Sunday, January 9, 2011

Commercial break.

When I first saw the new Domino’s pizza commercials about their ingredient sources, I rolled my eyes. The third or fourth time, I decided I ought to look into their claims. I mean, I’m a journalist now, right? Someone has to keep after these companies and make sure that, at the very least, they are saying things that are true.

As I sat down in front of my computer to begin the investigation, I had my skeptic’s hat placed firmly on my head. I expected to see a list of some farms that really do provide ingredients to Domino’s. Given the growing consumer interest in sustainable farming, I expected the farms discussed on the site to be small and family owned, organic, or maybe near a Domino’s facility. But my skeptic’s hat reminded me to dig a bit further, to ask questions like: What percentage of Domino’s ingredients are from these sustainable farms? And how sustainable are they?

As it turns out, my skeptic’s hat was unnecessary. I didn’t have to concern myself with digging deeper into information that had been polished and shined to reflect only the best parts of the Domino’s Pizza ingredient chain. I didn’t have to, because Domino’s Pizza didn’t provide me any information at all.

Behind the Pizza – The most infuriating website I have yet encountered!

Here is a screen capture of the first page you see at Domino's Pizza's Behind The Pizza website:

Luckily for you, I can’t “screen capture” the chirping birds and other happy farm sounds that loop over and over as background music. You can click on any of the ingredients on this map to get more “information” on how the ingredients get from farm to pizza. By clicking through the site, you can get points that will get you Domino’s Pizza coupons. Oh boy!

Since animal welfare and the environmental impacts of modern CAFOs are major concerns for me, I started with the ingredients that come from animals. Here is the page that would supposedly inform me as to the supply chain from pig to pizza:

As with all of the ingredient pages, the farm here has a quaint little farmhouse. Sometimes the house has a few chickens in the yard; this one has a cute dog. They all show the farm animals grazing happily in spacious pens with multiple crops growing all around. Because that’s what most farms are like, right? Also, note the fine print in the top right corner. This animated farm is not to scale, and there are not actually Domino’s Pizza restaurants on the farms. Duh.

You’ll notice that the farmhouse is labeled “Step 1”, and the pepperoni-making facility is “Step 2”. So the information I’m looking for – the treatment of the pigs, their diet and lifestyle, the typical size of the farm, names of the farms Domino’s actually works with – should be provided in Step 1. What it actually says when you click on Step 1 is this:

Wow, Domino’s. I had no idea that the first step on the pepperoni chain was a farm where livestock are raised! And that’s it – all the information Domino’s provides before the pig become pork.

And on his farm, he had some cows.

After my frustrating experience on the pepperoni page, I moved on to the mozzarella page:

Again with the happy house. And we’ve added some cows with plenty of room to graze on what appears to be green grass growing right up out of the ground. Let’s see what Domino’s has to teach us about dairy cows.

So… Domino’s uses cheese. And cheese comes from COWS! Wow, thanks Domino’s, for educating me! The truly striking thing about this blurb is the line about “herds” that “grow as large as 10,000”. This makes me envision herds of, say, wild buffalo roaming the prairie, growing large when times are plentiful. In reality, there are as many as 10,000 dairy cows confined on factory farms, and Domino’s is bragging about this.

I spent a bit more time looking through the website, but I’ll admit I couldn’t get through the whole thing. I read through pepperoni, mozzarella, feta, tomatoes, and mushrooms. I was able to find only two named farms during this inquiry: F and S Farms in Hollister, California – the farm featured in the commercial – and Monterey Mushrooms, a company that controls the entire production line, from seed to distribution, of mushrooms from farms all over America. I looked these farms up online, and from what I could tell, they are typical conventional monoculture farms, although Monterey Mushroom does offer some organic mushrooms.

From farm to pizza; from fallacy to facts.

Unlike the happy, animated farm on Behind the Pizza, most pigs in this country live in factory farms in which they are confined in tiny cages and treated terribly. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan visits Joel Salatin’s integrated, biodynamic Polyface Farms. As he watches the pigs happily rooting around, he is struck by the contrast with factory-farmed pigs. In this excerpt (p. 218), Pollan describes some disturbing practices that are the status quo in factory pig farming:

“I couldn’t look at their spiraled tails, which cruised above the earthy mass like conning towers on submarines, without thinking about the fate of pigtails in industrial pig production. Simply put, there are no pigtails in industrial pig production. Farmers ‘dock’, or snip off, the tails at birth, a practice that makes a certain twisted sense if you follow the logic of industrial efficiency on a hog farm. Piglets in these CAFOs are weaned from their mothers ten days after birth (compared with thirteen weeks in nature) because they gain weight faster on their drug-fortified feed than on sow’s milk. But this premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a need they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. A normal pig would fight off his molester, but a demoralized pig has stopped caring. ‘Learned helplessness’ is the psychological term, and it’s not uncommon in CAFOs, where tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of earth or straw or sunshine, crowded together between a metal roof standing on metal slats suspended over a septic tank. It’s not surprising that an animal as intelligent as a pig would get depressed under these circumstances, and a depressed pig will allow his tail to be chewed to the point of infection. Since treating sick pigs is not economically efficient, these underperforming production units are typically clubbed to death on the spot.

