Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

U.S. Food System: a recap post of almost everything I learned this year & announcement of new blog

This is the last installment of The Local Foodie Fight blog as we’ve known it. (Hah.) Sorry I up-n-disappeared for a while. It’s been harder than I thought post-grad and interning 40 hours a week and I had meant to post a “recap/this is what I learned/final summation” from this past semester but it took a while and so here it finally is. Nothing too revelatory or groundbreaking. If you have followed the blog at all over the past 4 months, nothing here should be new but I think it’s a helpful post to kind of tie everything together–well as much as that can possibly be done. After this post, this blog will become strictly a place for recipes and restaurant reviews.

Problems

The majority of the food production problems the United States and most of the world is experiencing with regard to sustainability is the result of the Green Revolution, which happened from around 1943 to 1970. This “Green Revolution” isn’t what you would initially think. It actually refers to a series of research, development, and technological initiatives that increased industrial agriculture in volume, largely replacing many small family-owned operations. The initiatives were essentially intended to do one thing: increase the amount of food calories that were produced in order to feed an increasingly larger population.

The initiatives that were pursued during this government-motivated movement involved the development of high-yielding grains and commodity foodstuffs (like heavily subsidized corn and soy), expansion of irrigation infrastructure (which led to issues of soil nutrient depletion, groundwater depletion and erosion), and use of genetically modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides (which would later prove detrimental to human health and specific ecosystems). Furthermore, this reliance on corn and soy translated into a dependence on more heavily processed food that utilizes ingredients like soybean oil and high-fructose corn syrup. I highly encourage you to conduct an experiment over the next day: look at the ingredient label of everything you eat. Unless you are allergic to soy (my roommate is, it’s a tough lifestyle), or you follow a macrobiotic or raw diet, I would bet at least 25-50% of the food you eat has at least one of these ingredients.

This cheap, fast, processed food has gone on to contribute to obesity, heart disease, cholesterol problems, and other health problems and also poses increased risks related to food borne-illness due to the high quantity of food being turned out and the cross-contamination that results, coupled with insufficient federal standards. This has also resulted in an agricultural economy that has power concentrated in just a few hands and pockets, namely giant corporations like Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and Monsanto, which weakens local economies and cultures across the globe and contributes to global warming through the carbon output of the transportation used to move this food such far distances. Furthermore, this has led to a growth in organic labeling but also has contributed to misleading marketing that has further confused consumers and created a divide between people and wholesome, nutritious food. This divide is a cultural side effect of our current food system that will take much work to fill.

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Additional challenges

There are several challenges this movement is currently facing.

It can’t be just ‘trickle down’ or ‘bottom-up.’ Too many authors and scientists are preaching about green development while sipping from McDonald’s cups and Dasani bottles. And too many urban gardeners don’t understand how government involvement affects what people are able to do in their personal lives and how to make behaviors more practical for people on tight budgets. Leaders of the movement need to be more united, informed, and responsible for their personal actions and the message those actions send to the public. Throughout my research and while speaking to experts, there has seemingly emerged two somewhat distinct “camps” of thinkers in the field of sustainable food system development: people who believe progress will come from the “top” (government regulations, subsidy revisions, legislation, corporate restructuring, breaking up monopolies, changing company practices) and those who believe progress is going to be motivated from the “bottom” (individuals, families and communities making changes in their personal lives). It is with optimism that I believe both sets of changes are happening and both will continue to happen until both collective needs and personal needs are met in a way that is equitable, as well as ecologically and economically beneficial. Not only will the possibilities made through political action trickle down to consumers, but consumer action and demand will rise up to influence those who possesses the political power and what decisions they are driven to make.

The Farm Bill requires intense overhauling. This is an issue many organizations are lobbying hard to change. The USDA needs to begin incentivizing biodiversity instead of monoculture commodity crops, to encourage farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables, and help end our obsession with high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods created using corn and soy surpluses. We should also move away from free trade agricultural policies, which encourage agribusinesses to buy crops from countries with poor environmental standards and labor conditions, and move more toward food sovereignty and local, domestic farmer support. These sorts of efforts would also pave the way for cafeterias at schools and other institutions to fund and provide infrastructure that would allow them to purchase food from regional food producers more often. Improving the food of young eaters would start a generation on the proper track toward health and wellness, instead of death and obesity as they currently are. Lobbying on Farm Bill work will largely fall on organizations, but those organizations need support from investors and foundations and feedback from individuals in order to their job, so ultimately we all have a role to play.

