If you click the link above it will take you to a fascinating article at the Farm Journal (re-printed from Bloomberg News) about what’s going on in school food service with the focus on milk. Unlike the usual two or three paragraph news blurb that tells you pretty much nothing, this article goes into the situation in some depth and is pretty well written, and debunks a lot of the hype being pushed by various marketing boards.
It still puzzles some of my readers here that someone with his roots in dairy farming like me can be so critical of the dairy industry, but that same dairy industry stopped giving a damn about the health and well being of you and your family a long, long time ago. What it has focused on exclusively for decades now is trying to sell you milk and milk products any way it can. It has manipulated data, used misleading statistics, cherry picked information, ignored significant health issues, pressured retailers and school systems, and generally used every marketing trick imaginable to try to convince you that milk is good for you when there is significant evidence that indicates it isn’t.
The article isn’t just about milk, of course. It goes into details about the Obama era school lunch rules, the attempts to undermine them, shows how the big processed food manufacturers try to influence school lunch programs, and how so-called “experts” are used to try to influence things. One “volunteer adjunct professor”, whatever the hell that is, claimed that if a 16 year old girl didn’t drink milk and “doesn’t get enough [calcium] by the time she’s 30 her bones start to turn to dust”.
If it sounds like the dairy industry is growing increasingly desperate to sell you milk, that’s because it is. Right now the US alone has about 1.4 billion pounds of excess cheese in storage. That is not a typo. 1.4 billion pounds. Every year milk production goes up while at the same time demand is trending down. The demand for liquid drinking milk has been declining for decades now, and even cheese consumption has been flat or even declining a bit. In a rational world what happens when you have too much of a product is that you stop making so much of it. But one thing I learned long ago is that rationality seems to be in short supply.
Go take a look at the article if you have some time. It makes for fascinating reading and will give you an idea of how the food industry in this country is being manipulated.
Welcome to a new irregular feature of grouchyfarmer.com, Why The Hell Do You People Eat This Stuff? (Hopefully a very irregular feature because researching all this stuff takes a lot of work and time and, well, I’m lazy, okay? Can’t help it. It’s — genetic… Yeah, that’s it, it’s genetic. Not my fault, blame my ancestors…)
Hmm? What? Oh, yeah, sorry, got off the track there. Back to the topic. Uh, what was I talking about, anyway? The bloody cats got me up at 4:30 in the morning again to feed ’em and I’m still a bit woozy — Oh, that’s right, It is back, isn’t it? The so-called “McRib”.
Yes, the abomination that is the “McRib” sandwich is once again available at the home of the leering clown. And along with this culinary horror also comes the usual hype and B.S. associated with it. The fast food chain has sent out the usual PR fluff items trying to gin up sales of the thing, launched TV and internet ads, it has an app you can use to find where it’s being sold, it’s even making a big deal out of starting a relationship with Uber to deliver the things. So let’s take a look at it.
First of all, just what the hell is it, anyway? If you deconstruct a McRib, take that patty off the bun, pick off the onions and pickles and wash off the corn syrup they laughingly claim is BBQ sauce, what you have is, well, it’s just nasty looking, but ignore that for the moment and just look at that piece of meat.
Now I’ve been a farmer, and I’ve worked on farms on and off for decades, and frankly, I don’t know what that thing is. That didn’t come off of any animal I ever saw. That’s because it is something called a “restructured meat product”. And before you ask “what the hell is a restructured meat product, I’ll let the inventor of the process, Roger Mandigo, a meat scientist from Nebraska and member of the “Meat Hall Of Fame” (yeah, seriously, there is a meat hall of fame), tell you in his own words in an interview in 1995:
“Restructured meat products are commonly manufactured by using lower-valued meat trimmings reduced in size by comminution (flaking, chunking, grinding, chopping or slicing). The comminuted meat mixture is mixed with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins. These extracted proteins are critical to produce a “glue” which binds muscle pieces together. These muscle pieces may then be reformed to produce a “meat log” of specific form or shape. The log is then cut into steaks or chops which, when cooked, are similar in appearance and texture to their intact muscle counterparts.”
So basically the McRib is, well, kind of sausage, really. (Trivia Tidbit: It was originally going to be a boneless pork chop)
Now what’s actually in that sausage is a matter of hot debate out on the internet. And the internet being what it is, some of the notions about what’s in it are, well, frankly too disgusting to go into in detail. But let me assure you that there is nothing nasty in that meat. Seriously. What it’s really made out of is ground up pork shoulder, and pork shoulder is a perfectly fine piece of meat.
