Brain Food: What Are Your Eyes Eating!?

Recently an infographic has been making the rounds about the six major companies that control 90% of the media content that we consume.  Those six companies are GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner, and CBS.

This parallels the few large companies that supply most of the food in the US.

You’ve got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system.  From seed to the supermarket, they’re gaining control of food. –Tony Roush, Indiana farmer in Food Inc.

The 2008 film Food Inc. called into question what was actually in the food we consume and what effects it might have on our bodies.  What is industrial food?  Are there health consequences?

The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato.  I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato…

… In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore.  -Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in Food Inc.

Those who have seen the film, or who are aware of the issue in other ways, tend to govern their own dietary intake by growing their own food, shopping at farmers’ markets, participating in CSAs, etc.  Even Wal-Mart started selling organic products upon seeing the trend.

Given that these six companies control 90% of media content, and if the eyes are truly the windows into the soul, what exactly is getting into our souls and what is the effect?  What is the nutritional value of this food for thought?  What are the consequences of industrial processed media and cultural content?  Is it real or notional?  Is there an obesity of the mind; is there diabetes of the soul?

Our intellectual and cultural diet, our “consumption of meaning”, has changed a lot over the last 100 years –not only the media but the message. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, fathered the field of “Public Relations” in the early 1900s, by which he doubled cigarette sales and sold war.  He felt that the term propaganda was too negative, but that is what he had done for Woodrow Wilson during WWI.

“Age-old customs, I learned, could be broken down by a dramatic appeal, disseminated by the network of media.”  “The group mind,” he continued, “does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, emotions.”  -Edward Bernays

We may eat organic and local food, but our brain food, our cultural content, is far from local and organic.

Food Inc., among other films, books, and articles, suggests that many of the health problems in the  US  –the “obesity epidemic”, diabetes, heart disease, E. coli tainted food, etc. are related to our distorted and unnatural industrial food system.

There’s a hypothesis that obesity, a multifactorial condition, can be caused by an absence of nutrition in food.  Mastication, gustatory, and olfactory senses ramp up biological function to digest, deliver and store nutrition.  When nutrition fails to arrive, the body asks for more food, which it gets in the form of yet more calories devoid of nutrients.  Corporate food scientists then seek to override leptin signaling (which alerts the brain of satiety), so that the consumer consumes more product absent of nutrients, which the body is craving.  Instead the mouth is ingesting more of nothing.  –Stephen C. Brown, coffee roaster and buyer, food blogger

If those six companies are the mind’s content supermarket, what about the seed?  How is the appetite for cultural junk whetted?

Industrial schooling was initiated at the end of the 1800s.  Most of our intellectual consumption through our early years is monopolized by a few educational conglomerates such as Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian, McGraw-Hill, and Reed Elsevier.  It is only after we graduate that we turn our intellectual nourishment and ocular consumption over to GE, Newscorp, Disney, et al.

Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn.  They are designed to eat grass.  And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly…  I mean, the reason those calories are cheaper is because those are the ones we’re heavily subsidizing…  By making those calories really cheap, that’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.  –Food Inc.

The subsidization of the food industry, especially via corn, has resulted in distortions in the food market and in the relative pricing of what is healthy and what is not healthy.

Education conglomerates are likewise subsidized by the property taxes of a completely captured market.  They do not have to convince each household to buy their product, only the school board or the superintendent.  Once that is done they have our money.  Their market is not the final consumer but instead the “reseller”, or distributor of the product to a captive market –our kids.  Can you imagine if we had to buy TVs or groceries this way?

If you were a school textbook publisher, what would you think about compulsory schooling laws?  It would mean guaranteed consumption of your product!  But what about the nutritional value?

I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. –Dr. Seuss, 1981

In 1951, entire public school systems were bailing out on phonics…

Mute evidence that [Publishers] Scott, Foresman wasn’t just laughing all the way to the bank, but was actively trying to protect its nest egg in Dick and Jane, was its canny multiplication of words intended to be learned.  In 1930, the word  look was repeated 8 times; in 1951, 110 times… in the first see gets 27 repetitions, and in the second, 176. –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of  American Education

If genetically modified dwarf wheat leads to wheat belly, if high fructose corn syrup contributes to liver damage and diabetes, can Dick and Jane and the whole word methodology lead to literacy anemia?  Is there a cultural analog to garden variety Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or worse, to bowel cancer?

Does the industrial, processed education system lead one to crave more content, because it is itself so devoid of real intellectual nutrients that our mind kicks in to consume more?  Most of what is consumed outside of school is equally devoid of intellectual and cultural nutritional content.   Do we over-consume media junk because it is devoid of “nutrients,” and because our appetite has been trained?  It is as if The Learning Channel and The History Channel are Monosodium Glutamate and Yellow # 5 for your brain.

Our food safety advocacy work started six years ago when my two-and-a-half year-old son Kevin was stricken with e. coli 0157:h7 and he went from being a perfectly healthy beautiful little boy … to being dead in 12 days.

