Sunday, March 10, 2013


"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other."
~Barack Obama~

When I first heard the saying that how we treat our animals reflects how we will treat other humans, I was a bit skeptical. I thought that this idea in reference to meat production especially was a bit extreme, mostly because we eat meat and are not planning on eating each other any time soon. But I have started to see the similarities. If you saw the film Cloud Atlas (2012), this may be a consideration for you as well. This film presents several different worlds, one of which is the future of capitalism. In this future, the human looking beings that fill the role of service workers are manufactured, and they are, in fact, treated very much the same way that our food animals are treated today. 

This is just a film, I am not claiming it as a reference to what the world is actually like. But I have had the same gut reaction while watching films like Food Inc. (2008), which depicts the way we treat our food animals, that I had while watching this film. I was disturbed by the idea of abusing living beings solely for monetary gain. More recently, upon reading Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, I was surprised to find some similarities between reality and the futuristic world of Cloud Atlas, mainly treating humans as if they were disposable.

Imagine standing in a room full of dangerous machinery that is nearly impossible to see through a thick fog. Now imagine that you and your fellow workers must clean this machinery. Any volunteers? How about if you and each of the other workers were hosing down that equipment with 180 degree water mixed with chlorine. 180 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to give you a burn that takes a few weeks to heal. Tea ordered from your local Starbucks is usually about this temperature. Scared yet? Now take away your hearing, the machines are too loud. Oh, ya, and these machines are designed to disassemble large animals: cattle. One more thing: you're cleaning up blood, guts, feces, and rendered animal parts, and this is your job...

The people that do the work that I described above are slaughter house sanitation workers. They are regularly injured or killed by the machinery they clean, sometimes ending up disassembled like the cattle they are cleaning up. Or they are burned by each other's hoses of hot chlorine mixture, or poisoned by the fumes of that hot mixture.  These workers often end up being treated, both physically and emotionally, like the animals that we eat.  "They are the ultimate in disposable workers: illegal, illiterate, impoverished, untrained." (Schlosser, pg. 178).  We feel about as responsible as a society for how these workers are treated as we do for how our beef is treated before it gets to our plate.

I am fully aware of the limitations of this example in making my point.  But I do see a case where humans are being treated in the same manner as animals.  It is one thing to engage in a system that allows severe abuses of animals (I don't mean simply killing animals here, I mean the abusive way they are regularly treated), but it is another thing to engage in a system where humans are not only treated like animals, but are routinely subject to similar abuses to those of our food animals.  The abuse of these workers is systematic, making it challenging to change.  But it must be changed.  When profit is made a higher priority than not only humane animal treatment, but humane human treatment, there is a serious problem.  This issue is complicated, and will take time to address, but it must be addressed for the sake of humanity.

What can you do? 
-Advocate for workers rights. 
-Practice "Meatless Monday"(
-Buy local beef.
-Support local farms and businesses.
-Advocate for government support of local farms and businesses.
-Advocate for more regulations and better enforcement in the meat industry.

These are only a few of the many things that can be done to make this problem better. The fist step, as with most things, is self-reflection. Try to see more clearly your own role in the way meat is processed and how the workers who produce that meat are treated. Remember that you are involved, but not entirely at fault. Once you have a realistic view of your part in this system, you can take little actions, baby steps, to change it. If each of us takes a small step to change our own part in the food system, we would make a substantial impact together. 

If you are unaware, then you are not at fault for abuses like the ones I described.  But now you know more about how your decisions about eating meat impact other human beings.  Now it is your responsibility to do something, no matter how large or small of an impact it may have.  I hope that the situation I described here was just disturbing enough to motivate you to take action. It is not my intention to disgust you, just to motivate you.  

(4) Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


     Here are the basics of what I know about the beef industry in the United States.  This information has been compiled from various sources that are noted at the bottom of this post.  I'm writing this one in a slightly different format (without in-text citations) so if anyone wants to know where a specific fact is sourced from, simply leave a comment and I will let you know.  This post just serves as an overview of the entire beef industry.  I found that I needed to compile all of this information before I was able to really understand any of the individual problems in the industry.  I will be posting more on beef in the future, as there are many facets of this to address.  

