Posts Tagged ‘factory farming’
First off, I’m excited to say I have a new job!! I’m now doing marketing (mostly graphic design and social media) for a local farmers market association!! Right up my alley, yea? I’m psyched — and loving it.
Secondly, I’m feeling inspired to make a serious change in the way I think about food. (More about my food challenge is below!)
Now, I’ve been here before. Pollan has a way of doing this to me, but I’m not ALWAYS reading Pollan. McDonalds is right next to the Home Depot (seems like my 2nd home, most weekends), and it’s all too easy to grab a 10-piece McNugget and head on my way.
But right now, Pollan has me seriously second guessing that nugget. And the entire food system. And the one staple that makes up an inordinately large part of that food system: Corn.
You’ll have to read the book for Pollan’s great description of corn sex, and how corn’s reproductive habits (among other things) made it perfectly suited for mankind, how we chose it and it chose us, and how we co-evolved to the point where it seriously rules our lives. Forget about robots, Pollan has me convinced it’s corn that’s going to wake up and take over the world.
You’ll also have to read the book for his dive into corn economics: how politics overtook centuries of common knowledge and agricultural good sense, and how the U.S. government (thanks to the Nixon administration and all thereafter) turned farmers into “agribusinessmen.”
Fast forward to 2011: the pastoral Midwestern farm doesn’t exist. One factory farmer feeds about 130 people (that’s the most productive farmer of all time) — all in corn.
Corn is the glue holds the modern food system — as well as all those McNuggets — together.
It’s also a big percentage of the rest of the ingredients. Corn starch and high fructose corn syrup: those are the most obvious. How about maltodextrin? Sometimes that’s derived from soy, but often it’s corn, and it’s in EVERYTHING, it seems. Same with xantham gum, vegetable oil, food starch and modified food starch, MSG, malt (and malt syrup or extract), dextrose, fructose, sucrose, baking powder, caramel coloring (and flavoring), and more. Just try to find something in the supermarket without corn hiding in it.
Going one step down the food chain, try to find meat or dairy from an animal that wasn’t fed corn. Those products generally aren’t labeled, so you really have no idea. But in general, it seems, assume it was unless you know the farmer yourself.
My One-Week Food Challenge
Just a little bit appalled by all this, I’ve decided to challenge myself to eat for one week without ingesting any invisible corn. Now, I pretty much accept that this is impossible, but I’m going to do my best.
Also, I’m allowing myself to eat corn itself — as in, the actual whole vegetable. And I might make an exception or two for corn meal, since that’s the next least processed version of corn, and it’s something I could theoretically make myself without too much trouble.
At Farmer Joe’s this afternoon (similar to Whole Foods), I perused the aisles looking for things I can eat this week. Big brand peanut butter is out (corn syrup). So, surprisingly, is grated mozzarella cheese (all contained corn starch or “cellulose powder,” which I can only assume comes from corn).
Adele’s Sausage is out too, along with most breakfast cereals. Beer doesn’t list ingredients (?), but I’ve read it’s often made with corn products, so there will be none of that this week either. Good thing I’ve stockpiled the wine…
I ended up coming home with: Challah bread, bulk granola, bulk dried mango, and several dairy products which probably break the rules, since I don’t know what the animals were fed: organic Kefir, a block of mozzarella, and a tub of marscapone. I’ll supplement this throughout the week with farmers market fare and stuff from my own garden.
Tonight’s dinner: Homemade pizza. I made the dough myself — this is a 5-minute job and much easier than you’d expect! The sauce was my own as well (canned this past weekend!).
I sauteed up some portobella mushrooms in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and tossed them on top along with an onion a friend picked on a local farm, the mozzarella (grated myself, since the pre-grated bags were full of corn), a little bit of pancetta (rule breaker, since the pig probably ate loads of corn), and globs of goat cheese (goats probably eat corn, too).
It took about 30 minutes of prep and 30 minutes to cook. I’d say it was moderately corn-free, save the animal products and the little bit of cornmeal I used to keep the dough from sticking to the stone.
Tomorrow’s breakfast: Kefir with granola or challah with marscapone and a corn-free jam.
