Social Structure in America’s “Food Machine”

“Food Machine”, an episode from a series on PBS titled America Revealed, explored the vast and complex systems that make up the food industry that we know of today. Farming is immensely different than 100 years ago and is ever changing, farmers in California wouldn’t even call themselves farmer anymore, just production managers. Technology allows large production of food to be maximized not only by quantity but quality as well. Cows are bred artificially to be at their maximum potential. We no longer worry about the amount of food we are producing because there is plenty, but instead we focus on the healthiness of the food for us and the impact we are having on the environment.

But there is a hidden structure that is present at micro, meso, and macro levels in sociology. The food machine operates on a large scale level that effects something as small as a pizza delivery man. We have made it so efficient that almost everything is made from corn, even beef relies on corn. It is the cheapest and fastest way to feed cows and fatten them up before being shipped off to the slaughter house. In order to maximize potential farming in California  they make use of all the natural resources in the valleys but they are missing a key element, water. They built a large damn to bring water into the farms and create an extremely successful system.

Another element of success relies on honey bees. Without them we would lose much of our products today. The bees travel from Florida to California to pollinate almonds. They then move to apples in Pennsylvania and blueberries in Maine. There is, however, an issue, Colony Collapse Disorder. The bees are disappearing overnight, without the bees we will lose products, jobs, food will no longer be nomadic. The bees are a meso part of the system, they provide to micro level things such as grocery stores and the citizens who buy them, the things they make from the products, etc. The macro level will be the jobs that they provide, and the system of farming for the products that the bees pollinate. Without all this much would collapse besides just the bee colonies.

The large farms operate a macro level system, they provide jobs but they also put out jobs with all the technology they are now using.  This filters all the way down to the micro level of a customer receiving a pizza. All this is possible because of the amount of food we are producing and the way we use it. Corn has provided ingredients for everything. All this together combines a successful structure that runs the way we eat, the jobs we have, and the traditions of the food we eat.


One thought on “Social Structure in America’s “Food Machine””

  1. Pulling in a little more from the readings would have been helpful. here. You’re basically on the right track but watch out for some of the details here. Farms–even large ones–are meso-level organizations, right? The are part of the much larger farming industry as a whole (macro), which in turn is part of the economy as a social institution (an even larger macro-level entity).

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