      Cattle are often born in a pleasant pasture like the ones that are pictured of the websites of beef-related companies or on the packages of beef that you can buy in your grocery store.  The rest of the life of the animal, however, is much different than this picture.  After understanding how this system is set up, it is easy to see why there are serious problems with it.  Lets follow the animal through this system.

      They live on their green pastures for a little while, until they are old enough to be transfered to a feed lot (a separate company from the pasture owner).  Feed lots, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), are just what they sound like.  Cattle can be found here in numbers anywhere from 12,000 head of cattle to over 120,000 head of cattle.  They are most often fed a diet of corn, which their stomachs are not built to digest, antibiotics, and often a processed substance from either petroleum or chicken parts.  Often other hormones are given to the cattle as well to make them grow faster or fatter.  They are in closely confined spaces without access to pasture of any kind.  They are often knee deep in their own feces for long periods of time.  Once you start to picture a traditional CAFO, it is easy to see why antibiotics need to be constantly distributed to the cattle in order to keep them from getting sick.  The purpose of the CAFO is to grow the animal from a young animal into a larger, fatter animal.  The CAFO wants to maximize the total pounds of beef than can be processes from a single animal.  The CAFO gets cattle from a huge amount of individual pastures across the country.  

      After the CAFO, the meat packers enter the picture.  These companies (separate from both the pasture owner and the CAFO) often buy cattle from many different CAFOs across the country.  Here, the cattle are slaughtered and processed into specific cuts of meat or ground beef.  These are depicted in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle as truly awful places where the workers are largely immigrants with little or no ability to organize.  Workers were often injured or killed in the work place and were not properly cared for or compensated.  Although this is a picture of meat packing plant in the early 1900's, many people think that today's packing plants have become, once again, a very dangerous environment with immigrant workers.

      The last company that is involved is the grocery store that you buy your beef from.  Some grocery stores, like our local Safeway, buy their meat from one company. When asked where their beef comes from, they said "Cargil" very plainly and simply.  But others, like our local Raley's, buys their meat from various companies from around the country, and it is difficult to get a clear answer to the question of what company your beef comes from.  Still some, like Costco, pack their own meat, and purchase cattle from various companies across the country.  In some cases there is yet another layer of companies in this system.  Food-4-Less gets their meat from C&S, which is a food supply company that buys meat from packers and produce from other companies as well, organizes it and delivers it to grocery stores and often restaurants as well.  

      This is the basic structure of the meat industry.  I'm sure I have left out some important parts that I am unaware of.  If you know of something, please leave a comment and I will look into it and update the post.  The main thing that we can glean from this structure is the compartmentalization.  By that I mean that each step of the process of turing a fetal cow into a package of ground beef is completely separate from the rest.  The animal is born in one company, raised in another, slaughtered in another, and sold in yet another.  This compartmentalization is where many of the problems in the industry arise from.  The CAFO buys the cows, the feed, and the antibiotics, and it sells the fully grown cow.  Those are its inputs and outputs, speaking in economic terms.  For the CAFO to increase profits, it does not matter how the feed was made as long as it is the cheapest, and it does not matter how happy or healthy the cattle are as long as they can be sold to the packer for a profit.  

      Lets contrast this system to that of Polyface Farms, where the cattle are grass fed.  In this system, the farmer grows the grass, and the cattle, slaughters his or her own animals, and packages and sells them as well.  In this system, it is to the farmer's advantage to create the most sustainable overall system.  That is exactly what we see at Polyface Farms.  The grass grows in the ground, the cattle eat it out of the ground, while fertilizing those same fields with their manure.  Open grazing allows the farmer to abstain from using low doses of antibiotics, which makes the manure from the CAFOs more like toxic waist than usable plant food.  Because the cattle at Polyface Farms are not confined to a small place, not fed corn that they are unable to digest properly, and not standing in their own feces for months at a time, they are healthy.  Because they are healthy, they produce a usable byproduct instead of a harmful one.  