I’m already breaking rules, out of necessity — I just don’t have easy (i.e. convenient) access to 100% grass-fed meat AND dairy, even at most of the farmers markets! And of all places, the Bay Area probably has the most access in the country.
This is going to be difficult… I’ll keep you posted.
I am an omnivore. I like eating meat.
But lately I’ve started to question my meat eating ways, since reading more and more about factory farming makes my stomach turn more and more often — the thought of a juicy chicken breast makes me a little nauseas, knowing a lot of that juice is actually muck-and-feces-filled water soaked up by the meat in the factory process (and I paid for that extra weight!).
I’ve never been one to sympathize with animal rights activists — sure, I want animals that are treated well, but…I also want to eat them, and I know slaughter is a necessary means to that end. Animals in nature have been eating other animals since the dawn of time, and I am just another animal-eating animal. And though it’s within my power — and would not be unhealthy for me — to become a vegetarian, meat is just too damn good.
But then I read about the abuses to pigs in the factory farm system that produces 99 percent of available pork.
Did you know pigs are extremely social and clever animals? According to Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer, they’re legendary for undoing the latches on their pens, returning to undo the latches of their fellow pigs’ pens, often work in pairs, and are usually repeat offenders. Pregnant sows — whose instinct, Foer writes, tells them to build a nest and prepare for their young — are kept alone in cages so small they can’t move and they develop sores from rubbing the bars (apparently the cage prevents them from falling and crushing their piglets, since genetic engineering and confinement make pigs unable to easily lower themselves to the ground).
At the supermarket, looking at the refrigerated wall of meat products, these things now come to mind.
But on top of that, I feel I need to take into account the environmental impacts of eating meat too! Did you know that, according to the United Nations, the livestock industry contributes almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases — 40 percent more than the entire transportation industry? Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty, or even all that inconvenienced, driving a little farther to get more sustainably farmed meat. (Issues of offshore drilling and non-renewable resources notwithstanding, of course — I can only worry about so many problems at once!)
I did feel guilty last night eating sashimi at my favorite sushi bar — I didn’t want to ask where the fish came from, or by what methods it was acquired, because I wanted to enjoy the bright, fresh taste of that perfect slab of yellowtail!
How about all the antibiotics being pumped into the water of factory farmed animals? There are reasons — MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus) being a big one — why we humans need a prescription to get antibiotics. Yet factory farmers feed it like Wheaties to their animals, no vet signature required. (Interestingly, the FDA is tackling this very issue right now, and for the first time in decades may be making progress toward regulating this practice.)
And while I am angry at BP for causing what is likely the greatest American environmental disaster ever (89 to 176 million gallons and counting), did you know the Exxon Valdez spill (11 million gallons) was not necessarily the greatest before it? In 1995, Smithfield spilled 20 million gallons of pig farm feces and waste — stored in a toxic “lagoon” — into a North Carolina river. Oops!
For the time being, as I continue reading and researching and learning, I am dedicating myself to being (and becoming) a more conscious eater of animals.
Living in the Bay Area, I’m in a fairly unique position in terms of access to local, sustainable produce and meat, so I’m trying to eat only (or at least mostly) meat from sources I know and trust.
I recently happened across Marin Sun Farms’ roadside butcher shop an hour north of San Francisco, and just last week heard they had opened a shop in Oakland, 15 minutes from my kitchen — their pork, beef, lamb, goat, chicken, etc. comes from healthy, pastured animals on a farm committed to reducing greenhouse gasses in their practices.
From Berkeley Bowl to the little market near my office, I’m discovering more and more sources of sustainable meat — the foodie scene makes it easy to find shops and restaurants, clerks and chefs, who care about this stuff. (Don’t forget, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters are both from Berkeley).
For full disclosure, however, I have yet to ask if any of the animals in my fridge were genetically modified. Committing to buying grass-fed, to me, is an important first step.
That doesn’t make it an easy one, though — Steve’s grandfather just sent us a freezer-filling order of Omaha Steaks. (Where’s the farm in this PR statement: “Our state-of-the-art business facilities include two manufacturing plants, a distribution center, and a freezer warehouse.”)
I can’t refuse an old man’s gift — but how should I feel while preparing and eating it?