Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Size Matters: Why We Love to Hate Big Food

Size Matters by Charlie Arnot
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This book describes steps toward building consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system. Even though tremendous advances have been made in the production and distribution of food, the public has become skeptical of the motives and practices of "Big Food." The message in this book to farmers, food companies, restaurants and retailers is that they need to demonstrate that they share consumer values on important issues like food safety, healthy animal care, and protecting the environment. This is best done by total transparency and consistently trustworthy business operations.

However, the book also points out difficulties ahead. There have been violations of the public trust in the past, and consequently there has been a rise in skepticism on the part of customers. The rise in social media has provided the means for people with strong opinions about food to spread their ideas. These ideas don’t necessarily correspond to facts and scientific knowledge. The food industry has no option other than to explain the facts and consequences together with open and sincere messaging of concern for the common good.

The author acknowledges that the market has become more complicated by customers demanding food tailored to needs such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, organic, non-GMO, grass fed, and cage free. This book encourages customers to join the conversation and learn about the concerns of others. But consumers also need to learn to respect the opinions of others and recognize the reality of modern food production that has enabled the production of more food using less land and energy. This has reduced the cost and consequently the percentage of income spent on food. These advances can’t be reversed without causing human starvation.

The following are a collection of excerpts that I found of interest. (Page numbers are approximate because I read the Kindle version which doesn't have page numbers.)

This first excerpt is a description of how a single blog post led to the discontinuance of a perfectly legitimate and safe food processing operation, "lean, finely textured beef." It was a scientifically sound process that made beef production more sustainable by capturing more of the available protein. Unfortunately, it picked up the nick name, "pink slime." From that point all that mattered was the visceral reaction to that term.
Through the process, the trimmings are heated to about 100 degrees to soften the fat, then placed in a centrifuge to separate the lean from fat. The lean product is treated with ammonium hydroxide to eliminate potential E. coli contamination and to enhance food safety. The lean, finely textured beef is then mixed with typical ground meat. Fast food burgers, school lunches and supermarket meat cases all carried ground meat containing the product with little notice. After all it was a scientifically sound process that made beef production more sustainable by capturing more of the available protein.

But this product had an image problem. One inspector dubbed the processed meat "pink slime." Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver depicted the centrifuge process using a washing machine.

On March 6, 2012, Siegel wrote a blog abut the topic and started an online petition at Change.org. "Tell USDA to Stop Using Pink Slime in School Food!" The next day, ABC News picked up the story and it went viral. An issue that had attracted no mainstream media attention in more than a decade moved at warp speed in the digital domain. Millions shared the story, which was often accompanied by an inaccurate picture of what was allegedly the product in question, on Facebook and Twitter.

A gut-level revulsion kicked in. As the phrase "pink slime" skyrocketed in internet searches and public conversations, American consumers expressed disgust about the process and refused to buy it.

"I think you all know the I didn't have the slightest clue what I was about to unleash," Siegel wrote on her blog." (p76)
The following is the story of "Golden Rice" which contains "beta carotene" that is missing in other rice. It's a needed nutrient that could greatly improve nutrition for many of the world's poor people. Unfortunately, it has met with resistance because if was developed through use of GMO methods.
... Golden Rice was developed decades ago through genetic modification, producing a rice plant that synthesizes Vitamin A, a micronutrient that is often deficient in the diets of the very poor around the world. This is exactly the type of innovation that could sustainably improve the lives of many. However, pressure from activists and other factors have prevented Golden Rice from reaching the market. This is a travesty that should not be repeated. (p91)
The following excerpt talks about increased milk production per cow. I grew up on a dairy farm and I immediately thought this excerpt understates the change. If you go back to 1960 the change is greater. Per this link, "USDA statistics show that US dairy farmers are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows compared to 1960, thereby reducing the total amount of feed, water and space needed, and resulting in less manure." If my math is correct, this means milk production per cow has increased six-fold since 1960 (which is the year my family got out of the dairy business).
In 1980, the average dairy cow produced 1400 gallons of milk per year. Now, she gives about 2500 gallons of milk. (p35)
The increased efficiency of chicken production is also impressive.
If you wanted to make a chicken dinner in 1960, you would have given the farmer nearly nine pounds of feed and come back in 65 days to get your chicken. Now, you would only need to give the farmer six pounds of feed and your chicken will be ready for the flying pan in just 33 days. You also have much better odds of getting to enjoy your chicken dinner. Improvements in animal health and production practices have reduced the mortality rates for poultry by 50 percent. (p36)
The following is another quotation from the book regarding chicken production.
The poultry industry has been very successful producing more with less. The average broiler chicken weighs about two and a half times what it did in 1925. Today's birds also reach full market weight in less than half the time. (p91)
It will be necessary to do more with less if farmers are to keep up with the demand for food. That indeed has already happened.
The amount of land used per capita to produce all the meat, milk, poultry and eggs in the United States declined by two-thirds from 1962 to 2010. (p91)
The book points out that if you live in a house constructed since 1960 you are probably part of the reason for the reduction in land used for farming.
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Reading Progress

December 21, 2018 – Shelved
January 1, 2019 – Started Reading
January 2, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Mikey B. (last edited Jan 05, 2019 10:02AM) (new)

Mikey B. Excellent review!

Do they mention the increase in hormones to achieve "more with less"?


Clif Hostetler Mikey B. wrote: "Excellent review!

Do they mention the increase in hormones to achieve "more with less"?"


The merits or harm associated with hormones is not addressed. The word "hormones" is used twice. It is used in the section discussing the various "tribes" people identify with the following sentence:
In the case of food, your tribe might be tied to GMOs, gluten, added sugar or salt, antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or the safety of pesticides used on crops
In another place in the book that is discussing advances in chicken production it has the following statement:
Forget the claims about added hormones--there are no supplemental hormones used in chicken production.
I plan to be in a book group this coming Wednesday that will be meeting with the author to discuss the book. I'll ask why he went out of his way to defend Golden Rice and "lean, finely textured beef," but made no effort to defend the use of hormones or antibiotics.


Clif Hostetler Marita wrote: "A visceral reaction here too, Cliff!"

I'm always looking for opportunities to use the word, "visceral!"


message 4: by Mikey B. (new)

Mikey B. Clif wrote: "Mikey B. wrote: "Excellent review!

Do they mention the increase in hormones to achieve "more with less"?"

The merits or harm associated with hormones is not addressed. The word "hormones" is used..."


THANKS much for the answer.


message 5: by Mikey B. (new)

Mikey B. Oh Yes and do let us know about the book meeting with the author - sounds interesting


Clif Hostetler Mikey B. wrote: "Oh Yes and do let us know about the book meeting with the author - sounds interesting"

He said there are no antibiotics in food because testing and protocols to prevent residuals carrying over into marketed food. He also said hormones are an issue only with beef--they're not used in other food.


message 7: by Mikey B. (new)

Mikey B. Thanks Cliff
I just wonder how those hormones affect us - in the eating food chain


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