But it isn’t, well, a rib, now is it? There is absolutely no actual rib meat in the thing. It’s more of a “McPorkShoulder” sandwich if they were honest about it.
So, how in the world do they get away with calling a hunk of pork sausage that has no rib meat of any kind, a “McRib”? Isn’t that blatantly mislabeling the product? I have no idea how they get away with it. If you want to know that, you need to go have a little chat with the FDA or FTC or USDA. Maybe it’s a menu naming thing. Calling it what it really is, a “McGroundPorkShoulder Sausage Extruded Into a Vaguely Rib Shaped Patty That Doesn’t Have Any Rib Meat In It At All” wouldn’t fit on the menu board.
Now, the sauce… Oh, dear lord, the sauce… Basically it’s corn syrup with a bit of tomato thrown in, some spices, a lot of vinegar and some smoke flavoring.
The whole thing from start to finish is a fraud misleading. It isn’t made from ribs. It isn’t even a cut of meat. It’s a sausage dipped in flavored corn syrup.
And if you think the sandwich is a bit iffy, take a look at all of the hype and hysteria you see in the media about the thing because that’s even more questionable than the sandwich is. If you believe the press releases McD and it’s advertising agencies put out, people are absolutely wild for this thing, will drive cross country to get one, and when it isn’t on the menu they pine away, wasting away into nothing like crazed drug addicts until it shows up again and…
And it’s all BS. All of it. If people were actually that wild about the thing, the chain would have it on the menu all the time because, well, money. The fact of the matter is that when it was first introduced in the 1980s, sales werehorrible. People just didn’t like the thing. It was pulled off the menu in 1985 because sales were terrible. Outside of a few regional areas, it just didn’t sell. (For some reason it sells well in Germany.)
They kept trying, though, for some reason. The chain tried promotional events for it, limited runs, various marketing schemes, etc. It tried to tie it to the Flintstones movie in 1994. Sales “did not meet expectations”, as they say. And finally in 2005 the chain seemed it was finally going to give up on the thing entirely and dump it once and for all and announced it was going away forever.
And then something rather odd happened. An on-line petition popped up to save the sandwich. It was all rather tongue-in-cheek and silly, almost satirical. Other websites started petitions to keep it. The chain announced a “farewell tour” of the product, and gradually the petitions and news stories about demand for the sandwich started appearing in the media. News media that really should have known better started finding people who were desperate, or claimed they were, to “save” their favorite sandwich, and the hype drove sales up. A second “farewell tour” was launched the following year with even more hype being generated and…
Well, it was all a marketing scam. The on-line petitions were, for the most part, outright frauds. The original website with the petition turned out to be owned by the company. Most of the media stories about demand for the sandwich were also misleading. A lot of the “news stories” were actually supplied by the advertising company running the campaign. There were no huge numbers of people clamoring for the sandwich to remain on the menu.
Now, every fall, the cycle repeats. The McRib is brought back with the accompanying hysteria, all of it generated by the company’s PR firms. You’ll see the same headlines, the same stories, appearing year after year because they just keep recycling the same press releases.
Look, there’s nothing actually horrible about the sandwich. Yes, it has way, way too much salt. The BBQ sauce is mostly corn syrup. The bun is your standard, generic, mass produced bread like substance. It is edible. Personally I think it tastes horrible. I bought one the other day to do research for this. I took one bite and, well, the rest went into the trash bin. But if you like it, fine. It’s no worse than anything else on their menu over there.
What really upsets me is the blatant manipulation of people by this whole marketing campaign of theirs. All of this hype, the phony demand for the sandwich, the people who are “addicted” to it, the long lines, the frantic searches to find it — it’s all a PR stunt, it’s all deliberate manipulation of people in order to sell a product no one needs and almost no one actually wants. And that, in my opinion, is the worst part of all of this.
A reader was going through some of my old posts and ran across something I’d written back in May when I’d run into an article over on AgWeb that claimed that there was a 70% chance that corn prices would be up in the $4.40 – $4.50 range by December. To be honest I’d completely forgotten about that item until Dustin reminded me when he left a comment reminding me of my skepticism about the claims back then. (See? I do read the comments!)
