The Kellogg’s corporation – in discovering how to transform cheap nutrient-poor food into billions in profits – deserve all the credit for launching the processed food revolution.
Dr John Havery Kellogg, a teetotal, vegetarian and Seventh Day Adventist, was the original inventor of a dry tasteless corn cereal he fed patients in his Battle Creek Michigan sanatorium. He opposed his entrepreneur brother’s plan to add sugar to the cornflakes, so W.K. launched Kellogg’s Corporation on his own in 1908. His decision to advertise his product in the Ladies Home Journal instantly transformed Kellogg’s into a global brand.
What W.K. Kellogg did, in essence, was to strip all the nutrition and fiber out of 75 cents worth of corn and sell it for $12. However what he was really selling the public was a lifestyle – by convincing them they didn’t have time to prepare and eat a cooked breakfast.
The advent of TV advertising after World War II would guarantee that empty calorie prepared breakfast cereal would replace bacon and eggs in the vast majority of US and British homes.
In 1968, a congressional committee chaired by for senator and presidential candidate George McGovern would draw international attention to the adverse effects of feeding children high sugar nutrition-poor breakfasts. The resulting corporate backlash from the hippy subculture would lead to the emergence of “granola,” “muesli,” and other cold “health food” breakfasts. Kellogg’s and its competitors would respond by reducing the sugar content of their breakfast food and spraying them with vitamins and minerals.
In 2006, Britain passed a law banning ads for convenience foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat during children’s programming. Kellogg’s responded by introducing breakfast cereals that were higher in fiber and and whole grains.
Food Inc is a 2008 classic only recently available for free on-line screening. Featuring investigative journalist Eric Schlosser and food activist Michael Pollan, it’s the first and (in my view) the best expose of factory farming.
This film mainly focuses on the deplorable disease-inducing conditions of battery chicken houses and industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses. However it also draws attention to the current epidemic of food borne illness, diabetes and heart disease; the corporate capture of regulatory agencies meant to protect us; the federal subsidies that make junk food cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables; Monsanto’s vicious treatment of farmers who choose not to grow GMO crops and the food disparagement and anti-labeling laws meant to keep consumer sin the dark about where their food comes from.
Most importantly this documentary questions whether the “cheap” food produced by industrial farming is really so cheap when you add in the health costs (especially of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease)
The cinematography captures horrific scenes of factory chicken houses where chickens live on top of each other in total darkness and feed lots in which cows spend their whole life knee-deep in manure. The latter cakes their hides and inevitably contaminates carcasses at the slaughterhouse.
The films draws interesting parallels between the abysmal treatment of animals and workers in the industrial food chain. Food executives argue that animal suffering is inconsequential because they’ll all be dead soon. They also regard immigrant workers as expendable because there are so many of them.
The filmmakers catch meat processors deliberately recruiting illegal laborers in Mexican villages devastated by the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Employers are never prosecuted for these activities. Only immigrant workers are targeted.