There was a time when no one read labels or worried about what was in their food. Food went directly from the garden, or farm, to our tables-locally. Ogden Nash wrote the Clean Platter from which I’ve stolen some entertaining lines:
“Some singers sing of ladies’ eyes, and some of ladies ‘ lips. Refined ones praise the ladylike ways, and coarse ones hymn their hips. The Oxford Book of English Verse, is lush with lyrics tender; A poet, I guess, is more or less, preoccupied with gender.
Yet I, though custom call me crude, prefer to sing in praise of food. Food, yes food. I brood on food.”
But a clean platter today is difficult. Big industrial farms provide millions of Americans with affordable food and they still make a profit. Commendable as long as it is healthy food, and for the most part it is. But we too must brood on food.
Loop holes in regulations and competitiveness, the rock of capitalism, has changed the state of our plate. Eating healthfully shouldn’t be a battle. Inaccurate labeling; hiding the sugar content by listing it under 16 different names; labels that don’t tell you where your food comes from. Your label may read processed in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it was grown or raised here. Monsanto spends billions to make GMO products free from labeling. Genetically modified foods have been with us for a century, but not with pesticides built into the seeds. Round-up laden seeds, have, as a by-product, produced super weeds, resistant to Round-up and other herbicides.
Cooperation between sustainable, small-scale, community based, organic and humane, food for all has been quietly taking over, spurred by activists in the Good Food Uprising, the fastest growing segment of our food economy. That’s the good news.
But, it depends on what state you live in. Consider the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas ham. Industrial geneticists designed a turkey with such massive breasts, they couldn’t stand up on their own feet or even reproduce. Held in a sprawling concrete and steel animal factories. But here, I can drive across the river to Tuolumne County and buy my turkey from a ranch where turkeys run free and gobble at you from behind their fenced enclosure. And, they sell them all plastic wrapped like any other turkey in our local grocery stores. Tough on young families because they cost more.
Hogs are smart and social. They feel stress and pain. But the agri-giants callously raised sows in confined cages where they could not even turn around. Forced to be perpetual birthing machines, immobilized where they forlornly wave their heads back and forth and chew on their cages. Moved to a birthing crate, then stripped of their babies and re-impregnated for another round of enforced gestation. Investigative reporters, worker whistle blowers, the Humane Society and outraged consumers of every stripe have turned around many of these atrocities. Millions of hogs have been set free. (Unfortunately, not in the Carolinas.) That’s why I want a label that tells me where my meat comes from.
What’s nice is that restaurants like Chipolte Grill, Burger King, Whole Foods, Costco, Oscar Mayer and even Wal-Mart has responded by refusing to use or sell factory raised meat.
But, fish is another matter. Wal-Mart clearly labels their shrimp from Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and other Asian countries so you know it comes from polluted waters. It is cheap. If you like shrimp, the U.S. is a huge producer of wild, healthy shrimp. You might rethink cheap because some countries keep peelers in slave-like conditions to peel those shrimp for export. It has become a scandal in Vietnam. And imported shrimp has a higher bacteria rate than home-grown. Some stores repackage their shrimp and label it “Processed in the U.S.” Don’t buy into that deception.
Oil interests have found a new use for their witches brew of 750 toxic chemicals in fracking water, selling it to agribusiness to water their crops instead of power blasting it into the ground water. Nice. Let’s have a bit of poison on our salad. California Assemblyman, Frank Gato produced legislation requiring warning labels on all state vegetables irrigated with fracking water. Yay! The downside is you have to ask your produce person, or store manager because the label is so small you can’t read it. (Well, I can’t read it.)
I don’t want to fight for bees suffering from Colony Collapse from Neurotoxins such as sulfoxaflor, to keep them safe to pollinate food crops we depend on; or fight for fair labeling. Why must we put up with plastic packaging that can make us sick. (Do not warm foods in the microwave in plastic and steer clear of BPA leaching plastics numbered 3 or 7.) We can’t trust our own FDA because they’ve sold out to special interests approving untested chemicals that affect our food and water.
And countries are supposed to report their emissions as we begin to broadside climate change. I read constant condemning reports of coal-burning plants in China. But, the U.S., through some marvelous congressional loophole, does not report emissions from the meat industry. Congress attached a provision to the EPA’s budget. It prohibited the agency from spending money to collect emission reports on livestock producers—specifically the greenhouse gases emitted from some of the 335 million tons of manure produced each year. Livestock producers, which include meat and dairy farming, account for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. That’s more than all the world’s exhaust-belching cars, buses, boats and trains combined.
A team of researchers from Harvard University, Stanford University, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and elsewhere worked together to collect air samples and analyze actual emissions near large livestock operations such as cattle feeding lots in California, Nebraska, and Iowa. They found that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock were twice as bad as what the EPA estimated. The United States is under-reporting its total greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations by about 4 percent per year as a result of bad livestock data—nearly equivalent to the entire emissions of Spain. Thanks Congress.
During our water crisis, here in the West, the biggest wasters are agri-giants. Scientists at the Pacific Institute and National Geographic calculated how much water is being pumped into today’s industrialized food system:
One little almond: 1 gallon; a head of lettuce: 12 gallons; an egg: 53 gallons; a gallon of milk: 880 gallons; a single walnut; 5 gallons; a cluster of grapes: 24 gallons; a pound of chicken; 468 gallons; a pound of beef: 1,800 gallons. I don’t want to hear nor believe this. I don’t want to feel guilty for every handful of almonds I eat every morning. How can this be? It is unsustainable to allow profitable factory-farms to waste a public resource as important as water. I have walnut and almond trees in my orchard and I know it doesn’t take that much water to grow them if you aren’t wasting it.
For me, I’m giving up most canned foods and cardboard packaged foods. I’m using up what I have and investing in a plastic vacuum sealer that keeps frozen food fresh, fresh, fresh. The plastic is safe and the food doesn’t develop a taste from keeping your summer applesauce and plum sauce for as long as it lasts. Some years I have a heavy apple crop and some years I don’t. I can buy blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, frozen, or fresh in season. Fresh frozen organic vegetables are readily available. I’m working to keep my platter healthy, so I don’t have to interpret labels and worry about my food anymore. I never donate to congress, try these groups, where I got my information, if you want change:
Mother Jones magazine, Jim Hightower’s Lowdown Newsletter.