      So what are some of the problems that we find in the beef industry?  Well E-Coli is one of the most well known ones.  Here's the basic chain of events that caused this dangerous organism.  First, the CAFO feeds its cattle corn because it is the cheapest thing out there and it creates a fat cow.  The problem with this is that cattle are not made to eat corn, and it causes E-Coli to build up in their stomach, and ultimately end up in their feces.  These same cattle are knee-deep in not just their own feces but that of all the other cattle in close proximity to them as well.  The cattle end up covered in feces by the time they are taken to the slaughterhouses.  The slaughterhouses are slaughtering so many animals so quickly that there is no way of ensuring that some of that manure does not end up in the meat that you buy at the grocery store or in a restaurant.  One interesting thing to point out is that a CAFO cow can be but on a grass diet and the amount of E-Coli in their stomach will drop by 80% in a matter of days.  But this does not happen because the companies involved are more focused on making a profit than the health of the animal.  The compartmentalization in this system allows each party to blame the system when something goes wrong, rather than find a way to fix without creating another one.  

(1) Omnivore's Dilemma (book by Michael Pollan, 2006)
(2) The Jungle (book by Upton Sinclair, 1906)
(3) Food Inc. (film directed by Participant Media and Karl Weber, 2009)
(5) Raley's (phone call to the local meat department) (
(6) Safeway (phone call to the local meat department) (
(7) Costco (phone call to the local meat department) (
(9) Food-4-Less (phone call to the local meat department) (

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


"The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and markets never cease to amaze me. They can turn any critique into a new way to sell food. You've got to hand it to them."
~Michael Pollan (1)

What is greenwashing? It is the act of misleading the consumer about the environmental practices of the company or the environmental benefits of a product (2). Greenwashing is a capitalist phenomenon. It will only happen in an environment where a company cares what consumers think about a product. When a company senses, from market research or other means, that people want to buy a better product; one that is more environmentally friendly, green or sustainable. The company tries to adapt to what the customer wants in order to retain that customer. Walmart's new sustainability campaign is an example of this phenomenon (3). 

Walmart claims that they want their stores to be more sustainable. In a recent speech in Beijing, Leslie Doch, the executive vice president of corporate affairs and government relations for Walmart, outlined the three sustainable goals that Walmart has made for itself.  Walmart is setting these goals to appease its customers, not because it cares about sustainability.  The goals are: to be powered by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment (3). Since this is a bog about the food movement, I will focus on the third goal, and how it applies to food.  Walmart claims credit for creating a "Sustainable Product Index" for its products while refraining from dedicating any effort to this index (4). While Walmart might be well meaning, they do not yet have the understanding needed to implement solutions to many of the problems in the system. for example, while speaking to a UC Berkeley class about their efforts, two Walmart executives explained that they intended to help small local farms grow to eventually serve the entire country (5). This is an excellent example of how they have missed the mark on the intent of the food movement. If local farms grow large enough to supply the entire country, they are no longer local by definition. There are many more examples of Walmart's lack of understanding of the food movement that can be found browsing their website (6).

Another way to explain this phenomenon is through co-optation. Co-optation is the act of absorbing a smaller group or movement in order to neutralize the threat it poses (7). Co-optation is a more broad term than greenwashing and might be a better term to use when talking about the food movement. There are things about our current food system that are objectionable and don't involve environmental practices. Co-optation also addresses the strategic decisions of a company, and allows for some positive impacts to be considered. Co-optation, as well as greenwashing, compromises the goals of the movement that it is co-opting, but it does not altogether contradict it. While compromise is, for some, not an acceptable final result, it is often a necessary temporary outcome. 

