Posts Tagged ‘agribusiness’

What many environmentalists haven’t learned: economics says personal action drives change

Lester Brown, if you ever read this, it is not meant to be a personal attack. I find you to be an exceptionally influential person in the field I care so deeply about. However, I felt compelled to use what I noticed about your visit to AU to talk about an issue that I have wanted to express for a while, and that is the importance of personal responsibility and individual action and how those coincide with one’s future aspirations.

I wrote this blog entry a couple weeks ago

…but never posted it because I wanted to cool down and look back on what I wrote a little later to see if I was just fired up or if I was maybe on to something.

And I think I was on to something.

The purpose of the following entry is not to bash the Baby Boomer generation, although it does hint at that in places. It is not to say, “Hey! You got us into this mess! You help us figure it out!” Far from this, it is meant to serve as a way to empower members of my generation, it is meant to help us understand that we each, in our own lives, hold more power than any corporation and any politician does. We have a wallet, we have knowledge, we have the freedom to use both as we wish. But most important of all, and forgive me for sounding trite, but we have each other.

As Barbara Kingsolver said in her commencement address to Duke in 2008, during what I consider the greatest piece of advice that someone could give our generation:

“You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be, if you don’t attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world.”

.

And so this a variation of what I had written that night, when I came home downtrodden and–I’ll admit, almost near tears (OK, maybe I was just having a rough week…):

.

Lester Brown and the Dasani bottle and why I got so mad

Last night, I heard Lester Brown speak on campus. For those of you who don’t know who he is (I didn’t until the event) he’s the author of over 50 books on global environmental issues, he’s the founder of the Worldwatch Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, and basically the inventor of the term “sustainable development,” (evidently, a legacy he wishes to renounce, saying that we have a “language problem” in this movement and instead should use the phrase, “saving civilization.”)

And guess what? He’s 86 years old, which is pretty impressive.

But here’s a couple other things about his talk:

  1. He drank from a McDonald’s cup during the first half of the presentation.
  2. He drank from a Dasani bottle the second half.
  3. He quietly slipped away to take a cab home (he lives in D.C.) after answering three questions out of swarms of students who were dying just to shake his hand.
  4. He appeared to have done so partly because his books, which were meant to be at the reception after for people to buy, never arrived. (Which appeared to have been some sort of dealbreaker?)

(First, let me just say he isn’t the first environmental activist who I have seen speak who does all of these things, so I’m not singling him out. I am merely using him to make a point. And yes, I am sure he was just given the Dasani by someone at KPU or whoever. But if you were speaking on such a topic, wouldn’t you have said, “Sorry, I have my own bottle–mind refilling it at that water fountain?”)

These four seemingly innocuous actions stood out to me more than anything he said throughout the hour he spoke.

We, (and by we I mean the younger generations, say, everyone under forty or so)—we, the ones born into the “Age of Irony,” are the ones that quite literally must change things. We must pick up the pieces of the broken systems our grandparents left us with. Our lives, and most certainly our children’s lives, depend on it, according to statistics. A couple such statistics:

“By 2025, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park.”

“Our population may only stabilize before 10 billion people because at that point the mortality rate will begin rising steadily due rising levels of hunger.”

I could rattle off others, but you’ve heard them all before.

Brown raised a point in his talk about how economists need to learn ecology. He said, “The World Bank uses all kinds of economic models to predict and explain trends. Why haven’t they looked at our growing population and asked, ‘How will we feed these people?'”

I don’t disagree, but there are also way too many ecologists out there who don’t understand basic economics. And I mean, basic. They might understand advanced economic theories. But they don’t seem to understand the concept that communities bound by solid belief systems, even just one, can change things. Living by a principle, when that principle is shared by a group, can change things. We’re currently seeing an example of this in one New Jersey community who is setting a precedent with a group of businesses who are pledging to stop selling and using products that have the endocrine-disrupting chemical triclosan in them (OK, maybe I used this for-instance because I wrote the press release and pitched the press conference that announced this to the media…) But, this is just one for-instance. There are countless others.

We can use a basic law of economics to create social change and influence more environmentally beneficial behaviors. It’s quite simple:

  1. people refuse to buy products that harm the environment
  2. they tell their friends
  3. issue campaigns promote education even further
  4. companies must create products that don’t harm the environment
  5. those that fail to evolve based on consumer demand can’t keep up in the marketplace.