There’s microorganisms –bacteria in [the cow’s] rumen, millions of ‘em.  The animals evolved on consuming grass.  There is some research that indicates that a high corn diet results in e. coli that are acid resistant.  And these would be the more harmful e. coli… a strain called e. coli 0157:h7…  The animals stand ankle deep in their manure all day long.

E. coli isn’t just in the ground beef now – it’s been found in spinach, apple juice –and this is really because of the runoff from our factory farms.

They did an E. coli test at the plant that was positive.  They didn’t end up recalling that meat until August 27th, 16 days after he [Kevin] died.

19% of high school graduates are illiterate.  63% of prison inmates are illiterate. Is there an equivalent to tainted meat in the realm of education and culture, a mental E. coli, tainted information that kills a person mentally and intellectually?   If so, can it be recalled?  Is there parental recourse?  Though mere illiteracy may not be the right metaphorical symbol for mind poisoning…

A modern textbook is the intellectual equivalent of the modern hamburger patty.  A hamburger patty comes from a feces covered cow, fed on cheap, subsidized, corn-based feed, which allows E. coli to grow in the cow’s belly.  The cow is shredded and processed amid the slinging excrement they live in, and then mixed with the meat of thousands of cows from across the country to form the uniform patty.  In a centralized processing facility, one sick cow can taint millions of patties sent out nationwide.

The processing plants have gotten bigger and bigger.  It’s just perfect for taking bad pathogens and spreading them far and wide.

In the 1970s there were literally thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States.  Today we have 13 slaughterhouses that process the majority of beef that is sold in the U.S.

When the Common Core is implemented, there will be nationalized standards for all schools.  One content slaughterhouse.  There will be no check on deleterious outbreaks.

In industrial chicken farms they desire a certain outcome and so they engineer fat, big-breasted (white meat) chickens, which grow so fast and fat their legs cannot carry them.  They are caged in, never see the light of day, and grown for uniformity.  They are also pumped with antibiotic drugs to counteract the unsanitary environment of chicken shit in which they are raised.

A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down.  It’s because they can’t keep up all the weight that they’re carrying.

…  There’s antibiotics that’s put into the feed and of course that passes through the chicken. -Food Inc.

Nineteen percent of all high school age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD, 10% are taking prescription drugs for ADHD.  A CDC survey found an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed at some point, an increase of over 50 percent over the past decade.  Roughly two-thirds of those currently diagnosed have been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall.

The doctor prescribed methylphenidate, a generic form of Ritalin. It was not to be taken at home, or on weekends, or vacations. [Will] didn’t need to be medicated for regular life…  It struck us as strange, wrong, to dose our son for school…

I couldn’t help wondering why forgetting to talk to his friends was a good thing and why we were drugging him to become a good student.  –Bronwen Hruska, Raising the Ritalin Generation

If students are bored and antsy, why not change the class, or the school, or how the day is structured?  It is hard to change the efficient factory, but using Six Sigma and similar industrial quality-control methodologies, the factory can mitigate “variability.”

In the past Man has been first.  In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor
In the past Man has been first. In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor

Of course, the normal, non-variable, defect-free student product is not called normal or average.  They are all exceptional, accelerated, gifted, etc.,  –an IEP for all, to assure one outcome!

It’s all a science.  They [Tyson] got it all figured out.  If you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you gotta grow in three months? –Farmer, Food, Inc

THAT was five years ago. Will is about to start his sophomore year of high school. He’s 6 feet 3 inches tall, he’s on the honor roll and he loves school. For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized. Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens.  –Bronwen Hruska

It’s all highly mechanized.  So all the birds coming off those farms have to be almost exactly the same size.  –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

The rebellious boy acting out will not lead to the desired outcome of a stable consumer in a materialistic culture.  He might throw off the efficiency and the timetable, might not ripen fast enough.  There are chemicals for that.  Also, earners and consumers are desired –not someone who possesses the faculties to recognize, describe, and resist the notional culture he or she is being force fed.

I have undertaken to get at the facts from the point of view of the business men… who have the right to say what they will have in their schools. –Charles Thurber, Annual Address of the NEA, 1897

What should a bureaucrat do to train compliant workers for the business class?

“[Edmund Burke] Huey was even more explicit: he said children learned to read too well and too early and that was bad for them.” –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education

If a regular educational diet is the intellectual equivalent of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, charter schools and private schools who adhere to the educational status quo (they buy the same products, adhere to the same industrial standards, etc.), are like the rebuttal to Supersize Me which is Tom Naughton’s movie Fat Head.

Both Spurlock and Naughton still ate industrial food, but with some tweaking in how the processed stuff is consumed.  Spurlock’s health declined, but Naughton lost weight and improved his health.

