Thursday, March 5, 2009

Honest Food

I've been reading a lot, ok too much, about our industrial food complex.  The information out there is staggering and I have been able to apply my graduate school research skills to tracking down the source studies or statistics.  I am about to leave this topic in search of more, shall we say, optimistic topics, including getting my garden growing.  But before I do, let me put together a rant.

Every day, the news is so bad.  It's depressing as hell.  The challenges we face are so overwhelming, and you can't trust the people in charge to make the correct decisions.  Our democracy is subverted by Big Companies with Big Lobbyists pushing our elected leaders to make decisions.  Last time I checked, our representatives were supposed to vote for us.  Now they vote for dollars and I don't recall voting for Monsanto to represent me.

But I digress.  It's about Bigness.  When something gets too big, it becomes non sustainable.  Whereas one cow can graze on grass and deposit her manure to fertilize and build the soil, 200,000 cows in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) creates a problem that didn't exist, simply because of scale:  Manure Lagoons.  What doesn't make it to the lagoons become bedding for the animals, standing up to their knees in liquid manure.  Our food is literally covered in shit and it collects into biohazard pools (who are they kidding with this "lagoon" euphemism??) which become a pollution problem.  So just by making something Big, we dishonor the animals, create pollution, lower the nutrients in the resulting meat.  All to make meat cheap.

The meat is cheap only because you look at the grocery story flyer which says: "Ground Beef: $2.69/lb".  What other items would you buy with so little information??  "TV: $500"  "Car: $8,000/tire"  Beef is beef, right?  Eggs are eggs?  Actually, no.  But let's just say that they are anyway.  What is not included in the price per pound is the subsidized No. 2 corn which is literally killing our farmlands. What is not included is the huge pollution cleanup problem which is subsidized by big AgriBusiness.  What is not included is the amount of foreign oil we use to process the food (anywhere from 14 to 87 oil calories to 1 single food calorie). What is not included is the cost to our health from the ridiculous amounts of antibiotic-resistant bacteria present on the food (70% of grocery store chicken tests positive for Salmonella or Campylobacter.  Eat up!).

Our cheap ground beef is subsidized with our future.  It's really not cheap.  It is, in fact, ridiculously expensive.

The non-bleached poultry I buy from the guy down the road, whose manure fertilized the fields and who was never fed antibiotics or other "supplements", is a freakin' bargain at $3.50/lb.  All the costs are upfront and paid directly to the farmer.

I am all about Smallness.  That "inefficient" small farmer has no waste, and actually builds soil and the environment instead of raping it.  Factor in all the hidden costs and Bigness loses.

We have to break the addiction to Bigness when it comes to agriculture.  And it is happening, all over.  People are getting educating and saying, "No more!"  During my research, I stumbled across a blog that is absolutely spot on: Honest Meat.  In particular, please read this entry on antibiotics in our food.  I was able to correlate all the statistics cited.  This blog is Honest.

So let's be honest about our food.  Have your "cheap" ground beef but be Honest about where it comes from and the ramifications of producing it.  If every food item was packaged with how many pounds of antibiotics were used, how many gallons of bio-toxic waste, how many barrels of oil were used to bring it to you, people would change.  No more hiding behind the curtain of big Agribusiness.

Honest change.


Austen said...

I LOVE the Honest Meat blog!

Living on sustainable meat is something I would love to make the leap to. Right now, though, we can't afford it. Until our income gets a little higher, we are going to keep buying our grocery store meats and eating them slowly. We try instead to live off of organic or local vegetables and bulk lentils and grains, supplemented with meat.

Moving to a new area has saddened me a little. Back in Indiana, my college was run by a nunnery complete with organic fields and weekly farmer's markets. Royer's grassfed and pastured meats sold through the Sisters, and boy did they have great lamb! Here in Cincinnati, we are still finding our feet in the local food community. But it's important to us, so we will find it.

Rant on!

Allison said...

I just wanted to say that although I am only seventeen, I totally support everything that you have talked about. My parents are utterly oblivious to how food gets on our table, so i've used your blog and the Honest Meat blog to educate them, and reluctantly they have begun seeing the truth. Our household income totals over 200,000 a year so there is no reason that we cannot suport local farmers. Granted, living in downtown Tampa, it is pretty hard to find organic and sustainable meats, fruits and veggies, but we have have done our research and have found several local farmers markets that we didnt even know existed until this year. You're blog, and many others, have opened my eyes and inspired me to do more research (which is pretty depressing as you probably already know) We have yet to visit an actual farm, but some of our new friends from the market have invited us for tours of their places. I'm also a reader of the brego blog so that's how I came across Five Acres Enough, but that got me thinking about being more ec-friendly with the horse stuff too. We recently moved my horse from a barn 45 min. away to a barn that is only about fifteen minutes away. It's not as nice but it's saving gas and I only do schooling shows so the big show barn was unnecesary. Well I just wanted to tell you to keep up this great blog because everything is so imformative(not to mention entertaining)even though you say that you know anything. I can't wait to read the posts in the upcoming months when you do know something :] Oh and good luck with the upcoming seeds!