Fair trade coffee provides a great example of co-optation rather than greenwashing because it involves paying farm workers a living wage, not protecting the environment. There were a growing number of people who began to promote fair trade coffee in the late 1990s (8). Starbucks saw that it faced a potential loss of customers because of this movement. So what did it do? "The company agreed to sell fair trade certified coffee at all 2,300 of its U. S. cafes, albeit initially purchasing less than 1 percent of its overall supply" (8, page 94). This quote exemplifies the problem with co-optation, as well as with greenwashing. Starbucks purchased just enough fair trade coffee to appease its customers and not enough to fix the problem in the system. While this action did make a step towards the ultimate goal of the fair trade coffee movement, it by no means accomplished it. Starbucks' goal was not to be fair and pay coffee growers better, it was to appease their customers. If Starbucks customers stop caring about fair trade standards, Starbucks will likely stop selling fair trade coffee. On the other hand if the movement continues to grow, and eventually everyone only wants fair trade coffee, Starbucks would likely sell only fair trade coffee. 

There can be some amount of truth and benefit to greenwashing and co-optation. While the goal of Starbucks and Walmart is to increase their profits, they are doing some good along the way. Walmart has nearly doubled its sales of local produce (6). It has also given much needed funding to various organizations that are active in the food movement including Will Allen's Growing Power (9), and Cooking Matters (10). Regardless of why Walmart chose to fund these organizations, it is helping some fantastic organizations at a time when help is very much needed. When "voting with our dollar" we need to keep in mind the positive things that can come from greenwashing and co-optation as well as the negative. Starbucks goal may not have been to fix the coffee production system, but they took a small action that made a tremendous difference in many peoples' lives by selling some fair trade coffee (8). We shouldn't refrain from supporting the small, positive actions that a corporation takes simply because we question its motives. If we want to "vote with our dollar" we should support these small steps where there are no good alternatives.  

My last point is a cautionary one. As always, be sure that you are paying attention to what you are buying. Many people see labels that say "natural", or any number of other greenwashed phrases, and think that they are buying a better product simply because it has those words on the label. You should always try to figure out what the meaning behind the words is. Sometimes the words are a distraction, and other times they are an exaggeration.  Here is an example of distraction: the next time you are in your grocery store, look in the candy isle and find a candy that says "fat free" on the label.  Now look at the amount of sugar that is in that same candy.  While these candies may not contain fat, they are by no means good for you to eat. On the front of a bag of Swedish Fish, a candy which I happen to love, it says "A Fat Free Food", arguably with the intent to make the customer feel better about eating them.  When we examine their nutritional facts, however, we see that there are 30 grams of sugar in just 7 pieces of this candy.  In fact, when we look at the ingredients, we see that this candy is almost entirely made of sugar (11).  This is an example of the negative side of co-optation.  Don't let this type of deceptive advertising change your buying habits.  

Walmart provides an example of exaggeration: Walmart says that it doubled the amount of local produce it sells in 2011, but they define "local" as within the same state (6). In larger states like California, produce can travel more than 700 miles without leaving the state.  When we think of something local, we often assume that it has traveled less than 700 miles.  While Walmart is not being blatantly dishonest or even distracting you with information that is irrelevant, it is invoking an image of local that is not always the result of their standards.  But even though this produce wasn't necessarily grown by your next door neighbor, it is more local and sustainably sourced than if it were grown on the other side of the country.

The moral of the story is this: Greenwashing can lead to some positive impacts, but it should be constantly questioned. If you think something might be a form of greenwashing or co-optation, be skeptical and find out exactly what the benefits are before you make a decision to support it or not. If you don't have access to something more sustainable, supporting a greenwashed item is often better for the environment and the food system than supporting one that is not.

"While radical sustainability is great, given how unsustainable our food system is right now, even small steps toward a sustainable food system could make things dramatically better."
~Inspired by Pankaj Ghemawat (12)

(8) Jaffee, D. (2012). Weak coffee: Certification and co-optation in the fair trade movement. Social Problems, 59(1), 94-116.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Proposition 37 in California

      So why is Proposition 37 so important? What will it change? All it does is label GMOs. It is reasonably easy to avoid GMOs if you really want to already, we don't need labeling...

