Alex Halberstadt's article from the New York Times, published August 17, 2016, discusses a well-known snack: Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles. Much like the February 2013 NYT article "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" by Michael Moss, Halberstadt's article discusses how foods are scientifically engineered to be delicious and irresistible to the human mouth. Halberstadt focuses in particular to how amazing he finds Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles: their thickness is perfect, they are not greasy, their flavor is "high-amplitude", and they act like "actual food" in that they "bring on the feeling of satiety gradually." This last point, which Halberstadt calls sessionability, is also discussed by Moss and both authors emphasize that this effect makes people feel less guilty about eating the food, leading consumer to eat (and thus, buy) more of the food in. Both articles talk about how chips in particular are designed by scientists (or "flavorists", as Halberstadt dubs them) to have "mouth feel" that is very pleasing to consumers. But there is also a drawback to the near-perfect Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffle (and other engineered food products): they are far from natural. Even spokespeople and higher-ups of food companies often do not know how their products are made. For example, when Halberstadt emailed a Frito-Lay spokesman, he received very vague answers of the processes behind the Cheddar and Sour Cream chips, and the answer for where the chips were produced was a simple "produced in Frito-Lay facilities across the country." Moss also received similar answers when he asked similar questions. Moss and Halberstadt in their respective articles and Melanie Warner in her book Pandora's Lunchbox discuss how even simple-seeming foods contain a vast number of ingredients, added during the manufacturing process to create a perfect product. These ingredients are synthetic chemicals called additives, and they serve a variety of purposes. In Pandora's Lunchbox, Warner states "Besides improving texture and making food last longer than it has any right to, food additives help make food taste good, either by adding desirable flavors or masking those that might otherwise send us reeling in disgust" (99). She also goes on to say that additives can be used to color food. So perhaps the reason Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles are so vibrantly orange is due to some synthetic chemical(s), not due to some natural, simple ingredient. But that is what the food industry does - engineers foods that seem simple to the consumer but in actuality are complex scientific creations.
This Huffington Post article, written by Joseph Erbentraut on April 27, 2016, discusses the plight of migrant farm workers and the monumental steps some have taken to ensure better treatment. Migrant farmers, a majority of whom are from Mexico, are responsible for the harvesting and packing of much of the produce seen in stores and restaurants. They often work in harsh conditions, laboring for forty or more hours a week. Tracie McMillan, a reporter who worked undercover as a migrant worker in California, says in her book The American Way of Eating, “Under federal labor laws, I have no right to days off; I have no right to overtime pay; I have no right to collective bargaining” (27). But despite this, migrant workers often do not have health insurance and make very little money: between $12,500 and $14,999 annually. Until recently, many of these workers did not resist their exploitation out of fear of losing their job or home or even violence being used against them. But now, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, made up of tomato pickers, has fought for better economic and working conditions. This group created the Fair Food Program which lists requirements such as “a zero-tolerance policy on forced labor, child labor, violence and sexual assault, required access to the education sessions led by CIW organizers so that workers can better understand their rights.” The CIW has made agreements with many food retailers that makes it so they only work with tomato suppliers that comply with these requirements. Among the food retailers with which the CIW has made agreements are McDonald’s, Walmart, Subway, and Whole Foods, but Publix, Kroger, and Wendy’s have refused to join. The group has been very successful, with a majority of tomato farms in Florida as well as some in other states following the Fair Food Program’s requirements. In addition, workers at the complying farms now have an annual income of $17,000. The success of the CIW has led to farmers in other industries following suit. Erbentraut states, “Beginning this growing season, bell pepper and strawberry growers in Florida are adapting the CIW’s model, as are dairy workers in Vermont.” But in order to improve the lives of migrant farm workers across the board, consumers need to help. There are two factors that make this difficult: consumers worry about price increases and consumers not realizing the extent to which migrant farmers play a role in farming. Consumers, when they imagine farms, think of white farmers on modernized farms instead of migrant workers, so changing Americans’ perceptions of farmers could be difficult. But it might not be as difficult to show consumers that better conditions for migrant workers will only amount to a few dollars more in annual spending on produce per person. McMillan writes, “[I]ncreasing farm wages by 40 percent would increase the average American family’s produce bill by about sixteen dollars a year” (29). This is an insignificant consequence when compared to the immense benefits migrant farmers will receive from reforms.
This February 19, 2016 article from NPR, authored by reporter Tracie McMillan, discusses positive changes within a Michigan food desert: Flint, Michigan. The poorer neighborhoods of Flint now have more access to Flint Farmers’ Market since it moved location, closer to public transportation. Due to this change, more low-income people shop at the market. In fact, the article says that “10 percent of the shoppers came from the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, but by 2015 it was up to 20 percent.” Food deserts, as described in Julie Guthman’s article “Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice”, are “urban environments where few, if any, venues provide an array of healthful fruits, vegetables, meats, and gain products, but instead sell snack foods and highly processed ready-to-eat meals” (432). This farmers’ market, however, provides fresh, locally grown produce and healthy food options where there were none before in this food desert. Many poor people who previously had little access to food (due mainly to the fact of three crucial grocers shutting down) now utilize the market for general grocery shopping. And they are encouraged to by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); indeed, there has been a dramatic increase in SNAP’s Double Up Food Bucks program at the Flint Farmers’ Market. Despite farmers’ markets being associated with a place for mainly white, affluent people to shop, many of the customers at the Flint market are poor and live in poverty and are able to afford going to a farmers’ market due to the use of programs like Double Up Food Bucks and food stamps. This is echoed by Tracie McMillan’s article titled “Do Poor People Eat Badly Because of Food Deserts or Personal Preference?”. McMillan says that poor citizens do use food stamps at farmers’ markets, suggesting that people at all income levels desire healthy food, not just people with higher incomes. And, based on the increase of lower income people going to the Flint Farmers’ Market and using double bucks, this suggestion that all people want healthy, fresh food is further supported. There is the notion that healthy, fresh food is expensive and harder to afford than fast food, but this is not necessarily true. In the article “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” by Mark Bittman, he writes that home-cooked meals are cheaper overall (both from an economic and health standpoint) than highly-processed (junk food) meals; people just need to have motivation to cook. So even if Flint residents in poverty do not have access to supermarkets, they can still purchase and cook healthy meals from fresh ingredients found at their local farmers’ market.