The environmentally-conscious companies thrive, the environment thrives, humans thrive. It’s basic economics and it’s basic environmental morality.

If you participate in the easily avoidable actions that are driving our problems (ahem, drinking bottled water), you are subscribing to the idea that your actions don’t mean as much as some other person’s. In reality, it is the sum of our individual actions that drive change.

It’s easy for people like Lester Brown to stand before an audience of twenty-somethings and say to them, “Look at these problems which were set on course over a hundred years ago! They must be fixed! Here is this puzzle, please solve it and while you do, I am going to tell you about all the statistics of this dire situation.”

And yet, with a Coca-Cola bottle in hand. Talk about taking Ghandi’s everlasting, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and just tossing it right in the garbage.

How can the leaders of this movement expect to inspire us to change if they are still doing the same old messy things? And perhaps more importantly, how can we expect the people who scream, “You’re a crazy fascist for threatening to take away my bottled water” to take this movement seriously when its leaders are drinking bottled water as they speak before us, preaching principles of conservation?

Final point: This wasn’t all just about a Dasani bottle. If you thought that it was, I apologize for not having been able to make my point clearer through this extended metaphor of sorts.

.

My take-away message

I submitted a speech to AU’s School of Communication for our commencement ceremony a couple months back. I wasn’t chosen but they seemed to like mine and a couple others enough to have our messages up as runners-up (take a look if you love that mushy stuff…self-promo #2…reaching my limit, aren’t I?).

But, here is what my advice would’ve been more like if my speech didn’t need to be SOC-oriented:

“Don’t think about thirty years from now in terms of where you will be career-wise. Don’t think about which organization you will be working at, trying to fix our broken world. Instead, think of the organizations that will have wrapped up their work because there is no longer a need for them. Dream up a world where there is no Worldwatch Institute, because our commonly held beliefs finally came to unite us, so we were compelled to take up different efforts on our own, to watch out for the world and each other in our own lives, no longer requiring an institute to facilitate. Imagine a world where we don’t need organizations to rattle off statistics. Imagine there were no statistics to report.

Even better, imagine living out these statistics…

  • living modestly, in a neighborhood where you grow most of your food within a few miles
  • being part of a community that is self-sustaining because that is what makes people happiest and because that is what makes the most sense
  • having a child who learns about what your generation endured and how it was able to turn things around
  • writing a book, and then having it available online (or whatever the current technology called for! On the current “iPads”?)
  • being part of a generation, a community, that was constantly learning to evolve.

And imagine how much better life would be.”

I know we’re not there yet, remotely, but these “far-fetched” dreams are important. They keep us positive and positivity restores our faith that what we do, here and now, actually matters. It all matters.

How positively overwhelming that is. How positively empowering, too, right?

Advertisements

Where have all the farmers gone?

Or, I suppose the better question is, if someone does a study that shows the economic benefits of growing more diverse fruits and vegetables for more local consumers on smaller farms, will enough people attempt to test the theory out?

Job creation

Let’s first take a look at exactly what this study (“Selected  Measures of the Economic Values  of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Production and Consumption in the Upper Midwest”) found. First, more fruit and vegetable production in the six Midwestern states looked at could, theoretically, equal $882 million in sales at the farm level, with more than 9,300 jobs. Corn and soybean production on that same amount of land would support only 2,578 jobs. If half of the increased production was sold in farmer-owned stores, it would require 1,405 such stores staffed by 9,652 people. Only 270,025 acres—roughly equivalent to the average cropland in one of Iowa’s counties—would be needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for the six-state region.

It’s first important to note that I realize this data was collected based on research in the Midwest, and the same numbers would not apply throughout the United States. However, if pursued even just in the Midwest, this sort of movement could drastically change the way agriculture is looked at in this country. This study shows that there is the potential to grow 28 different kinds of fruits and vegetables there that people in the region are currently getting from far distances, possibly even outside the Untied States. This is one thing that really irritates me, personally, with regard to buying locally: the idea that food items are being trucked or flown in from far away when they actually are being grown just miles away.