Environmentalists aren’t on the same page with each other, let alone with economists and financial experts. In just a few short months of following the different approaches to food production, I’ve heard too many varying opinions and stances on how to deal with our food system woes. For example, William McDonough asserts that our food security issues need not be battled with population control; Lester Brown sees population stabilization as the most important factor in regaining stability of our food system. Food sustainability advocates need to be on the same page in order to maintain credibility and convince skeptics. They also need to think like economists just as often as they think about making progress toward a greener world. My former professor, Terry Sankar, has invented a vertical wind axis turbine which is currently priced at about $30,000/each. His goal is to get that number down to about $10,000, because if you can make turbines cheaper, you get more people buying, you get more people on board with clean energy. You have to use economics in a way that benefits all involved, instead of in a way that produces one-sided profits. This is how we need to think. Create, invest and innovate in order to increase the feasibility of products, services, and projects that are better for the planet and humanity.

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Seeds of change and planting more

Throughout the past decade, a movement has started to slowly take shape. For example, while food industry monopolies have taken hold, in some areas, small farmers like Michael Heller, owner of Clagett Farm in Virginia, have worked toward converting previous corn fields into fruit, vegetable and livestock farms. Organizers have begun to educate community members on methods of urban agriculture, and we have a lot of development in this area. Innovations include: green rooftop farms, neighborhood gardens, hydroponic window farms for tiny apartments and compost bins within homes to produce richer, more nutritious soil while cutting down on the trash sent to landfills. These are small movements in the grand scheme of things, but they are seeds of change.

However, these efforts, while important, are isolated. They need to be more sophisticated and organized in order to draw these initiatives together and be impact. Some tactics I propose include:

  • Better education and more recruiting for students to agricultural, urban agriculture, and sustainable farming educations, as well as training on how to manage these businesses effectively. (More universities are beginning to offer urban sustainability and food science degrees, and I see this trend picking up more in the future.)
  • Increased education within elementary and middle school about nutrition and our food system (The Farm to School program being a great example of how to connect children with producing food while also teaching about nutrition.)
  • Better public relations and strategic communications campaigns that convey the benefits (health, social, longer term economic gains) of organic food, urban agriculture, and supporting local farmers–incentives drive change

There is not any one solution or method that will bring us to a sustainable system of producing our food. After all, sustainable food production is not a goal, just as sustainability is not a goal–it’s a process, which fortunately is gaining acceptance. Improving our food system is no longer an option or a would-be-nice.

We often lose sight of our common interests as humans. There are countless special interest groups, government agencies, struggling families, corporations–the list goes on–and so many conflicting opinions and politics. Most of the time I feel like I’m on the “environmentalist side”, but as the last few months have passed, I’ve come to see it shouldn’t be about sides and winning arguments, it should be about finding our similarities. Or our…

Common ground.

This is going to wrap up my study, but I will be taking my intellectual thoughts, etc over to a new home. I hope you keep checking back here for the occasional (weekly, I think) local recipe/restaurant review and I also hope you consider expanding your green horizons through my new blog over at Talking on Common Ground.

I’d also like to just say thanks to everyone, especially all the food/fitness bloggers, who have followed me and become my Twitter friends and left comments and feedback and told me they enjoy this blog because in all seriousness I never thought anyone would read it.

OK, now hop on over to the new site and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

Communicating the benefits of urban agriculture while innovation grows

The area of urban agriculture has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years. I think the more people start to realize the feasibility, and soon necessity, of producing their own food, the more it will develop and become even more feasible, affordable, and mainstream. So what are some of the innovations we have seen?