      We DO need labeling! Although you can follow certain rules, and there are a lot of them, to avoid eating GMOs, it is not simple. The Center for Food Safety produces a “True Food Shopper's Guide” designed to help consumers avoid GMOs when grocery shopping (1). This guide is a great resource, but is also 17 pages long. The easiest way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic, but this is not always an option for consumers, and is usually substantially more expensive. If we label GMOs, we can much more easily avoid them. Another, and perhaps the greater, impact that this proposition will have if passed is that it will inform people that their food is being produced using GMOs. Several people that I have talked to about Proposition 37 don't know what GMOs are. They are unaware that their food is being produced using genetic engineering. These people should know what they are eating, even if they don't care. If companies are willing to use methods to produce food that are outside the assumed realm, they should be required to tell you.

      When you buy a car, you assume certain things about how it is made. You assume, for example, that the tires are made of rubber. But imagine that the car you are considering is made using a new type of substance for tires that doesn't appear to be different than rubber, but is. You might not ask what the tires are made of because they look like rubber to you and you are unaware of any other substance that they could be made of. You don't ask because you don't know that there is a question. In this example, the car dealer is arguably committing fraud. He is selling you a product that he knows is something slightly different than what you are assuming it is. The car salesman should tell you before you buy the car that the tires are made of this new substance instead of rubber.

      The same thing is happening with our food. People assume that their food is grown in the dirt, and that the seeds to start that food have come from a previous generation of the same plant, with little alteration from human beings. While genetically modified organisms are still grown in the dirt, the seed has been changed through human insertion of a section of genetic code from a different plant, animal, bacteria, or virus (3). We have changed this process in a substantial way, but we are still producing a similar product, one that is not obviously different. Just like the example with the car tires, the company making or selling the product has an obligation to tell us that this new process is being used. Some people do not know to ask if there are GMOs in their food, therefore companies should have the responsibility to inform them.

      GMOs are in a vast majority of our food. According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, and Californians for Pesticide Reform, up to 80% of the food in our grocery stores contain genetically engineered ingredients (2). PAN North America also finds that 99% of genetically engineered seeds are designed to either contain or survive repeated exposure to pesticides and herbicides (3). Over 60 countries in the world already require labeling of genetically engineered ingredients and some countries have outlawed the sale of foods containing them altogether (4).
What difference does California make? And what difference does labeling make? If we really want to do something about GMOs shouldn't we push for a country-wide ban on GMOs, not just labeling them in one state? Honestly, yes. But this is where my political science background comes in handy. Although some people might find this proposition a bit manipulative, it is important to realize that politics is a game of compromises. Why not go for a nation-wide ban? Because there is not enough public support for it. So what is something that everyone can agree with? Labeling! It does not cost corporations a great deal of money, and it makes consumer decisions easier to make. This is something that the general public, even those who don't know anything about GMOs, can support.

      This is what I mean by manipulative; some people in the food movement are concerned about the safety of GMOs and would like to see them no longer sold anywhere in the world. To accomplish this, they have drafted this proposition, which does not accomplish their ultimate goal. They have chosen this plan of action with the hope that labeling GMOs will be enough legislation to cause people to stop buying them, and corporations to stop using them. This proposition is a method of raising support for non-GMO food. When some supporters of this proposition say that they just want GMOs labeled, they are not being completely honest. They have temporarily compromised their goal to accomplish a step towards it. This is how politics works, and this is part of the reason that change is slow. Change cannot happen much faster than public support, and social change is slow. With these facts in mind, it is easier to see why Proposition 37 should be supported by many people.