Creating desire by easing the process

But here is the one looming issue: Are there really enough people out there that want to be farmers? Can we really get 9,300 determined-to-be-farmer folks? It’s hard to say, because I don’t think there are enough people out there that know they can be farmers. There are plenty of college recruiters visiting high schools and talking to students about spending thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, on their education. How many of them are talking about studying agriculture? I don’t even remember thinking about the idea of agriculture until well into college. And further, how many of those colleges actually offer degrees in agriculture? And how well do these degree programs actually train people to own and manage a farm in a practical sense but one that uses progressive, organic methods? This Web site indicates that there are at least twelve schools that offer this degree in the U.S.—compared to the oh, say, hundreds, perhaps thousands that offer finance or business degrees. But then what happens after?

This got me thinking about creating an agency that would facilitate efforts to create more small farms (say, 100 acres or less) that did not rely on government subsidies for commodity crops. I am familiar with the NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition), but I feel they are still very small and focus primarily on helping existing farmers instead of making communities more able to produce their own food by motivating more people to take interest and become educated on how to.

What would an agency focused on making farmers succeed do?

  • put interested individuals in touch with schools/universities that offer degrees in agriculture
  • put students and potential students in touch with scholarship programs specifically designed for agriculture students
  • help to find land to farm or existing corn/tobacco/soybean/cotton farms that can be transformed and diversified
  • teach them how to correctly negotiate the purchase of this land
  • offer classes/put in touch with education on proper farming techniques that would minimize or eliminate pesticide use, not rely on GMO’s and keep land fertile (crop rotation, etc.)
  • train on proper budgeting and financial training, how to take out loans properly and how to pay them back
  • helping to create a business plan

All of this would have to come for free or for a very low cost in order to encourage more farmer training. And these are just some of the ideas that first come to mind. There are likely other innovative and less expensive ways to go about encouraging more small farmers to go into business (programs at the universities that partner up business students/MBA’s with those that specialize in agriculture/biology who might want to start a farming business together).

Farmers as entrepreneurs

Because the truth is that farming is NOT easy, which is why it has been industrialized over the past 100 years. It requires both farming know-how, technological savvy, science and biology training/college education in agriculture, business planning, and huge start-up costs (though you can get a loan, much like any businessman or entrepreneur knows). Further, farming carries with it huge risks related to crop failures, inability to sell enough goods, weather-related issues, and other problems. This is why it is so tempting for farmers to grow commodity crops, in order to get by on subsidies from the government, (which also gets into why the government needs to diversify its subsidy program in order to encourage more biodiversity.)

Interestingly, I think the idea of making more people embrace the farming life as a legitimate job, in fact a business well-worth pursuing, comes down to a bit more education, that is, PR type messaging to the country as a whole, which could lead to cultural shifts. As Giovanni Federico asserts in Feeding the World, 75 percent of the population must take up the helm of farming if we expect to keep people fed but do so with more traditional farming methods (I don’t think the real figure would be quite this high, because I think traditional farming methods have been improved on many existing smaller farms, while still keeping them sustainable.)

But the reality that more people would need to farm (and more people will need to garden/find ways to produce their own food) in order to eliminate industrial farming is quite undeniable.

Next up, I plan to outline some of the innovative ways urban gardening and small farm operations are improving.

Bill McDonough’s “Cradle to Cradle” redesigns how we think about sustainability

Rewriting our design assignment

“And to use something as elegant as a tree?
Imagine this design assignment:
Design something that
makes oxygen,
sequesters carbon,
fixes nitrogen,
distills water,
makes complex sugars and foods,
changes colors with the seasons,
and self-replicates.
…and then why don’t we knock that down
and write on it?”
~ William McDonough

.

.

.

Here is what Bill McDonough proposes is our ultimate design assignment.

Circles & triangles

Last night was a bit of a “full circle moment” for me, not only as a student learning about environmental issues and sustainability, but as a citizen of the world. I got to meet a hugely influential person in my life, Bill McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle (co-authored by Michael Braungart). I first read this book when I was 19 years old and staying on Nantucket with a family I nannied for. I went in a bookstore in town with the kids and they were giving away copies of it for free.

Hm. I thought. Well, that’s interesting. And I’m not one to turn down anything that is free. This book was also so smooth, pretty, different from other books (it’s made of polypropylene paper, is 100% recyclable, is more durable, has pages that don’t wrinkle/tear, and iswater-proof). I read it in three trips to the beach and ever since then, I’ve been interested in sustainability. I had never read anything like it before. It taught me the backstory of why we are where we are today (a rudimentary concept—the industrial revolution brought us here—but at the time, I knew next to nothing about this.) But it also made me think. It made me look around and see the way we do things and ask myself, “But wait, why don’t we do it this way, and then we don’t have to this problem or that problem AND we get this benefit and that benefit.”