Tail docking is the USDA’s recommended solution to the porcine ‘vice’ of tail chewing. Using a pair of pliers and no anesthetic, most – but not quite all – of the tail is snipped off. Why leave the little stump? Because the whole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail biting so much as to render it even more sensitive. Now a bite to the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig will struggle to resist it. Horrible as it is to contemplate, it’s not hard to see how the road to such a hog hell is paved with the logic of industrial efficiency.”

It’s no wonder Domino’s didn’t provide details on the pig-to-pepperoni process. Farm Sanctuary has pictures from factory farms including from industrial pig operations. I don’t know from which farm these photographs were taken, but they do portray the pig farming practices that I have come to learn are quite typical of our pig farms. The pictures aren’t terribly graphic, but they did make me really, really sad and illustrate why the animated farm on Behind the Pizza is so very wrong.

According to Behind the Pizza, Domino’s says that most of it’s cheese comes from dairies in California. According to the Factory Farm Map put together by Food and Water Watch, the average number of dairy cows on factory farms in CA is about 1500, and there are over 1.6 million dairy cows on factory farms in California.

Here are some more facts about these factory farms, as reported by Food and Water Watch:

• The nearly 240,000 dairy cows on factory-farm dairies in Merced County, California produce ten times more waste than the sewage from the Atlanta metro area.

• The 155,000 dairy cows on factory-farmed dairies in Kings County, California produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City metro area.

• The 163,000 dairy cows on factory-farm dairies in Stanislaus County, California produce six times more waste than the sewage output from the Philadelphia metro area.

• The more than 464,000 dairy cows on factory-farm dairies in Tulare County, California produce five times more waste than the sewage from the New York City metro area.

From the information on Behind the Pizza, this is the type of farm that Domino’s must be sourcing from. I can’t say for sure, though, because they don’t provide any specific information on which dairy farms they use. In fact, Step 2 on the mozzarella page is a game in which you milk the cows. Of course, Domino’s does point out that they don’t milk cows by hand. Otherwise, eight gallons of milk per day per cow would be pretty tough to do.

It is really insulting that Domino’s, knowing there is increased interest in food sourcing, thinks this website would satisfy anyone. What bothers me the most, though, is that there really are awful practices going on within factory farms that affect not only the welfare of the animals but also the environment and the people who are exposed to tainted drinking water and the constant stench of manure. These are real and serious problems, and it is abhorrent that Domino’s dresses up the factory farming system with animated cows, quaint farmhouses, and even little lakes with sailboats in them – as opposed to the shit-filled lagoons surrounding beef CAFOs. Shame on them.


  1. It's unfortunate, but this is exactly the kind of feel-good RA RA RA that most people are taken by (see: commercials on TV). I think it's clear enough they're not going to ethical practices from the lack of information.

    This brings me back to some of the scale questions though. How does Chipotle manage their sources and still create a gazillion pounds of food? I imagine Domino's puts even more food into the world, and would have to conquer a lot of the same challenges

  2. Okay, I know this isn't the most serious problem with the greenwashing... but it's totally false that cowboy hats are always in style on pig farms! 31% of industrial pigs in this country are raised in Iowa, which is *not* cowboy hat country. (A trucker cap with the John Deere logo on it is usually appreciated, however.)

    They can't even get the color commentary right!

  3. Gergeley - Yes, sourcing is difficult. Chipotle makes an effort (I wrote about that a while back), but even they do run into problems finding, for example, enough organic beans to meet their needs. I think a big part of the solution is that we, as consumers, need to change our expectations and demands especially when it comes to consistency. Right now, we expect to be able to visit any chain restaurant location and get the same exact menu with the same ingredients. That is not sustainable. If we instead embraced seasonal and local variations, sourcing would be a lot easier. And working locally could actually be cheaper because the food doesn't have to be transported from source to central hub and back to restaurant. Perhaps local hubs could be an efficient solution.

    I, for one, think it would be fun to have menus that change with the seasons or parts of the country. I could imagine wanting to visit all the different Chili's because they all offer something new. Or getting excited for the fall menu after many months of summer.

    One other thing to consider is that small steps are also useful steps. Maybe Domino's can't source all their food ethically (right now I don't think they source any that way), but even 1% or 10% could be a huge improvement in, say, the amount of pesticides contaminating groundwater. Chipotle may not be able to source all their pork ethically, but there are more pigs keeping their tails and living in deeply-bedded pens because they make an effort.

    Maria - You crack me up! I, too, found their color commentary particularly weak.