      This proposition will accomplish some very useful things if it passes. If GMOs are labeled, we will eliminate the car sales problem that I described. People will know what is in their food if they simply read the label. They will no longer have to ask a question about GMOs that many people may not know to ask. Labeling will also raise awareness of GMOs. Some people may know about GMOs but not know that many of the foods that they eat contain them. Some people already don't want to eat GMOs and labeling will make that easier and in some cases much more affordable. There are products that are not organic that are also GMO-free. With labeling, those products will be identifiable and people will a smaller food budget will be able to vote against GMOs with their dollar without having to buy more expensive organic food.

      So why California? California has a legislative system that allows propositions. A proposition is a proposed law that any citizen in the state can add to the ballet if they get enough signatures from other citizens that think it should be voted on. In short, this proposition could make it on the ballet in California. Also, California is the 8th largest economy in the world (5). This means that if people can more easily vote with their dollars against GMOs in California, it could have a substantial effect on the rest of the country and the world as far as what corporations want to sell. Also if corporations have to label GMOs in their products for California, they may find it easier to label them in other states as well, increasing even more the number if people who will be able to vote with their dollar.

      All in all this is a great proposition. While the goals of the creators of this proposition might be more drastic than the proposition, it is nothing more than a requirement to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. While some people may view this as a step towards a more strict regulation of GMOs, you do not have to. I would ask that you take the proposition for what it is and ask yourself if you could vote for it. Don't think about the implications or the possible side affects, think about how you would feel if you could tell if a product contained GMOs simply by looking at the label. If you would like this, vote for Proposition 37! If you are not in California and you would like this, find a way to pass legislation where you are and make it happen. This proposition allows us to know more about where our food comes from, something that we desperately need in our food system today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


"From the toothpaste you use in the morning to the book you read at bed time, corn plays a part in nearly every aspect of our lives."
(Corn Refiner's Association web site home page (1))

Corn is in nearly every part of our food system as well as the rest of our lives. We feed it to our livestock and our pets. We use it to make, sweeten, or preserve our processed foods or drinks. We use it as a grain in cereals, tortillas, and other things. We use it's oil to fatten and flavor our food. We use it in our vitamin and pill casings. We even use it for in inedible things like our books, our makeup, and for purposes like creating ethanol, a "natural" substitute for gasoline. According to the Corn Refiner's Association, we now have 6,257 uses for corn-based derivatives like high fructose corn syrup and starch (2).

So what? Corn is a natural substance right? We can reproduce it, doesn't that mean that this is sustainable? On a very basic level this is true, but in our current system, corn is not a sustainable ingredient. There are several reasons why, perhaps the most important being that it takes a great deal of fossil fuels to grow corn in our current food system and it takes even more fossil fuel to refine it. The Green Revolution, which lead the way to the unsustainable food system that we have in the U.S. today, took a food system that was based on sunlight as a source of energy and created a food system with fossil fuels as the source of energy. We now rely on fossil fuels to grow our food, which leads to a system where each American consumer is "eating" 400 gallons of fossil fuels each year (3). It takes 400 gallons of fossil fuel just to grow, with our current industrialized food system, the amount of food that each of us eats in a year. This number does not include the amount of fossil fuels that are used during food processing. When we grow our food using massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, use machinery to spread them, and transport our food across the country, we expend a great deal of fossil fuel. When we process this food we use even more.

Most types of corn grown in the U.S. only produce one to two ears of corn per stock (4). This gives you an idea of how much land must be used to grow the corn that we use. We use about 86 million acres of land to grow corn (5). The next largest land use for a crop is soy using 63 million acres, then wheat at at 50 million acres, then cotton at 10 million acres (5). To put this in perspective, we use only 2 million acres to produce organic production, and only 4 million acres to grow vegetables (5). This helps us get a good idea of how much of our land we are dedicating to growing corn, a good deal more than any other crop.