This Forbes article, written by Brian Solomon on July 21, 2014, discusses how a certain aspect of society is being McDonaldized – that is, “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world” (“An Introduction to McDonaldization”, 1). The part of society being McDonaldized is the health care sector, and more specifically urgent care. Solomon writes how more and more urgent care facilities are popping up due to medical franchisees’ goal of “mak[ing] M.D.s wielding stethoscopes as accessible as baristas at Starbucks” by using the McDonald’s model. Like McDonalds, urgent care facilities are clearly visible and easy to find and access. In addition, trips to urgent care are fast, just like trips to McDonalds, and they are also cheap compared to visits to the emergency room (just like McDonalds is cheap compared to other restaurants). And much like McDonalds, urgent care has become a highly profitable industry (a sixteen-billion-dollar industry), and it also has become extremely large with companies monopolizing the sector. For example, Solomon writes, “Publicly traded insurer Humana grabbed Concentra, the nation’s largest urgent care company with 300 locations, for $805 million cash in 2010.” Urgent care is rapidly becoming a profitable franchise-based business just like the iconic McDonalds. Urgent care, as it is more affordable, attracts more people to its doors (unsurprisingly, just as McDonalds does the same). However, despite its affordability, urgent care does have its constraints, much like all things McDonaldized. George Ritzer in his article “An Introduction to McDonaldization” discusses how the aspect of McDonaldization called “predictability” eliminates a lot of choices from which customers can choose. For example, McDonalds has a limited menu and thus limited options. Urgent care is no different; Solomon writes how urgent care facilities have what are basically “dollar menus” that list the prices of services the centers offer. Location is a key factor for anything that is McDonaldized. Urgent care facilities are located in plain view, and some are located next to or even within large stores like Wal-Mart and Target. According to Ritzer, McDonald’s satellite restaurants are also often housed within these large stores. The purpose of this is to increase the number of “customers” and thus profitability. Urgent care, like McDonalds or Pizza Hut or basically any McDonaldized place, is run by entrepreneurs looking to make a profit in a way that remains affordable to the public. The McDonaldization of urgent care has its critics about the quality of service received. McDonalds is not known for high-quality food, and people worry that urgent care might not provide the best service available; critics argue that owners of urgent care systems are just in it to make a quick buck. However, Dr. Bruce Irwin, the founder of American Family Care, the largest urgent care branch, argues that he and other urgent care places have designed “accessible primary care” for people who cannot afford traditional heath care in today’s society.
This November 4, 2016 article from EurActiv.com written by Polly Ericksen discusses the relationship between meat consumption around the world and climate change. The raising of animals for food contributes to higher levels of methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, which in turn contributes to the greenhouse effect. Ericksen recognizes that eating meat contributes to global climate change, yet she does not advocate the world’s population becoming vegetarian or vegan. Meat and animal products such as eggs and dairy are crucial to developing countries: “Two billion people around the world suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, including 161 million children under fie whose growth and cognitive functions are stunted as a result. A diet including just 20g of animal protein a day can combat this.” Plants, Ericksen writes, do not contain the same or as many of the necessary nutrients found in animal products. In addition, livestock is how a billion people (nearly one-eighth) of the world’s population, makes a livelihood, and this sector contributes to nearly half of poor countries’ GDPs. In poorer countries, animals are not mass-produced on industrial feedlots on a diet of grain. Instead, they are fed a diet of grass, and this article and “The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” both discuss how emissions from cattle that are raised in pasture systems are “offset […] by the carbon stored in the ground” (Meat Eater’s Guide). When most people think of problems associated with meat consumption, they picture the immense amounts of meat produced in wealthy countries, such as the United States. Mark Bittmann’s article titled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” discusses how Americans on average consume almost two-hundred pounds of poultry, meat, ad fish per capita per year. This is unnecessary, and Ericksen points out that since America is a rich country, it and other developed-world consumers have choices and access to more food options and can “source some of their calories and nutrients from alternative sources and have less impact on a climate as a result.” This would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Meat Eater’s Guide delves into this idea further and lists some alternatives to meat. According to Ericksen, developing countries’ meat consumption will increase in the coming years, a fact reflected by the article “How to Feed the World After Climate Change.” This is beneficial to the people in those countries, for more of these people will be able to obtain vital nutrients they currently lack. However, to combat global climate change while still benefiting developing countries, richer countries with more access to alternatives to meat must take advantage of those alternatives and greatly cut down on their consumption of animal products. Ericksen believes that this can happen and says that “it is entirely possible for us to ‘meat’ in the middle.”