Food: A Documentary Pt. 1

grocery delivery in philadelphiaHello everyone!  I’m Joanne Faryon.  Welcome to this Envision San Diego Special: Food.  It is something we take for granted.  After all, California is the largest supplier of food to the country.  Grocery store aisles are stocked with just about anything we care to buy: chicken for less than a dollar a pound, steaks the size of a dinner plate, every species of fish and fruits and vegetables, no matter the season.

It may seem as though the cost of these groceries continue to rise.  But we actually spend less money on our food than we did a couple of generations ago.  Just how all of these foods make its way to the grocery store and your dinner plate is the subject of tonight’s investigation.

We’ll also tell you why it is relatively cheap to buy beef, chicken, and even fish.  Some of it, you may not want to know.  But at the end of the program, we hope you walk away a better informed consumer.

Forty million pounds of San Diego oranges are on their way to countries as far away as China.  13,000 head of cattle are being fattened in Imperial Valley.  One in five will be slaughtered for sale in Japan, the others distributed across the country.   In Mission Bay, scientists are trying to figure out what to feed farmed fish.  Thos cattle you just saw, well, they could be on the menu.

The food chain doesn’t look like it used.  Fish no longer eat fish.  Cattle eat corn even though it can make them sick.  Chickens eat fish and fish are eating cows.  Even chicken feathers become food.  We grow oranges but send them away because they are too hard for us to peel.  The ones we eat come from Australia.  Just how do they get to be this way?  Is it good for us?

Tonight, we look at the food we eat from the dinner plate to the farm, field and ocean and how our demand for cheap food and more food has altered the food chain.  A food chain that is motivated by making the greatest amount of food for the cheapest cost, in other words, efficiency.

Americans consume nearly 20% of all the beef in the world, but only make up about 5% of the world’s population.  In 2008, the U.S. slaughtered more than 34 million cattle; slightly more than the year before.

We wanted to know whether we were keeping track of where all those cattle came from and where they all ended up.  In other words, if you bought a steak in San Diego, could you trace it back to the ranch?  So we followed the chain and what we found was a fast-growing corn-fed, hormone and antibiotic injected animal that likely travelled thousands of miles before it ended up at your table.   Most of the 1.4 million dairy cows in the state are also destined for your table as hamburger.

Let’s start at the beginning.  In Southern California, most cattle start out like this, eating grass on a pasture.

JIM DAVIS – S.D. and Imperial Valley Cattleman’s Association

In the 40s and 50s when my grandfather was running cattle here, he would basically sell his cattle as two or three-year olds that would be taken to market here in San Diego County and then distributed here in San Diego County.

HOST

It doesn’t work that way anymore.  Now, cattle are raised on grass for six months, and then sold at auction to another rancher, usually out of state.  We don’t have enough grass or rain to feed all our cattle year round.  Once they are sold, they’ll live another six months on grass and then sold again.  This time, they go to a feed lot.  Large pens where cattle are sent to be fattened before they are slaughtered.  This one in Imperial Valley houses 13,000 animals.   It is considered small.  Some are home to more than 100,000 animals.  Cattle spend four or five months here.  They’re fed mostly corn.  The U.S. introduced cattle into feed lots and corn into their diets after World War II.  Both had a dramatic effect.  The animals grew faster and fatter.

Broc Sandelin is an Animal Scientist Professor at Cal Poly Pomona and a third generation cattle rancher.

HOST

Is there any research that says that they have a tough time digesting corn?

BROC SANDELIN

I’m not familiar with any example.  I’m not a nutritionist so I really don’t know for sure, but I’m sure you could probably find something for you, if you want to.

HOST

Is it easier for them to digest grass than corn?

BROC SANDELIN

Yes, because this is what they’re naturally eating and that is grass.

Food: A Documentary Pt. 1

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