Serena said...

So i am saving the world by hunting? I mean, really. That is organic, locally grown, humanely slaughtered (cuz i'm a good shot) . . . i fill my own freezer every fall and i thought i was just saving money!
Awesome!! :)

Daun said...

Did you know about the Honest Meat blog before I linked to it? If so, what other gems are you hiding?

I fully understand the cost of "clean" food. It's a shame that the cheapest food is also the worst for you, and the environment. Believe me, that is no accident. The good folks at General Mills work very hard to turn $0.04 of corn into a $4 box of cereal.

Food costs money. Good food costs the end user more, but the rest of us less. But the end user feels it, especially now. I am lucky, but I am not fabulously wealthy. Good food is my priority. I don't take vacations. I don't have a tv (how many of us spend more than $100/month on cable, which would make up the cost difference between industrial and sustainable food??), I don't buy new clothes. Ever. I don't go to the movies, I drive a 12 year old beater car.

But even if you cut and save, sometimes the food is out of reach. It's my job to make that food available, at a sustainable cost, and make industrial food so "expensive", by exposing the true cost, that people can afford to make the right choice.

Thanks for your comments. Comments like yours keep me blogging. And I am incredibly encouraged that you are 17 and already concerned about these issues. After all, it is your generation that will be paying for all of our bad policies.

I am not a hunter. I don't come from a hunting family. In fact, my family refuses to acknowledge the existence of my hand gun. I never thought I would say this:

You ARE doing more to save the planet than most people. Not only are you "opting out" of the industrial food supply, but you don't look away when it comes to the slaughtering of your own meat. If no one looked away, if all the slaughterhouses had transparent walls, if all the factory farms were public, animal abuse would stop tomorrow. People that eat meat should either stop looking away, stop pretending their steak fell fully formed from the sky, or they should stop eating meat.

If you eat meat, you are complicit. Serena, you are making a choice to take control of your food and you guarantee the animal certain rights. It lives outdoors, it exists as it should, it runs and plays and interacts with its own kind. And when the time comes, it is quickly and humanely killed, hopefully without fear or pain. Animal welfare-ists should love hunters. You are the last group of people, save the sustainable small farmer, who do it right.

Serena said...

Thanks!! I never viewed myself that way but now i'm seeing things in a new light. I love your blog for that, by the way. Also for those blue chickens--those are cool!
Problem is, there are so many slack-jawed drunken yokel yim-ho POACHERS who screw up the image of who real, responsible, ethical hunters really are. This is one of the reasons why i want to see more women and kids get involved in shooting sports and hunting and learn how to do it correctly and well. I firmly believe that women, especially, can correct the image of the sport of hunting. I was watching a hunting show on the telly a while ago and they were featuring two women on an elk hunt. One of the women shot a cow elk, her first "real" game animal, and she went up to the elk, laid hands on it, thanked it for its sacrifice, and CRIED. She was so grateful . . . it was very moving. I know Native Americans generally held the animal at the same level of esteem because it was these animals that supported and maintained them and enabled their survival. THAT is the image of hunting that needs to hit the mainstream and the urban areas, not the image that is currently postulated. Companies that manufacture camouflage beer cans, i am looking in your direction. >:(
My word verification is: "gunwhoi." Gun? Who, I?? ;)

Austen said...

Haha! Yes, I did know about Honest Meat before you linked them. I really enjoyed her series about slaughtering. It was informative and blunt, just what people need. I'm not sure what else I am hiding, as I'm notorious for stumbling on something and forgetting to mark it!

As for affording food, Christian and I make it our priority. We love to eat, and are terribly conscious. Often that leads us to feel guilty about what we are eating, but we're doing the best we can. I'm right with you on giving things up to afford better food. We've never had cable, our electric bill is about 40 dollars, never eat out, and would much rather go for a walk/run or bike ride than see a movie or go to a bar. I make all of our bread, and recently started making our pasta. All I need is a glass of good wine and a good bowl of pasta.

Keep up the good work. Having conversations with you about this sort of thing keeps me thinking, and I know it does for your other readers. Thinking is what keeps things moving in the right direction, eh?

Also, Allison: Your comment made me smile. I really appreciated your level headed examination of your situation and the way you thought through things. That's something utterly valuable in people. Thanks for being such an awesome person, and for the smile.