I was more than a bit irritated by the item at AgWeb at the time. The article presented absolutely no data to back this claim up. Just this “expert” from a brokerage firm trying to tell farmers corn was going to hit 4.40 – 4.50. And at the time that claim made no sense to me at all because I was seeing nothing in the markets or crop reports that indicated any kind of significant price increase. There was no decrease in the number of acres planted, there were no significant weather events going on, there was no increase in demand for product, and there was a huge amount of corn still in storage. What I was seeing was that corn prices were going to remain fairly flat, and quite possibly go through a serious drop as the 2017 harvest was completed
So, here it is, mid-November. What happened to corn prices? Well, corn, of course, never got above $4 of course. It briefly flirted with 3.80 – 3.90, but it didn’t stay there for long and quickly fell back to the 3.50 range, and as of this morning, it’s down to 3.43 after it hit a low of 3.40 when the WASDE report came out telling us that US corn stock was at it’s highest level since 1987. And heaven help any farmer who made any kind of financial plan based on the advice from that so-called expert.
Now if seeing advice this wildly wrong was a one time thing, it wouldn’t be so bad. Everyone makes mistakes. But I see this kind of thing over and over again in the ag press. Some “expert”, some pundit, some talking head, crawls out of the woodwork to make some wild and completely unsupported claim, and then disappears back into anonymity to never be heard from again. And the publication goes ahead and prints the item despite the fact there is no rational reason to believe anything the person says.
Over the last year or so I’ve seen articles in which “experts” made unsupported claims that milk would hit $19 (it’s around $16) by this time of the year, soybeans would hit $11 (about 9.80), and wheat would hit 7.50 (sitting at 4.31). And all those claims were presented by the publications without any facts or reasoning to back them up. Often some of these publications are printing material that completely contradicts what articles in the same publication are claiming.
The end result is that in many cases you don’t know who or what you can trust any more. You need to be very, very careful these days. Here’s a bit of advice.
First: Remember that these media companies are in business for one reason, and one reason only, to make money. Oh, they might have noble sounding statements appearing that claim they are out there to help you, etc., but, well, no. I’m sorry, but no, they aren’t there to help. The individual reporters, bloggers, etc. might feel that, but when it comes right down to it they are there to make a buck. Period. And that means they have to generate page hits to drive up advertising revenue. So almost all of these publications tend to lean towards click-bait headlines and stories to drive up page views as high as they can. Oh, they’ll deny that, but it’s true. A headline like “Corn Going Up 70%” is going to generate more hits than a headline that expresses what is actually in that story, like “Someone You Never Heard Of Makes Unsubstantiated Claims”, now doesn’t it?
Second: Remember that a lot of the “reporters” in these publication aren’t actually reporters. They are independent bloggers/writers who have no relationship to the publication itself except that they get paid some money if a piece of theirs is published. They aren’t employees of the publication. They’re freelancers who get paid by the piece. Even worse, often what they’re writing about is not something they’ve come up with on their own through their own work, it’s material they found somewhere else and re-wrote to avoid being charged with plagiarism. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s also true.
The advent of the internet has resulted in a phenomena that a friend of mine rather crudely refers to as “circle-jerking”. Let me explain. One of these so-called reporters runs across an item that might make good clickbait. He does a quick and dirty rewrite to avoid plagiarism charges, and as his source, refers to the the original item he found. But if you go to that piece you find that it wasn’t the original. That writer too was a “circle jerker”, referring to yet another piece which, in turn, also wasn’t the original but another “jerker”. That site cites as it’s source yet another website which turns out to be another jerker, and…
Well, you get the idea.
Third: Once upon a time most magazines and newspapers had fact checkers. Almost every story, editorial, etc. was run through the fact checking department to make sure that what was in the item was actually true. Those days are long, long gone in most media companies. Some of the more reputable organizations still do it. Sort of. But the majority of them seem to have discarded fact checking as an unnecessary expense, it seems.
Fourth: Editors don’t actually edit anything any more. The job of an editor used to be making sure that the material that appeared in the publication adhered to basic standards of accuracy, that it was suitable for the intended audience, that it was not misleading, etc. And, alas, those days are long gone as well.
This kind of thing isn’t new, of course. It’s been going on for as long as we’ve had the printing press. It wasn’t invented by the internet. The term “yellow journalism”, which was coined to describe the kind of behavior I talk about here, goes back to the 1890s. Newspapers, especially those owned by Hearst and Pulitzer, are considered to have played a significant role in starting the Spanish-American war due to their irresponsible reporting. While their role in starting the war is exaggerated, there is no doubt that they helped to push public sentiment towards war.
The world is coming to an end again. This time it’s going to end on Sept. 23 when a great whopping planet called Nibiru is going to smack us.
What? You didn’t know? Oh, dear. Well, if you have plans for anything after Sept 22 you might want to reconsider.
