Fairs, Food, and Food, Inc.

California State Fair

We went to The California State Fair the other day for fun, funnel cake, and frolicking.  Okay, we didn’t have funnel cake, but Julie and I did try a deep-fried Snickers bar. She didn’t like it, but I thought it was okay. I described it as a chocolate donut in reverse. In other words, the donut cake is on the outside and the chocolate is on the inside.  Not really worth making a trip for, but it’s a food attraction that should be experienced at least once if you go to a fair.

The last time I went to the State Fair was in second grade, and we only went to see the farm animals and exhibits. Since I’m old, and don’t like the rides, we went for the animals, some food, and the exhibits.  Now, Sacramento in the summertime can be one hot place. But we kind of lucked out and the temps were only in the low 90s. Plus, we went in the afternoon (yes, the hottest part of the day, but also stayed ’til 8 o’clock when it was nice a cool.) Overall, it was an okay fair (I think I like the Alameda County Fair better). They had goats on display and we got to pet them, talk to them, and generally get to know the goat better. 20140721_183636


They had lots of lots of cows, too:



And they had displays that most of the counties set up in an exhibition hall.  Contra Costa County (where we live) had probably the least impressive display. As Maya said, “It’s like Contra Costa County is only represented by the city of Brentwood.”)


If you want to see a little video of the display, click this link: Contra Costa Display

Anyway, it was all very interesting and there was some really impressive work displayed in one of the exhibition halls from high school kids.  I’m talking things like a solar-powered race car, wood furniture, technical designs, robotic work, and a ton of other stuff. Heck, many of the winning designs were from Julie’s high school (Lincoln High School in Stockton), so that was pretty nifty (yes, I said “nifty.” I’m old. I can say “nifty” if I want).

I got to talk to a real goat farmer, too (she was milking a goat at the time). I was asking her some general questions about milking (“How much milk does one goat produce in a day?” Answer: 1 gallon per milking.  Goats are milked twice a day.), how much cheese do they make, and if they make soap from the milk (they do). She and her daughter were very nice, but, in a kind of stereotypical farmer way, had a kind of  slow and soft-spoken way of communicating.  Toward the end of our conversation, she said, “I don’t buy meat from the grocery store.” I commented that why would she need to if she’s a farmer with animals on the farm.  She added, “I don’t trust ’em.” Her daughter (probably about 15 or 16 years old) added “Have you seen the movie Food, Inc? I said it was on my Netflix cue, but I haven’t watched it yet.  “Watch it,” she almost demanded, “and you’ll understand why we don’t buy meat from the grocery store.”

Well, I watched it last night. I’ve read Eric Schlosser’s work in Rolling Stone on meat processing, so I was aware of how unsanitary and horrid the conditions are. But this movie is more about how corporations have really locked up the market in food production. It’s not just farming practices they impose on farmers, but it’s owning seeds that farmers have to buy every year (it’s illegal to save seeds for replanting, and Monsanto will sue you if you do), union busting, getting huge subsidies from the government to artificially lower the price of heavily processed foods so a bag of chips is cheaper than a bunch of carrots, and, yes, the health consequences of eating this food.

The filmmakers did a good job connecting the dots between the changes in food production in the U.S. and how we’re all eating heavily subsidized crap. However, they they profiled a family who, because the parent have such horrid working hours (On the road at 6am, home by 9:30pm. And no, they don’t work at Google), they can only afford to feed their family from the dollar menu at McDonald’s – or some variation of fast food. They followed the family into the grocery store where they wanted to buy fruits and veggies, but the prices were too much for their budget. They pointed out that soft drinks were cheap, chips were cheap, hamburgers at fast food places were cheap –and that they didn’t have a choice. The father had diabetes from his diet, so he was on medication to combat that. Add to it his job (He drove for a living) and you have a guy who sits most of the day and gets almost no exercise.

Here’s what bugged me about the family profiles. They acted like they were trapped between the choice of diabetes medication and the price of produce. The mother said, “What do we do? Stop getting his medication for vegetables?” I sympathize with their plight. The need to work to support your family is a primary thing. You have to make money to survive. But how hard is it to make some personal changes in your life? Okay, the grocery store is full of processed foods, but is produce so expensive that it’s out of reach for most people. If it’s truly a budget-buster, then how about lowering the amount of complex carbs that go into you system (the dad, even though he had diabetes, was eating a huge burger, fries, and drinking a Dr. Pepper — and this was presumably his dinner every night!) Okay, how ’bout this: instead of consuming the entire burger, just eat the meat and veggies, instead of fries, get a side salad, and get water for your drink. Also, if your job is driving all day, take an hour out of your day to take a walk. Nothing too big (maybe 30 minutes).  Just walk, stretch your legs, work your muscles and then get back to work. Diet and exercise are what any doctor will tell you is key to a healthy lifestyle. Drugs can only do so much. The corporations in this film are pretty evil in some ways, but don’t say you don’t have a choice in what you consume, because you do. I know this kind of makes me sound like some right-winger talking about taking personal responsibility for what you put in your body, but even Michelle Obama is doing something to combat obesity, lousy eating habits, and lack of exercise in her Let’s Move campaign — and she’s hardly a right-winger who gasses on about government overreach.

But I will say what’s obvious in the battle over eating better vs. eating crap: taking on corporate food giants — especially when it comes to things like school lunches — is a tough fight. The Obama Administration got a lot of push back from the School Nutrition Association who is getting pressure from food companies to relax the rules on nutrition standards for school lunches. Right now, children have to take a fruit or vegetable when getting a school lunch as mandated by part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act — if they do so, the government gives districts extra federal lunch aid. Though there’s evidence that the students are throwing away those foods because they don’t want to eat it (and then complain they are starving), it goes to show you the power of junk food and kids. We know obesity rates are high among teens, we know the prevalence of high fat, high sodium and high fructose corn syrup in school lunches is partly to blame, and we know that many of these obese kids are having health issues like diabetes at rates we haven’t seen. When these kids get sick, they go to the doctor, who prescribe drugs to combat the symptoms, but rarely demand that they change their diet and get more exercise. Plus, how do you enforce that as a doctor? Pretty tough when the patient leaves the office, huh. It’s a tough battle. And all the while, you get the standard “The federal government is overreaching and encroaching into our lives.” Well guess what? The federal government already encroaches in your lives in an unhealthy way through corporate welfare to food producers who want you and your kids to keep eating food product that’s loaded with all the things that lead to obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

No wonder the goat farmer I spoke to doesn’t buy meat from the grocery store. I’m sure she doesn’t buy a lot of other things there, too.

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