Corn, because we use it in so many goods, is often grown using monocropping techniques. Monocropping is the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land without growing other plants in the off seasons in order to replenish the soil (6). In 1900, the average American farmer was growing about 5 different types of crops on a single farm. Now, the average American farmer is growing barely more that 1 type of crop on a single farm (7). This is a very dangerous practice both economically and agriculturally because it depletes the soil and leaves the farmer relying on the economic conditions for one single commodity for his or her livelihood (8). We can see, from the acreage of corn in the U.S., that there are many farmers that are relying solely on corn for their own economic livelihood. There is one obvious problem with this; the market price of corn is right at, or below, the production cost of corn, and has been for some time now (9). This is one of the reasons that there are so fewer farmers in the U.S. than there were in 1900 (7). In 1900, nearly 40% of the U.S. population lived on a farm; now, about 1% lives on a farm (7).

With corn farmers unable to make a significant profit on their own, two things happened. First the government must subsidize corn so that fewer farmers loose their farms (9). Second, because corn production has a high fixed cost, the profit per bushel increases the more bushels the farmer produces in a season. So farmers choose to grow more and more corn each year in order to make a profit (9). This perpetuates the problem of low-priced corn because it increases the supply of corn in the market overall. This system leads struggling farmers to depend even more intensely on the very crop that they already must receive subsidies for to break even on.

So what can we do about it? Most of us are not corn farmers and don't feel like we are a part of this system. There are a few things that we can do. First we can advocate for our political figures to address this problem. One of the best ways to do this is to advocate for the changing of the farm bill. The farm bill is discussed and renewed in the U.S. congress every five years, and it includes the plan for allocating subsidies for corn as well as other crops. The farm bill is currently being negotiated in Congress, giving us a great opportunity to advocate for changing the way that our food system works. The farm bill could be designed to give opportunities for farmers to change what they grow without taking great risk. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a great deal of information about the current debate on the farm bill and what we can do to change it (10).

Another thing that we can do is change what foods we eat. We can eat fewer processed foods, eat more fresh food, and buy foods that we know the origin of. The most important thing is knowing what is in our food. Information is power. In our economy we vote with our dollar whether we want to or not. The money we spend makes a profit for a corporation. At the very least we should know what is in the product that we are voting for. Unfortunately this is also the hardest part of the process of eating better, however, taking it slowly can make it doable. Start with one ingredient. Is there something like corn syrup that you already know of that is easy to identify? Take the first step and notice if any of the food you eat has that particular ingredient in it. When you get the hang of that, add another ingredient, and so on. It takes time to build these habits but it is well worth it. If you decide that you don't want to eat some of the ingredients in your favorite processed foods and can't find them without it, try making them yourself. Again, start with something simple like cookies or mac-&-cheese. Once you make it a few times yourself, you will be surprised by how easy and quick it is. After mastering one processed food, move on to another, and so on. This is a learning process and starting small is the best way to develop lasting change and new habits. Every little bit helps!

Note: Thank you to my sister who was kind enough to help me turn the information I gathered into a nice pretty chart! Thanks Claire!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Processed Foods

Where to start... Processed foods of all kinds are a foundation of the food system in the U.S.  If you look at the ingredients on the processed food that you eat, chances are that either corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, or some other type of corn product will be somewhere on the label.  The Corn Refiners Association would have you believe that high fructose corn syrup is "made from corn, it's natural, and like sugar is fine in moderation" (1).  Some of this is true.  The molecules in corn syrup have reasonably similar properties to sugar and are probably not much worse for you than sugar (2).  The real problem is that this product has been highly processed, and perpetuates a system of food where our farmers are going bankrupt and our eaters are getting obese and diabetic.  Corn does contain sugar, but high fructose corn syrup is not derived from a simple juicing process like sugar is.  Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are both made through an extensive extraction process involving the use of molds to ferment the sugar out of corn starch (3).