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Innovations in urban agriculture

  • Hydroponics is a method of growing fruits and vegetables in water, which conserves the use of vast areas of farmland and allows crops to be grown in desert areas where they otherwise would not be able to. Further, it is able to also conserve and re-use water that is lost during evaporation or field run-off in traditional soil farming. Also, there is no risk for parasites or weeds to infest the controlled systems in which hydroponic plants are grown, therefore making them largely non-GMO and free of pesticides and chemicals. Bonus: you can grow hydroponically basically anywhere–in an apartment or a house. Eve Bratman has a hydroponic garden on her houseboat that she made entirely on her own from used water bottles and empty jugs.
  • Permaculture is still a bit of a flimsy term, in my opinion, only because it can mean so many different things, and isn’t widely known about. But it basically indicates an “ecologically designed system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor.” Permaculture is currently being used in different ways in different places and in all of those places, there is not a unified “permaculture” there are just isolated tactics that build on the idea of a permaculture. For example, think of worm composting, or vermiculture, which is one such tactic which is being carried out in various cities in the country, some even offering workshops and providing free worms and materials to those interested. This provides a sort of mutual symbiosis between two living things–the worms benefits by being fed, humans benefit by receiving rich soil and not filling landfills with compostable garbage. Perhaps a ” perfect permaculture” is the pie-in-the-sky goal we set to achieve, but it is through these mutually symbiotic relationships that we are able to do get closer to that.

    Photo credit: cafedirect

  • Rooftop farming, which can often be combined with hydroponic growing, is typcially used in areas of urban sprawl where soil/ground space is limited, to utilize unused rooftop spaces where sunlight is ample. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn is one case study that has really taken this concept to a whole new level. They also offer various workshops on cooking, gardening and how the farm works. Their farm grows primarily vegetables, and is open from June through November.
  • Sack gardening is a way for people to grow vegetables in small sack containers, usually when the contamination of the soil around them is too high. It is typically done on a smaller, individual scale, in places where food scarcity is a problem, and in both urban and rural locations.
  • Window farming is another way of using hydroponics, but in a specialized manner and primarily in urban settings. It is a way of using water bottles, water, hydroponic seeds (usually herbs and lettuce and greens like that), along with an low energy-intensive air pump which circulates the water, to grow plants in your window. This type of method is barely “farming,” however, if people were properly instructed on how to best go about making their own, it could be worth looking into. Also, if you live in a city and the view of your outdoors is the brick wall of the building next to yours, this could actually prove to be an improvement to your home, from an aesthetic viewpoint. (Not to mention that having plants in your home has been known to have all sorts of health benefits.)
  • Seasonal cooking would basically just mean knowing what is in season and planning your meals around those items. The fortunate reality is that a lot of us have access to local, fresh fruits and vegetables. However, many people don’t know what to do with a lot of those fruits and vegetables. It would be great to see more community and cooking classes, mobilizing people to learn how to cook just to start, but also to learn how to use local ingredients. Because if the option is there, there’s no reason not to choose local over imported. Epicurious offers an example of a map that can help to inform people about about what to expect is in peak season from their CSA or farmer’s market and how to therefore meal plan to accommodate those ingredients.

So what’s stopping us?

Locations. Some work better in some communities versus others.

Seasons. Not all of these methods can provide food at all times of the year everywhere, (except for the hydroponic ones.)

Culture/Value systems. People are going to have to shift how they think about and value their food, each other, and future generations. These types of methods require more time, patience, research, and money than traditional ways of getting food–going to a restaurant or the grocery store. Which means people are going to have to change the way they think about food. People might have to forfeit some of the time they spend watching television in the evenings in order to tend to their gardens or make time to cook meals from scratch in their homes. They are going to have to learn to appreciate eating with the seasons, and in fact, eating generally less, in quantity.

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Communicating benefits to consumers

While all of these methods of urban gardening and having a local, low carbon-footprint certainly interest some of us, and they are something we would be willing to use, they aren’t all 100 percent practical. Would these methods be used in conjunction with traditional food shopping? Would they slowly replace traditional methods? Or would they just be something some people adopted while others did not?