Basic case in point: You can carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because they reduce unnecessary waste and buildup of plastic in our landfills and ecosystems. But you can also carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because carrying heavy objects over your shoulders makes your life easier and prevents loaded plastic bags from cutting off the circulation in your fingers as you carry them.

Just that story of how I came upon this book sort of mirrors exactly what Bill is all about: for me, a free book changed my life. Cradle-to-cradle design isn’t about making things more expensive or more difficult or less fun or less aesthetically pleasing or less loving. It’s not even about creating equitable and ecologically friendly ways of doing things in ways that fail to promote economic growth. He believes in the importance and power of the economy, equity, ecology as they can co-exist and work together. This is a relatively well-known concept in the field of development and the first thing we talked about in my Environment & Development class this year, but it’s not a balance often achieved in design.

Benefits of a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

ECONOMY

  • More local agricultural jobs, less power concentration in hands of CEO’s/more in hands of people => more jobs, more money in the hands of people
  • More vibrant local economies => less hunger, less sickness, less violence
  • More vibrant local economies => more vibrant cultural activity => thriving people

ECOLOGY

  • Less soil nutrient depletion and erosion
  • More places for species to live and thrive, instead of less
  • Less waste, less use of packaging, less transportation/fuel needed, less carbon dioxide emitted => more up-cycling => best use of natural resources => healtheir ecosystems => survival of all species

EQUITY

  • Better food security and food access due to independence from industrial food systems elsewhere & less disparity between the have’s of fresh, local food and the have-not’s with processed, unhealthy foods
  • Better tasting, healthier, less processed, more nutrient rich, less pesticide/harsh chemical-laden food
  • Healthier people => happier people


Drawbacks to a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

Yeah. Cost-benefit analyze that one. Which is sort of the whole idea. If there is a drawback, it’s not really cradle-to-cradle design.

“The God is in the details”

The really fabulous thing for me and other American University students, is that Bill is the architect that designed our new School of International Service building. And he did so in a way that combined these three benefits, saying that, “the God is in the details.” Meaning that all of the parts that make up the whole of this transparent, innovative, progressive building, “where people can dream,” are working together in their own way, in a good way, to make things “more good,” instead of “less bad”. From the 100% recyclable carpeting and other building materials to the waste management system, from the rain collectors and solar panels on the roof to the underground parking garage that gives priority parking first to cyclists (and has shower rooms available for them), then motorcyclists, then hybrid vehicles, and last, other vehicles.

I had a few questions I would have loved to ask Bill, but I chose something specific, “Are there any plans in place to evolve other buildings on campus?” The short answer from the dean was basically, “There sure will be. We need funding first.” Which gets back to that triangle corner of economy. If it’s not economically viable, it doesn’t fit the cradle-to-cradle design question:

But the economic viability aspect is also a huge asset to cradle-t0-cradle design, and to agribusiness in general, simply because this is what businesses and corporations are solely interested in. So in order to convince them, all the “cradle-to-cradle minded” designer needs to do is convince them that they will save money, or that they will be able to make more money, and then they are basically obligated to embrace it. It would go against the basic law of capitalism not to.

Cradle-to-cradle is the sort of design model that we need to use for our food production AND our food waste upcycling in our cities, because one cannot exist in a well-designed system without the other. Local food production via green roofs, composting in homes and buildings, using that compost on the green roofs of the homes and buildings–this isn’t rocket science, it’s just, as Bill would say, interesting.

In one of my next entries I will go over some of these “details” in more detail, and talk about how they can work together to encompass sustainably designed and developed food systems within cities and habitats for humans and all other life.

Evolving design

The most important thing to remember is that that doesn’t mean cradle-to-cradle design is ever perfect. In fact, McDonough recognizes it is not ever perfect. Really, design must be constantly evolving as different methods and technologies become more economically viable and approaches are made more equitable while still remaining ecologically beneficial. What works now will have to work better in the future.

Just like all organisms must evolve to survive, so must humans, and so must the systems that we create and rely on.

