Not on the Label

17 Dec

I am always really bad at finishing non fiction books and as I have been really busy am still only half way through ‘Not on the Label’.

I think I may well just summarise what’s already been covered though otherwise the finished entry will be HUGE! 
By the way, I am only going to write what she has put in the book. This doesn’t mean that I agree with it, or am saying it is fact. She blatantly has got an anti-supermarket slant in the book, and always with these types of books you have to take it with a pinch of salt and remember there are two sides of the story, and no two stories the same. 

Having said that, Josh and I no longer shop at supermarkets. This isn’t a reaction to reading this book – instead it kind of prompted us to act on a desire to eat more healthily, sustainably, and to support fair trade and local growers that we have been thinking about for a while but never actually got round to following through. 

Anyway, back to the book (for those of you who haven’t read my earlier post, this book is about supermarkets and their food production practices)… 

– chickens, whether free range, organic or battery farmed are processed in the same plants which are often not particularly hygienic – the book suggests that 50% of chickens in the UK are contaminated with campylobacter (can cause food poisoning, but bacteria are killed if you cook it properly). The ways the chickens are processed just sounds really horrible, I think, simply because it is done on such a mass scale.
Other reports I have read suggest that this isn’t necessarily true but considering you can get a whole chicken for the price of a cup of coffee, something has to give. She talks about broiler chickens that can not even stand up due to their excessive and unnatural weight gain, just so that they can produce meat quicker and cheaper.

– Supermarkets, and companies that produce items containing chicken are increasingly finding ways of getting their costs even lower. This includes doctoring the chicken (even to the extent of pumping it with 50% water, using hydrolyzed animal proteins recovered from animal pork and beef waste to hold it in place). Lawrence suggests “if you’ve ever eaten a takeaway, a ready meal, or a sandwich containing chicken, the chances are you have consumed chicken adulterated [by adding water, and using additives to hold it in]”. 

– I was especially shocked at Lawrences suggestion that supermarkets are packaging meat as ‘British’ when it’s not (arguably this is the suppliers, not the supermarkets, but they blatantly know it goes on!).
She claims that this happened in the factory where she worked undercover.
This is one of two main reasons I decided not to shop in supermarkets anymore. I always try to eat British meat – but I can’t even guarantee what I’m eating! I guess unless you’re producing your own food you can never prove what you’re eating but I suppose I do trust smaller businesses more not to exploit their food.  

In the same way vegetable production is always being made cheaper. If you examine a 99p bag of salad you may well find that it only really contains a few salad leaves.
Would you even enjoy those if you knew that they were several days old, washed in chlorine solution twenty times the concentration of a swimming pool (ie a mild bleach), have a marked reduction in vitamin and micro-nutrient content, and that the rise in the sale of these washed salad leaves is linked to a sharp rise in E. coli and salmonella outbreaks?  

However it wasn’t really the amount of chemicals that are pumped onto our food that disgusted me, I already knew that. The thing that made me feel awful is the fact that so many people are being exploited just to bring me a packet of salad, or those mini-corn placed in a tray. Lawrence suggests that in this country much of the veg preparation is done by illegal immigrants who live in terrible conditions, forced to do so by gang masters, and coordinated by organised crime, keeping control through fear and violence.
Farmers, although they don’t necessarily want to use this labour are often forced into doing so because of competition and low prices that supermarkets want to charge. Everyone seems to know about this aswell…the supermarkets, the growers, the packers, even the local authorities (although they are often powerless to stop it due to ridiculous red tape)
Likewise, Lawrence discusses the huge vegetable growing areas just behind the tourist strip on the Costa del sol, which are not only destroying the environment through heavy pesticide use and monoculture, but are worked on by destitute people (many immigrants from Morocco) who just live in the rubbish tips surrounding the polytunnels, queuing up day by day hoping to be picked for work. 

Beans, Bread and Apples 
These chapters were about all sorts really. The main ideas though… 

1.  In today’s society we demand perfection from our food, but in real life food doesn’t always look perfect and therefore there is huge amount of waste and tampering with food.Supermarkets have distorted our view of food so much many people think that a soil covered, or slightly deformed vegetable is going to taste horrible. For example on one farm, for every 30 tonnes of carrots harvested just 10 tonnes were used, likewise a third of all apples are thrown away (many just because they haven’t got the right colour balance on them).  Just think how many extra starving people we could feed with this food!Also, because people expect perfect food the amount of pesticides and chemicals that are used is huge. An apple may have been sprayed up to sixteen times before it reaches your table. I’d heard that statistic before but it is still gross to think what we are putting into our bodies. 

2. Supermarkets are centralised and therefore food is no longer eaten where it’s produced. This means that food is transported miles around the country which adds to climate change, pollution and road congestion. She gives the example of a plum farmer who can see a supermarket from his farm and could cut his food wastage dramatically (they have to be picked eaten within a certain time) but it couldn’t be worked out.Food is older and less nutrient rich as a result and people are becoming isolated from food production. We’ve all heard the story about the kids who don’t know milk comes from a cow… 

3. Local shops are suffering, and as a result local communities. Seven out of ten English Villages don’t have a local shop. These are places where neighbours who might otherwise not meet bump into each other, where elderly and those with children can get out and about a meet with familiar faces. By loosing these roots we are undermining the whole fabric of communities, and are instead left with bland shopping parades filled with charity shops, fast-food outlets graffiti and litter. I read somewhere else the other day that Tesco takes one in every eight pounds spent in the UK, and as a result independent retailers in the UK are at crisis point.  Anyway I think that’s enough for now…really recommend this as an interesting read. I obviously haven’t got even started conveying how much information she has got in this book!


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