, grab your phone and Google it. The more you know about what you put in your basket, the better.
Discover the Wealth of Whole Foods
Start with a simple challenge. Try one new whole food every week. It could be a fruit, vegetable, legume, nut, seed, or other plant-based food. Ask your family members whether they like it. If you get approval, add that food to your regular menu planning.
Understand Big Food’s Role in Animal Suffering
Big Food isn’t single-handedly responsible for animal cruelty, but it’s close. Big Food “processes” the most meat in the world, so it’s responsible for ending the lives of millions of animals every year.
If you’re aware of how Big Food treats our fellow animals, you can make more heart-centered decisions about your diet. Those decisions will ultimately benefit the environment and your health, as well.
Big Food isn’t some monster the media made up to scare consumers. It’s the real deal. When certain companies have near-monopolies on portions of a sector, they have more power than they should.
You can help stop the cycle of animal abuse and unhealthy foods on our dinner plates.
Big Food operates many dairy farming operations as well as beef, poultry, and hog farms. They destroy animals without remorse, use heinous methods to breed and raise animals, and contribute to pollution on an epic scale.
Are you concerned about Big Food’s influence on your diet? What do you plan to do about it?