After all…

“Sustainability takes forever. And that’s the point.” – William McDonough

When local food serves as preventative care

This week, I finally got to writing about a topic in The Eagle that I have been waiting to cover all semester. The stars aligned perfectly for my column on how we as consumers can make changes to better our health, contribute to “protesting” industrial food as much as possible and help the environment at the same time. In the last few days, this has all happened:

  • On Sunday, the House narrowly passed the health care bill that has been been dividing our country over the past months. On Tuesday, President Obama officially signed the bill,  a monumental event in our nation’s history, however divisive it may be.
  • Sunday night, Chef Jamie Oliver’s new series, “Food Revolution,” previewed on ABC. Chef Oliver will tackle the poor eating habits of the unhealthiest town in the country. I am excited to see what happens.
  • I’ve been working more with our chef/restaurant liaison at Food & Water Watch, Rocky Barnette, who really wants to help us get the word out and connect with people. I was working on editing some of footage of an interview we had with Rocky last week. Should be online soon, so stay tuned.

Anyhow, check out my health column from this week and let’s get a conversation happening. I would love to have your feedback–did I miss anything? AU’s Eco-sense mentioned the community garden in the comments already, which is great. I didn’t mention our garden on campus but hope to be a part of it this year.

Anyhow, this photo is sort of random, but the backstory is that today I tried this new tea at work, Yerba Maté, and it tasted (well, not very good) but also like the kava drink they gave to us when I was in Fiji last July. And I don’t know, I guess I am just feeling beach-sick and reminiscent . Photos like this remind me how much there is worth saving.

PS – Thanks everyone who gave me their feedback on the health care bill via twitter. You can also direct message me or send me an email or write in the comments. I am compiling them all and will post in the next day or two. There’s still time to throw your two cents in the mix. The reason I wanted to do this was to get a sense of how the people around me are feeling, as opposed to what all the talking heads are saying. I will write a post soon about my feelings on health care, which I think is important, since health is half of what I do here.

Have a great Thursday!

…and speaking of water, films to see.

And as we take the next few days to wax poetic about water, there are a couple movies that you should see. Alex at Eat Persimmons tweet-minded me about it this morning…

First, Blue Gold, a film on water privatization.

Second, Tapped, a film on the bottle water industry.

Lastly, check out more about Food & Water Watch’s campaign and tell us about what you’re doing to celebrate World Water Day.

When it comes to food, you get what you pay for

“How much do you spend on food?”

Lately it seems I have been reading this question all over the place, especially in the food blogosphere. Recently, Ryan at Greens for Good got real with the question on her blog and I wanted to speak my two cents as well. ‘Cause I’m startin’ to get a little fed up. No pun intended.

People (myself included some days) are complaining about the high cost of food, even though on average Americans spend less on food than basically all other developed and under-developed nations. When it comes to the percentage that Americans spend of their take-home pay on food, I have seen and heard figures ranging from 10 percent to 16 percent, but either way, this statistic is a far cry from the 40 percent that our grandparent’s generation use to pay for their food. Google-searching “how much do you pay for food each week?” led me to this discussion board, which is a telling account of what people are spending on food, and what they are getting in return. I especially noted this comment, from a “Kathy” from Minneapolis:

“I am in awe of most of you who can feed your families for so cheap. I too googled this because I am spending WAY too much on food for a family of 6. We never eat out, I pack lunches every day, and buy 90% organic, including household cleaners, meats, produce, etc. All that organic stuff is EXPENSIVE, but I feel worth it for my family’s health. A lot of our health problems have gone away since eating clean and healthy foods! Plus, we are all losing weight. I am not going to put how much I spend per month here, because I am embarrassed by how much I am spending. It is comparable to Lisa above who spends $400/mo on just herself… I can see that. x 6 and we are almost there. Grass fed beef, organic milk, whole grain breads and pastas, organic chicken, omega eggs, etc… it is just EXPENSIVE, and no coupons for that stuff! I cut back everywhere else, because I believe it is more important that we are fed healthy. It is paying off! I used to spend about $600/month… but that is what made us all in such poor health! It would be hard to go back to that.”

Tell me about it Kathy, I was in awe too. Some of these people are reporting that they spend $100/month on groceries for a family of two! Either they are grossly underestimating, aren’t including a LOT of eating out, are surviving on Ramen noodles, or are growing their own food in a garden or something. I just can’t figure out how two people could feed themselves for that little money. That is literally $12/week per person.