We know this because a “christian numerologist”, whatever the heck that is, has figured it out from a Bible verse that says– well, it says absolutely nothing about planets hitting us or anything else, really. That, along with lots and lots of made up numbers, tells him that we’re going to get smacked by a giant planet called Nibiru on the 23rd. And for whatever reason some tabloid media outlets have picked up on it and have plastered it all over the place.
There is no planet “Nibiru”, of course. Nor is a planet going to hit us any time soon. If there was we’d have seen it coming by now. In fact, we’d have seen it coming years ago. And there’s no point in claiming there is some kind of conspiracy by NASA and astronomers to keep the info secret because there are tens of thousands of amateur astronomers like me out here, and we’d have spotted it ages ago and would have gleefully been plastering our images of it all over the place. We love things like planets getting hammered by really big rocks and comets, stars blowing up. solar systems being eaten by black holes, galaxies colliding and stuff like that. So if there was a planet about to smack the Earth, we’d have been all over that.
This is about the fifth or sixth “end of the world” that we’ve had in the last couple of decades that I can remember. There was the Y2K nonsense, of course. Then we were going to get hit by a comet. Then the LHC was going to generate a black hole that would swallow the Earth… Oh, brother…
Why do we human beings have this fascination with the world coming to an end? You’d think we’d have enough other problems to worry about rather than let yet another scam artist or person who needs professional help who spouts this nonsense to influence our lives. Yet we do it over and over again.
I am especially fascinated with all of these so-called Christians claiming they can predict the end of the world when Jesus himself said that we can’t predict it. He came right out and said that when the end happens, we’ll never see it coming.
So ignore that little voice in the back of your head that’s saying but what if he’s really right? maybe I should cash in my 401K and have one last party. The 23rd will come. No planet is going to hit us.
And you jackasses in the media? Just stop it, all right? Just stop giving free publicity to the loonies, nut cases, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers and the people who think you get ebola from wind turbines. When you run across that kind of stuff, just chuckle and go on past.
Oh, and while I got you media scam artists here, stop with the shark crap already? We’re sick of sharks, all right? More people are killed by cows than sharks. Seriously. More people are killed by their own cuddly dogs than sharks. And did you hear about that woman who was eaten by her own cats? Why wasn’t that plastered all over your stupid tabloids? Of course not, because it wasn’t a shark. If a shark had been involved you’d have been all over that one. But no, a few bucks slipped to you in the middle of a parking lot by the cat lobby and poof, you make it all go away, don’t you? Sharks are cuddly, lovely animals who respond positively to affection. Like my shark Leroy. See? Aww, isn’t that cute? He wants his nose robbed. Here Leroy… No. No, Leroy, my arm is not a chew toy, Leroy. Now stop that right now, Leroy… No. Let go… EEAAGGEEHHHHAAAA!!!!!
Wisconsin Public Radio’s pledge drive is coming up May 2 – 5. I’m a big fan of WPR and it’s news, entertainment and music programming, and if you listen to WPR I am going to encourage you to kick in a few bucks to help keep the service going. Contrary to what you may have heard, the majority of WPR funding comes not from the taxpayers, but from sponsors, foundations, and people like you and me who are willing to throw them some money to help them keep going.
In an effort to help convince people contribute, certain individuals, foundations and companies do something called a challenge grant during the drive. For every dollar a contributor pledges during a specific time slot, the challenge grant will contribute a dollar. So anyone who pledges during that time essentially doubles their contribution. I’m doing a challenge grant again this year, this time during the Kathleen Dunn Show. So if you listen to WPR and want to support the service, this is a good time to do it. Not only will you be supporting an excellent radio service, I’ll double your money up to a certain limit.
When, exactly? Not sure yet. They’re still doing scheduling and planning but they’re going to let me know when the challenge will take place and if there’s any interest here I’ll pass the info along when I get it.
We have reached a point in society where most of our news sources aren’t really news sources. The vast majority of websites you see out there that claim they are ‘news organizations’ are really no such thing. They have no actual reporters. They have no real journalists. They have no research staff. The have no fact checkers. They are – well, I suppose you could call them regurgitators.
If you browse through some of these ‘news’ sites, you’ll quickly find they have absolutely nothing that is actually new or original. What you’ll see is an endless string of references to material that does not originate with the site, but outside sources from traditional newspapers, magazines, and television/cable media, or even sources that have absolutely zero credibility like some wanna-be pundit on Twitter or Facebook.
