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(article, Stephanie Beechem)
The Chicago-based Sara Lee Corporation controls some of the most recognizable food and home-product brands in the world: everything from Ballpark Franks, Hillshire Farms, and Jimmy Dean, to Kiwi shoe polish and Sanex cosmetics — not to mention the ubiquitous Sara Lee brand itself. As an American company but an increasingly global brand, Sara Lee recently caught the attention of the New York Times which published an article that traces the rapidly growing list of international suppliers whose ingredients make up Sara Lee’s many processed and pre-packaged food products. So where do these ingredients come from? More than 100 domestic and international suppliers, from locations as far-flung as China, India, the Philippines, and even countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that such a classic, nostalgia-laden American brand like Sara Lee is, in reality, a player in the increasingly outsourced and globalized food market is disconcerting for a few reasons. First, an overworked and understaffed FDA tests and monitors less than 1 percent of food imports from foreign countries, meaning that there is virtually no way to ensure the quality of food and food-ingredient imports. Secondly, evidence is mounting that foreign imports, especially those from China, are, at times, of extremely low quality, and, as in case of the contaminated dog food that hit American markets earlier this year, dangerous to consumers. Furthermore, transporting these far-flung ingredients to be processed consumes energy and produces huge amounts of greenhouse gases; a video from The Nation via the Ethicurean shows precisely how far foods like these travel and how huge their environmental impact is. Next time you savor a bite of Sara Lee pound cake, consider just where that bite actually came from — and all the energy involved in transporting it, processing it, packaging it, and shipping it to grocers everywhere. It may not taste quite so sweet.