So, let’s talk about why this isn’t a good thing.

Last night, I watched King Corn for the first time, which I think helps to illustrate where our cheap food comes from, and what makes it so dangerous and necessary to avoid. Basically, this is a simplified explanation for how our food system currently works, with a little history thrown in…

“Get big or get out,” no ‘Butz’ about it

“What we want out of agriculture is plenty of food, and that’s our drive now. This year, 1973, we’re going to see the most massive increase in production of farm products ever in the history of this country and next year we are going for a still further increase on top of that, as we pull out all stops.” – Earl Butz

Basically it all started with this guy, Earl Butz, who became Secretary of Agriculture in 1971. He completely overhauled federal agricultural policy and many New Deal era farm support programs. He urged the production of commodity crops like corn, and rewarded farmers for growing more, which forced out small farmers and began this financial struggle of the small farmer operation.

Yeah. Way to go, Earl.

Downward spiral

The more corn we grew, the more we had to find something to do with it.

One thing we started doing was feeding it to cows, who were never meant to eat a primarily corn-based diet, and now it is often 60 percent of their diet. When they do, they put on a high amount of body fat quickly, becoming obese animals (which is desirable for agribusiness who want to create food as efficiently as possible, despite the fact that it is nutritionally devoid and full of saturated fat.) According to King Corn, “If you look at a grain-fed t-bone steak, it would have 9 grams of saturated fat while a comparable steak from a grass-fed cow would have 1.5 grams of saturated fat.”) That is why when you bite into a hamburger at McDonald’s, you are eating mostly fat (well, mostly corn) and NOT protein. But the cows also suffer from a completely separate condition aside from obesity from eating corn, they develop a condition known as acidosis. To combat this acidosis, the industry began mixing antibiotics in with their corn feed. This is why antibiotics are in the industrial meat that we eat (and if it doesn’t say antibiotic free, the cows the meat came from were fed antibiotics). In fact, 70 percent of the antibiotics that are produced in this country end up in cattle feed.

Now, the other thing we started doing was scientifically re-engineering our corn to make it into high-fructose corn syrup, which is used in processed foods. In fact, most of the corn fields of this country aren’t actually producing any edible food, they are producing a food commodity, the main ingredient of a chemical reaction. We all know about HFCS now, but 20 years ago, no one really did, no one asked any questions. But all the while, Americans were becoming more and more obese, and now we know why. But we are still eating this food. McDonald’s and Tyson and all the other huge agribusinesses out there (well, there aren’t all that many, actually) are still in business.

Not in Kansas anymore

“If the American people wanted strictly grass-fed beef, we would produce grass-fed beef for them. But it’s definitely more expensive, and one of the tenants in America is that Americans want and demand cheap food.” – Farmer in King Corn

Our subsidy program rewards the overproduction of cheap corn, which translates into cheap food, and translates into more calorically-dense and nutritionally deficient food, which translates into obese people, which translates into more diabetes and other health problems, and more medications and hospitalizations and health care costs.

But the thing is, we have this information now. In 2001, Eric Schlosser wrote the book, Fast Food Nation, which has been compared by many to the work of journalist Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle, investigating the conditions of factory workers in the early 1900’s. This book really paved the way for all the questions and investigation. Now, food advocates like Michael Pollan have taken this movement by storm. Omnivore’s Dilemma is now available for kids! Awesome! Millions of people know the Food Inc. story or have seen it. We are finally in a position to begin changing things. Which is great. And yet, not enough.

Yesterday, Oprah had Michael Pollan on again. I was working so I didn’t actually get to watch, but my sister basically provided minute by minute updates on my phone. Now, I know that Oprah is careful about saying anything to cross the line and land herself in another food libel litigation suit, but it pains me to no end to hear her saying things like, “But eating this way and spending so much money just isn’t realistic for most people,” (what is realistic? Spending hundreds of dollars per month on diabetes medication?) or “Remember, this is just the OPINION of some people.” (No. It’s not opinion. This is reality.) Don’t placate Americans’ fears about our food. We have salmonella showing up in our hydrolyzed vegetable protein for crying out loud. There is so much cause for concern it’s ridiculous. It is unfortunate that these multinational corporations hold so much power and influence (aka our money) that they are able to keep Oprah and other prominent figures from actually coming right out and saying what they already know to be true: that our food is slowly killing us. I consider Oprah to be a good barometer for what people in this country are thinking and believing, and I appreciate her giving attention to this topic. But we can’t let corporations keep this upper hand. It’s time to bite the upper hand that feeds us (and makes us sick).