Michael Pollan talks about the supermarket tomato as a “notional tomato”.  Most of education is “notional education”, most of the culture we consume via movies and television, on the web and in print, is “notional culture”.  It’s processed culture-like stuff, devoid of human wisdom.  But, while organic, natural food might be artificially a bit more expensive; gourmet, organic, heritage education is as easy as a family library and the arts.

Supersize Me and Fat Head indicate two different health outcomes after intake of the same industrial food product.  Despite Naughton, some people are opting out of industrial food.  But somehow, industrial education is a given.  One Gallup poll stated that most people think that public school education is in decline, but that their district is above average.  It is like Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average!  (But your children are falling behind.)

I’m always struck by how successful we have been at hitting the bulls-eye of the wrong target.  I mean, in cattle we have learned … how to plant, fertilize and harvest corn using global positioning satellite technology, and nobody sits back and asks, “But should we be feeding cows corn?”  –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

We just try to get our kids into the “right” industrial, educational processing center.  We discuss the processes and the metrics, but hardly ever the goal of education -beyond achieving the next aspirational level of education!  There is no concept human teleology.

Well meaning teachers have had their jobs transformed too.  Teachers now read from a script.  They cannot “teach”, they have little control of their classroom, which is the environment of their work and creativity.  They have to meet desired outcomes.  There is little flexibility, nor the ability to use their judgment.  “Apply the formula,” as they say in Fight Club.  Teach to the test.

They changed the farmer.  Today, chicken farmers no longer control their birds. –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

We have become a culture of technicians. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Could there be an equivalent reaction to the industrial, processed education industry?  Organic Education perhaps?

Famed independent farmer Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, calls his method “heritage farming”.  Farming based upon inherited wisdom.  Inherited wisdom does not preclude the use of technology.  If we had no inherited wisdom, no father would have taught his son an easier way to make fire, or the benefits of making a wheel round.

Industrial food is not honest food.  It’s not priced honestly. It’s not produced honestly.  It’s not processed honestly.  There is nothing honest about that food. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Inherited wisdom grows and became more subtle, building upon each generation.  Start with, “make the wheel round” and build from there:  “Don’t tease the lion”, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, “don’t cross the streams”, etc.

Homer taught the Greeks, and the rest of us, through the Iliad and the Odyssey, “that all life is a battle, and all life is a journey.”  Moreover, he highlights that the battle and the journey are made more difficult if your leader relies on force alone (Achilles) or cunning alone (Odysseus), all their friends and followers die.  There is more to leadership among peers than strength or charm, a foundational insight that informed later Greek political/economic innovations.

From Homer on, the subtlety of inherited wisdom increases –whom to marry, how to handle pain, how to handle slights, how to handle pride, how to handle technology and that power, how to improve upon previous knowledge and technology.  “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Isaac Newton.  Our giants are our heritage, our customs, manners, tradition…  Education, in short.

We have an obesity problem in America -nourishment devoid of nutrients so much that we all but involuntarily consume more stuff than is healthy –buzzfeed, failblog, Kardashians, Housewives of Wherever, The Bachelor(ette), the NFL…

When we are in school a small group of conglomerates, with their faculty textbook committees, design the ammonia-dipped pink sludge we consume for learning.

Even more disturbing is that because ammonium hydroxide is considered part of the “component in a production procedure” by the USDA, consumers may not know when the chemical is in their food. –David Warner

After we finish our formal schooling, six corporations fill our minds and conform our palettes as to what life is all about.  The E. coli has left the meat market, and is now in other things.

-58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
-42% of college graduates never read another book.
-80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
-57% of new books are not read to completion.
-Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Every culture hands down wisdom learned from the hard interaction of reality and life, from mistakes with natural consequences, from “fire is hot” to the more complex concept of moral hazard.  It would be a shame to forgo these customs and traditions, the inherited wisdom of our respective peoples –be we Italian, Sengalese, Peruvian, Czech, Korean, etc., for a mess of processed crud, verified by test scores devised by the industrial crud producers.

Imagine if McDonald’s had a 90% monopoly on food and also a Federal mandate to verify if you were healthy or not?  Would you be healthy if they said so?  What if you decided to become a “home-fooder”?  Would your peers mock you for being anti-social or elitist for foregoing the nearby fast food?  Would people try to convince you that your kids won’t be “socialized” unless they are playing in the McDonald’s ball pit and collecting Happy Meal trinkets with other kids?  What would a local educational CSA, a CSE, look like?

Food Inc. came out in 2008.  The top food cop at the FDA under President Obama is Michael Taylor, who was the top lobbyist for Monsanto before that.  He is in charge of telling us about healthy food.  Is Arne Duncan just a mouthpiece for “Big Ed.?”

Even if you don’t eat at a fast food restaurant, you’re now eating meat that’s being produced by that system. – Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

Education is to inform the free citizen, whereas schooling gives you just enough knowledge to be managed by someone else. –John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, The Underground History of American Education

You do not have to consume what you are told to consume, via your mouth, or your eyes and mind.



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