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Becky: Hello everyone, and welcome back to EnglishClass101.com. This is Culture Class, Season 3, Lesson 21 -The Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Food and Agriculture. I’m Becky.
Eric: And I’m Eric. In this lesson, we're going to talk about 5 topics that are essential to understanding the food and agriculture industry in the US.
Becky: There’s tons more that you need to know in order to completely understand these industries, but after listening to this lesson, you'll be much better prepared!
Eric: Okay, let’s get to it!
Becky: Number 5 in our Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Food and Agriculture is that “food” includes drink.
Eric: For some of you, that might seem obvious, but traditionally, the word “food” didn’t indicate any kind of beverage.
Becky: As you learn more English and become more familiar with English-speaking countries, you’ll find sometimes that “food” includes beverages, and other times “food” will exclude beverages.
Eric: For example, the “food and drug administration,” or FDA, includes beverages. However, when referring to the industry it’s usually called the “food and beverage” industry.
Becky: English is currently changing regarding this word and its meaning, which is why you will see this difference.
Eric: Which brings us to our next point.
Becky: Number 4 of the top 5 most important things to understand about food and agriculture is that food is a guaranteed industry. That means no matter what happens, people will still need food.
Eric: That may seem kind of obvious since everyone needs to eat. But this means that the food and beverage industry will always receive a lot of attention and investment. This is because of the “guaranteed” nature of food.
Becky: When investors have money that they want to put into an industry, they often look at the food industry because it’s a guaranteed return. Especially in United States, where certain crops, like corn, have a guaranteed minimum price.
Eric: This is one of the reasons you see so many large corporations involved in various aspects of agriculture and food. Companies like McDonald’s, Monsanto, and Coca-Cola have all become billion-dollar companies because of this guaranteed nature.
Becky: That brings us to our next point, number 3.
Eric: The food and beverage industry is one of the most competitive of all industries. And that’s also because of its guaranteed nature. All over the world, people always need new food.
Becky: And the difference between a product that succeeds and one that fails is nothing more than “what the people want.”
Eric: That’s right. Food is so important to everyone that small changes in products can have a huge impact. For example, Coca-Cola makes many beverages. Specifically, the original Coca-Cola soft drink has a unique flavor.
Becky: However, not everyone likes Coca-Cola. Because of that, many other beverage companies also exist. For example, PepsiCo makes the soft drink Pepsi. In truth, these two soft drinks are very similar. They’re both carbonated, they’re both dark-colored, they’re both sweet, they’re both about the same price, and they have a number of other similarities.
Eric: However, despite those similarities, many people simply prefer Pepsi. That very very slight difference in taste and flavor is enough for some people to avoid Coca-Cola altogether.
Becky: For that matter, many people avoid all soft drinks and prefer juice drinks, vegetable drinks, wine, or just plain water instead.
Eric: And this is why competition is so fierce. If you could lose a customer just because you added five extra granules of sugar to your soft drink, you’d be very careful about what you put in your product.
Becky: Even the appearance of the drink is very important. For example, the Coca-Cola bottle and logo has changed very little in the 100 years that it’s been sold. If another company imitates the Coca-Cola bottle and logo, Coca-Cola might sue the other company for copyright infringement.
Eric: The risk is that some of Coca-Cola’s customers might accidentally purchase this other company’s drinks.
Becky: There are hundreds of companies just within the beverage portion of the food and beverage industry. And there are literally thousands of different possible drinks that are all very similar... just slightly different in flavor.
Eric: Which brings us to our next point.
Becky: Number 2 of our top 5 most important things to understand about food and agriculture is that the food industry is separate from the restaurant industry.
Eric: That may seem obvious because of what we’ve just explained about all the different companies, but what we want to point out here is that companies aren’t necessarily concerned with the quality of their food.
Becky: That’s right. Now, we don’t want to sound like we’re attacking different food companies for not making healthy food, but companies tend to be more concerned about profit and making money.
Eric: In reality, companies in the United States are simply making what the people want. The consensus is that if the people buy it then it’s something they want. And if they want it, then we’ll supply it to them.
Becky: This is an important distinction to make. In some countries, the government regulates what products can be sold and their nutritional content. In the United States, there’s an organization called the food and drug administration, or FDA, that oversees food quality and nutrition.
Eric: However, the point of the FDA is not to make sure that all of the food on the market is healthy. Some food products might be very unhealthy or highly processed. But, many people believe that the consumer should be the one to decide whether or not they want to eat healthy or unhealthy.
Becky: In truth, the FDA usually only regulates a particular food or drug or beverage when specific harm is coming to people by using that product. The most obvious example is cigarettes. Cigarettes are heavily regulated in United States, and heavily taxed, but they’re not prohibited. The health effects are well known and well understood, but the FDA allows people to choose to smoke or not.
Eric: That’s a good example. Here’s an example of an FDA ban. In June 2015, the FDA ruled that food companies would have to stop putting PHO, the most common artificial trans fat in their products by 2018.
Becky: I think it’s a good move that will make people eat better. What do you think Eric?
Eric: I don’t know Becky. I like how a lot of junk food tastes now. And I only eat it now and then, as a treat.
Becky: Well, I just think it’s funny that even food can be political.
Eric: Which brings us to number 1.
Becky: That’s right! Number 1 of our Top 5 Most Important Things to Understand about Food and Agriculture is that the food industry has a huge influence on food policy in the USA.
Eric: There are many examples of this, but one of the most interesting can be found in the book The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In the book, it talks about corn and the minimum price guarantee we talked about before.
Becky: This minimum price is a policy of the United States government called a subsidy. If the market price of corn is less than the subsidized price of corn, then the US government will pay the difference.
Eric: This policy was originally put into place about 50 years ago to help stimulate corn production in the USA.
Becky: Because of the subsidy, there have been surpluses of corn every year for nearly 50 years. That surplus corn isn’t ever eaten because no one needs it. So food companies have developed many ways to use that extra corn.
Eric: Specifically, they use it by making high fructose corn syrup for very cheap. This type of corn syrup is used to sweeten hundreds of products like candy bars, coffee, cakes, and even ketchup. Because of this subsidy, using high fructose corn syrup is much cheaper than sweetening things with sugar.
Becky: So even though the US doesn’t need the subsidy anymore, it’s still in place because the food industry wants it there.
Eric: It has been proposed many times to remove it, but those proposals have never passed in Congress.
Becky: That’s the kind of influence the food industry has on the US policies.
Eric: Okay, that it for this lesson.
Becky: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time!
Eric: Bye!