Shifting Priorities

I’m not saying go out and spend a ton of money on your food just to say you did. But, we need to take more time to consider what we put into our bodies. Food holds so little value anymore. We aren’t caring enough about the food that we eat and it is reflecting in our poor health. We are caring much more about things that don’t really matter. What are we caring about instead? Our clothes, our cars, partying on the weekend, whatever.

So the question of, “How much do you spend on food?” really becomes, “Where do your priorities lie?” In your health? Or somewhere else?

In an effort to allow people who may feel sheepish about exposing how much or how little they spend on their food every month, I am putting up this poll. Please still leave me comments and criticisms or whatever, but also do the poll. I know it is hard to track how much money you spend, but make a rough estimate to the best of your ability. (I thought about putting up a poll asking, “What percentage of your income do you spend on food?” But I think that gets complicated. Based on rough figures in my head, and if I happen to go out to dinner that week, I estimate that I spend about $100/wk on food, less if I don’t eat out, more if I eat out somewhere fancy like last weekend. This figure represents about 30% of my ‘income’.)

I am going to do an experiment over the next week. I pledge not purchase or consume any products with HFCS, will purchase local and organic ingredients whenever possible, and will pay no attention to price. I will save my receipts/write down what I buy and report back next weekend.

In the meantime, what are some ways in which you manage to save money while purchasing healthy, local food that don’t involve sacrificing quality?

No Oscar for Food Inc. & a non-meat related food recall, this time in my kitchen

Hi. I am sad girl right now. I am also protesting the remainder of the Oscar’s because Food Inc. did not end up winning an Academy Award tonight. I am upset I even watched tonight, all I cared about was the Documentary category. Although, I did love seeing Avatar kick some major ass. Go Avatar. Freakin’ love that movie. One of the greatest of all time.

Blah blah The Cove won instead. Blah blah it’s probably a good movie. Wah wah, I’m bitter, I’ll get over it once I remember again that the Oscar’s don’t really matter, and it’s made it’s impact and we will move on from here.

OK, officially over it. Congrats to all the award nominees and winners.

Moving on.

Remember that post I did a while back about all the food in my kitchen and the Food Rules that I break and follow? I know you do, because it’s still my most popular post to date. Anyhow, remember that dodgy label on the vegetable bouillon cubes? The ones that said they have chicken in them? Well, my mother, who apparently is on the FDA’s listserv or something for some inexplicable reason…sent me this email this morning:

Creative Contract Packaging Corporation Recalls HERB-OX® Bouillon Products Because of Possible Health Risk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 4, 2010 – Aurora, IL – This action is being taken after Basic Food Flavors, Inc. (“Basic”) issued a recall for all Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (“HVP”) dry powder manufactured by Basic Food Flavors on or after September 17, 2009, due to a positive test result for Salmonella in a production lot. Our records indicate that some of the HVP being recalled by Basic Food Flavors was used as an ingredient in HERB-OX® items.

As a result, Creative Contract Packaging Corporation of Aurora, Illinois, is recalling specific code dates of HERB-OX® beef, vegetable, and chicken granular bouillon products because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications can include severe arthritis.

Read full text here.

I mean, what can I say really. I told me so? This is why that food rule exists. The more ingredients that end up in our food and the less you know about those ingredients, the worse they likely are for you and the higher the chance that one of them will get contaminated by harmful, potentially life-threatening bacteria. Luckily, I hadn’t yet opened the veggie cubes, figuring I would pawn them off on someone—I mean, they have chicken in them. (Now I can take them back to the grocery store and get my money back.)

Sometimes I feel like no food is safe to eat, and then something like this happens and I think I’m justified in feeling that way.

The point is, this is our food system. Here it is. Salmonella in my vegetable broth. Seriously, folks? Yes. Seriously.

ps. Check your cabinets and watch out for other foods that have hydrolyzed vegetable protein in them that you’ll want to throw out or return due to this recall.