What they do isn’t journalism, it’s – oh, harvesting, I suppose you could call it. They scrounge the internet for news items, studies, blogs, photos, twitter feeds, facebook posts, etc. for stories that they think will feed into the mindset of their readers, gulp them down, and then like mommy birds regurgitating food for their young, scurry back to their own website and puke it back out again, along with a liberal dose of outraged commentary, to feed their readers.
I’m sorry if that’s a bit disgusting, but that’s pretty much exactly what they do; they scarf down real news stories, digest them a bit, add some digestive juices to blur things, and then regurgitate it for us. Not in it’s original form, but twisted, half dissolved, semi-digested, warped, changed, all to suit the point of view of the website’s backers and to lure the ranks of the outraged and irritated so the website can push its political agenda or moral stance and, even more importantly, generate that yummy, yummy advertising revenue.
Now I make no attempt to hide the fact that I lean towards the left side of the political spectrum, but even I have to admit that while the regurgitators fall pretty evenly on both sides of the spectrum, a lot of the left leaning sites are doing this. If you go to sites like Right Wing Watch or Raw Story, what you’ll find there is an endless string of “stories” that are nothing but regurgitated information from other sources, all selected to support and feed the anger and outrage of us lefties, along with large doses of comments by bloggers that support our feelings. If you switch over to the far right, you’ll find exactly the same thing going on.
I did a totally unscientific (and quick because I get bored easily) study and almost all of the “news” websites I have encountered are either entirely or mostly little more than regurgitators of other people’s work.
A lot of very popular sites do this. Joe My God, Right Wing Watch, TruthOut. Raw Story, for example. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of actual original journalism over there. Their “reporters” scrounge the net for little tidbits, give us a couple of sentences describing it, and then utter their ‘oh my god isn’t this horrible we’re all going to hell’ commentary. It’s the same over on the right, even worse, I suppose. Mother Jones and Grist occasionally will publish something I’d call ‘original reporting’, but for the most part their websites are little more than regurgitators.
I find this ethically troubling, to be honest. A lot of these sites are entirely based on the work of other people, other organizations. They blatantly scoop it up and regurgitate it for their own readers. They generally give credit to the original, true, but still, they’re taking advantage of someone else’s work and contribute absolutely nothing except a bit of anger and outrage.
I suppose I’ve been guilty of this too. I’ve certainly used news stories I’ve read as a starting point for things I’ve written here, but I like to think that at least I’ve used that material only as a way of introducing something original.
The question I heard being asked most often during the recent election was; what the hell happened to the media? The almost universal opinion of most people seems to be that just when we needed the media the most to keep us informed, discover the truth, to keep things rational, it failed us totally.
The media blithely rolled along, repeating all of the lies, the innuendo, the misinformation, deliberately pumped up phony scandals. It gleefully turned casual comments and jokes into derogatory and misleading memes. It pounced on every conspiracy it could find. It magnified the silly and the ridiculous into clickbait headlines. It leapt upon phony stories from satirical websites or fraudulent sources gleefully and unapologetically.
Instead of helping to solve problems, the media became the problem.
But did it didn’t. Not really.
We have this impression that the news media is supposed to be some kind of watchdog, that it’s supposed to only publish the truth, that it’s supposed to call our attention to corruption, lies, misleading information, to cast light into the dark places inhabited by politicians and corporations. It is this concept that some call the fourth estate, the idea that the news media is some kind of watchdog, a guardian..
But the news media has never been that. The news media has a long and sordid history of manipulating information, spreading misinformation, taking things out of context, and doing it deliberately. The media has helped to foster conflicts and even wars, destroy reputations of innocent people, manipulating public opinion… And if you don’t believe that, just start doing some research. A few minutes running searches on Google is all it takes to discover that what is going on today is nothing new.
I know a lot of people who are laying the blame for Trump’s rise to power on the media and its failure to accurately report the facts. And there are certainly valid reasons to criticize modern media. But it isn’t anything new. The media has always done this. Either for profit, to push some political agenda by the owners of the media outlet, to pander to politicians…
But the fake news stories, quotes taken out of context, attempts by biased owners to manipulate public opinion? That’s been going on for as long as there has been a media.
And as for who is to blame, well, it’s us, really. The media is in business for one reason, for the most part: to make money. And they’ve learned that the easiest, least expensive and most profitable thing to do is publish the garbage they publish. Because we buy it. We click on the clickbait headlines, we gulp down millions of words written about ridiculous celebrities who don’t matter in the slightest. We’d rather read about who got who pregnant or who got a breast enlargement or who is divorcing who, then about things that really matter.
So if you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s not the media. It’s us.