It’s hard to really know the answer. What I foresee is something quite similar to how companies like, say, Apple, market their products to consumers: first, the innovators get on board. Eve Bratman, my professor with the compost bin and on-the-boat garden, is one such innovator in the field of urban agriculture. Next, there are the early adopters, then the early majority (also called the “pragmatists”),  then the late majority (“the conservatives”), and lastly the laggards. How you move along more quickly is by conveying the importance–the “gotta-have-it” factor–of the technologies.

This reality and challenge is something that excites me, as a student and soon-to-be graduate in the field of communications. I feel like a lot of what is missing in the environmental movement is strategic communication about how and why people should change their behaviors. I think there is a place for communicators to get that message out to the public and I see that as being a huge catalyst for change in the future of the “sustainable movement”.

The way I imagine these sorts of methods becoming more widely accepted is through slow implementation motivated by strategic communication, just like all new technology works. Pilot programs embraced and tested out by the innovators and early adopters will not only provide evidence for the feasibility of certain tactics, but will allow for what doesn’t work to shine through and motivate alterations that can be modeled after later on. This will also allow programs to evolve at a pace that doesn’t freak out the “treehugger-phobics” as I like to call them (the kind of people who, when you “threaten to take away their right to buy bottled water” get all bent out of shape and start spouting off allegations of “fascism”)!

It’s important to communicate knowing that there are going to be those opposing voices when it comes to getting people to change their lifestyles. Which is why I feel when it comes to revolutionizing our food system, especially with tactics that require people to change on a personal level, you have to prove to consumers the benefits, and that change doesn’t have to be just easy, it’s rewarding.

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

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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

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.

If there were only more farmers like Joel Salatin in this world…

I’m getting through the meat of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both literally and figuratively), and I have found myself particularly interested and moved by the section where Pollan interviews and lives with Joel Salatin and his family for a week. Salatin is a man I have heard speak quite passionately in the past about the topic of sustainable food production and bringing consumers together with their farmers, so they know where their food is coming from.

Joel Salatin, self-described libertarian, environmentalist and Christian lunatic, argues there is “no salvation to be had through legislation.” He argues that it is government subsidies and USDA requirements that make real food produced by local, small-scale farmers so expensive. He’s right. Small, organic farms must follow the same regulations as corporate organic farms (you know, like the ones that supply to Whole Foods)–which often means buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that smaller scale farms really don’t need. In fact, Salatin has had his meat inspected by a lab before to test the bacteria load, it’s far smaller than that of any supermarket meat. These regulations explain why food from small farms is more expensive–their output is tiny by comparison to factory farms, but they’re still expected to buy the “necessary equipment” and pay for a USDA meat inspector.

On top of all this, Salatin and small farmers like him are not receiving government subsidies like large farms do, because they aren’t producing commodity crops.

Salatin essentially answers the questions I posed in my recent post about the small scale movement for better, “more real” fast food, which were: Do we try to fix what is broken, or start from scratch? Do we try to convince traditional fast food chains to clean up their acts or just hope they go out of business when they are not able to keep up with the consumer demand for healthier, safer, more sustainable food?

Salatin’s answer is to empower individuals with the right philosophy and information to opt out–that is, to stop supporting big agriculture and start supporting local farmers–collectively:

“…Make no mistake: it’s happening. The mainstream is splitting into smaller and smaller groups of like-minded people. It’s a little like Luther nailing his 95 theses up at Wittenberg. Back then it was the printing press that allowed the Protestants to break off and form their own communities; now it’s the Internet, splintering us into tribes that want to go their own way.

“…An alternative food system is rising up on the margins. One day, Frank Perdue and Don Tyson are going to wake up and find that their world has changed. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen, just as it did for those Catholic priests who came to church one Sunday morning only to find that, my goodness, there aren’t as many people in the pews today. Where in the world has everybody gone?”