But this is not even the most troubling part of corn syrup.  If you investigate the Corn Refiners Association web site (4), you will see that we find corn in many of the things that we eat or use daily.  Why have we found so many uses for corn? Because we have an overproduction of corn.  Corn is a commodity that defies the "laws" of economics.  Economists would say that if too much corn is produced, and there is a larger supply than demand, then the price will fall, which happened.  But economists would also say that when this happens, fewer farmers will produce corn because it has become unprofitable, which will cause the supply to lessen and the price to come back up (5).  This, however, is not what happens with corn.  When the price of corn falls, the government steps in and picks up the slack (6).  The government pays the farmers money for growing corn to help them break even, and to prevent farmer bankruptcy.  This creates a situation where the result of the price of corn dropping is an even greater production of corn.  Uses had to be created, and were profitable to create, for this unrealistically low cost commodity.

So what does this have to do with high fructose corn syrup?  This product and many others found in processed foods are a new found use for corn.  This sounds great until you think about the farmers growing the corn and the $4 billion per year that the government spends subsidizing corn (6).  Farmers are going bankrupt, and the government is spending lots of money so that we can eat highly processed corn in our highly processed food.  We do not get the full nutritional value of the corn this way because it has been broken down, and we also add a good deal of fossil fuel use to our food system in the processing procedures.

So what do we do?  Process our own food! Can your own food, make your own frozen dinners if you must, or just eat freshly cooked food.  If you make a habit of buying the raw ingredients for the things that you eat, then you can have canned beans without corn syrup and salad without preservatives.  Take the time to enjoy cooking food with your family.  Make your own bread. These are all options, and you should find some that work for you and your family.  My fiance and I now can some of our own food, and prepare many of our meals fresh.  We don't yet make our own bread, but hopefully we will have time for that soon.  You don't have to do it all at once! Try cooking one meal with your family, if it works make it a habit, if it doesn't try something else.  Dig grandma's pressure cooker out of the cupboard and read the instructions on canning.  Take the time to find something that you can do.  If you aren't able to do this, then at least find out what is in the processed food that you do eat.  Read the ingredients list.  The first step to any of the changes that need to be made is awareness.  We should ALL be aware of what we are eating, whether processed or fresh, cooked or raw, healthy or not.  Know what you are putting into your body, that is the most important part.

My sister and mother and I canned beans this weekend.  It was fun and pretty easy.  There are some websites attached that explain how pressure canning works and how canning is done (7-11).  Enjoy!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

What's the story here?

The food movement is a movement in support of good food.  It is not a vegetarian or vegan or strict scary diet.  It is about good food and access to it.  It is obvious to some, and not others, that we have a serious problem with food in this country.  Our poorer citizens no longer starve, they suffer from diabetes and obesity, and even in a wealthy town it can be hard to find fresh produce that has not been smothered with chemicals.  Our food system needs some revision.  I am not a firm subscriber to the idea that we are to vote with our money and buy organic food, nor do I want to leave this movement up to politicians.  There is a middle ground.  We can change how we eat and advocate for a change in the system at the same time.  That is what I aim to do in this blog, I want to entice you to eat better, tastier food and join the movement in any way you can.

My first semester at UC Merced, I was assigned the book "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.  I started to read it but found the unending complaints about corn in our food system to be overwhelming.  Now that I have been introduced to good food more slowly and have been able to learn more and more about our food system and the food movement, I am voluntarily reading the same book.  With this blog, I hope to give people a starting point to understanding the food movement and why it is important.  I have changed the way that I do things because of what I have learned, but I have a long way to go before my life is sustainable.  I hope to give you some simple and fun alternatives to the way that many of us live.  I want to share knowledge, help others, and gain more knowledge.  I have learned that the only thing that I can truly change is myself.  It does no good to tell you to stop eating corn-fed beef if I don't do it myself.  For this reason, this blog will be a documentation of my own journey to a sustainable lifestyle.  I plan to write from that perspective, and the solutions that I find may only work for me.  But I hope you use the information I give to find solutions that work for you as well. I hope to give as many reverences and sources for the information that I post as possible, but some of it is more along the lines of common sense. I hope to share my journey and help you with yours.  I hope you enjoy this blog!