So, how do we go from here? Well, if you are reading this right now, then I guess we’re already on our way. It takes conversations like this. It takes acting on the knowledge that we have. It takes getting mad enough about how screwed up everything is, and then opting for what is real, what is better for us. Salatin doesn’t even talk much about lobbying efforts and trying to change the government, although it’s clear that he believes much of the problems lie in the hands of the government. However, he sees the power of the individual as stronger, he believes individual choice is strong enough–what you choose to buy and eat makes a huge statement. Speaking of which, you can find all the restaurants Polyface supplies here on his Web site. OK, maybe I am looking at some of the menus online currently. Maybe my mouth is watering.

I guess this as good a time as any to also mention that this whole concept gets at quite an inner struggle I have been having ever since I began learning more about our broken food system and that is this fundamental question: is government the cause of all of the problems or can it be the solution? At my internship, more often than not, F&WW sides with the idea that more government regulation, oversight, ownership, and management is what will keep our food and water out of the hands of corporations who have little in mind about our health or safety and everything in mind about their bottom line. But they also do understand that the USDA is far from perfect. And their anti-corporate stance certainly does not translate to anti-small-farmer trying to make a profit in order to stay alive, just as Joel Salatin’s libertarian anti-government-regulation of small farm organic stance doesn’t make him an anarchist. But still, I struggle with this debate. What do you think?

Next up on my reading agenda is Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Eating Animals, which explores the atrocities of factory farming. But, on a personal note, while I haven’t eaten meat in over eight years, I truly believe in the possibility for animals to live a full and happy life and then go on to serve as an energy source for humans, as they do on Polyface Farm. And as a testament to how much I truly believe in what Salatin is doing, I think I’d actually go out on a limb here, and while the thought of this may actually make me feel slightly physically ill…I’d eat a steak from the Polyface farm. I might even eat a pork chop.

Food Inc.: Finally getting the recognition it deserves!

If there is one thing we know about creating social change, it is that you’ve got to either shock people, appeal to their emotions, or convince them that whatever is happening that you want to change is wrong. Food Inc. manages to do all three of these things. I feel like it’s taken Food Inc. a little long to get this recognition, (was released June 2009) but better late than never, I say!

Three major developments have happened with Food Inc. over this past week.

1 – Food Inc., along with Michael Pollan, appeared on last Wednesday’s Oprah. Everything that Oprah touches turns to gold. Mad props and a big thanks to the Big O.

2 – Food Inc. became the #1 selling movie on Amazon (get your copy here or find some other way to see the movie–it’s just fabulous) AND Pollan’s Food Rules became #1 selling book. It’s only $5. My copy arrived a couple days ago. I have already read it. I have also already started reading it to my friends. Like a bedtime story, only at all times of the day. In the kitchen. On the bus. Wherever. I will post a review of the book later on.

3 – and the big news of the day: Food Inc. has been nominated for an Oscar!! How fantastic is this? I might actually watch the Oscar’s this year!

But OK, here is my cynical take on all of this. I think it is great the movie and its message are getting out there to the mainstream, because the more people that see it, the more of an impact it can have. However, I am slightly afraid everyone will see the movie, think, “Wow, that really sucks that that is how things are,” and maybe talk about it for an hour, and then continue to carry on with their life. Let’s be real, Super Size Me was a HUGE hit, and McDonald’s is still selling Big Macs and greasy fries, because people are still ordering them.

BUT let’s think positively. Hopefully people will see it, be shocked, moved, and convinced, and then feel legitimately bad about continuing to support the corporate food system. Of course, we aren’t all going to stop shopping at grocery stores tomorrow, but, if people pay more attention to where the stuff they are buying comes from, the consumer’s message will trickle down to the companies, who will either be forced to change their ways, or go out of business. Consumers have the power to hold them accountable, we are who keeps them in business.

On a personal note, I’m currently on my lunch break, munching on carrot sticks from the farmers market. I could never go back to those slimy grocery store baby carrots. Blech. When you actually eat a real carrot that was grown like a carrot should be and not screwed around with afterward, you see those baby carrots don’t even taste remotely like carrots.

Also, please check out the enormous honey crisp apple I have to eat today. That’s my ipod touch next to it. Yeah, that’s big. And delicious. You’re jealous.

Congrats, Food Inc., I hope you win that Oscar for Documentary Feature!