Archive for August, 2009

Organic: So much more than healthy

Posted in Organic on August 27, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Organic is not just about food. It’s a much more expansive way of thinking that embraces cyclical resource use, where waste from one source becomes food for another. It honors natural laws and detests mindless waste, dispersal of toxic chemicals, cheap substitutes, and depleted soil.

All of humanity ate organic food until the twentieth century. Now, we’ve been on a chemical binge diet for about 80 years (a blink of an eye in planetary history) and what do we have to show for it? We’ve lost 1/3 of America’s topsoil, buried toxic waste everywhere, polluted & depleted water systems, worsened global warming, and exacerbated ailments ranging from cancer to diabetes to obesity.

This is not just hippie blather preaching the tofu way to happiness. I see organic as a philosophy of wholeness, a science of integration, and a crucial way to maintain nature’s ingenious, delicate, interdependent web of life. It is a pragmatic state of mind offering real solutions to some of society’s worst problems.

Organic backs a sensible farm policy that protects not only farmers, but also the health of all Americans. It can lower health-care costs by eliminating toxic lifestyles and the unnecessary, preventable diseases they cause. It could even help stabilize fuel prices & reduce our dependence of foreign oil by using less fossil fuels & chemicals, and trapping and building carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere. Organic farming is an absolutely critical WME (weapon of mass enlightenment) in humanity’s now-or-never fight against global warming.

I often fear that I am preaching to the choir, an unheard voice in an uncaring world. It takes more than one to make a difference and I can only hope that consumers the world over will vote with their pocketbooks to save the Earth (and their health along with it).
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Breakfast: Strawberries
Lunch: Pasta primavera
Dinner: Vegetarian Chili

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Thoughts & Ramblings

Posted in Miscellaneous on August 26, 2009 by Powered By Produce

First things first: I received a personal comment from a loyal follower noting that he was very disappointed in my previous post because I simply copy/pasted out of the Time article and did not add my own opinion. My intention was to show that reputable news sources are reporting on this problem and that it’s not just something that I’m all wound up about because I have nothing better to do with my time. I apologize for any disappointment my previous post caused. You want my opinion, you get it!

Here are a few of the things I think about often:

1.) I went vegetarian thinking that I would still eat eggs and milk, but I quickly learned that egg laying hens are subject to the worst living conditions of all animals and that dairy cows live unhealthier lives than feedlot cows and are then slaughtered for ground beef. While I’d like to go vegan (no dairy, no eggs), it makes eating out difficult (even in a progressive city that accommodates vegetarians fairly easily). As author Michael Pollan said, “This is what can happen to you when you look. And what you see when you look is the cruelty – and the blindness to cruelty – required to produce eggs that can be sold for 79 cents per dozen.” I no longer eat eggs and no longer buy cheese for my house, but I still eat cheese when I eat out and I feel guilty about it afterwards. I picture the cows and the abuse they endure and it makes me extremely sad that I am so selfish that I haven’t been able to completely cut out cheese. I am trying, but I will try harder.

2.) More than one person has told me that they fear going vegetarian would upset their parents. I, personally, see no logic in this – a.) my parents support my choices, b.) I’m a grown-ass woman, and c.) why would anyone be so emotional about something as trivial as someone else’s eating habits, especially when the eating habit they are adopting is a more responsible one?

However, I do understand that fear of being different or being considered difficult to accommodate is unfortunately a real obstacle to going vegetarian. I struggled with this initially, and even endured some very unexpected badgering from some of my closest friends. (Why people feel the need to defend eating meat, and condemn those who don’t, baffles me. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism to try to justify their own choice?) But rest assured, most people eventually realize that your eating habits have absolutely no effect on them and it becomes a non-issue.

PS, at family gatherings, either my family will make me a vegetarian option (a meatless lasagna or bean tamales) because they support my choices, or I’ll simply eat the sides (Thanksgiving is just as delicious when your plate is loaded with mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, biscuits, and pumpkin pie).

3.) Vegetarianism is not an unreasonable response to the evils that exist in our current industrialized food operation. Yet, there are animals living on farms that contradict the nightmare ones. True, they are but needles in a haystack (literally, 1% humanely raised to 99% inhumanely raised), but their very existence suggests the possibility for change.

Yes, though these animals are raised humanely, they are killed, and as Matthew Scully (author of Dominion, a conservative Christian examination of the treatment of animals) said, “[predation is] the intrinsic evil in nature’s design… among the hardest of all things to fathom.” So, can I in good conscience eat a happy, sustainably raised chicken? (That’s a rhetorical question… for now.)

What I find most wrong with eating meat is the current practice, not the general principle. People who care about animals should be working to ensure that the ones they eat don’t suffer, that their deaths are swift and painless, and that they are eaten with the consciousness and respect they deserve.
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Breakfast: Bagel with jelly
Lunch: Veggie sandwich from the deli downstairs: lettuce, tomato, avocado, sprouts, carrots
Diner: “Powerhouse” salad from Chop’t, loaded with superfoods: spinach, edamame, broccoli, carrots, dried cranberries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, & a lemon vinaigrette dressing

Time Magazine on "The High Price of Cheap Food"

Posted in Industrialized Farming, Organic on August 25, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Time Magazine has an excellent article this week about America’s food crisis. Here are a few excerpts, but be sure to read the full article here.

“Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He’s fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That’s the state of your bacon — circa 2009.”

“The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans. Those hidden prices are the creeping erosion of our fertile farmland, cages for egg-laying chickens so packed that the birds can’t even raise their wings and the scary rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among farm animals. Add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.”

“And perhaps worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous. A series of recalls involving contaminated foods this year — including an outbreak of salmonella from tainted peanuts that killed at least eight people and sickened 600 — has consumers rightly worried about the safety of their meals. A food system — from seed to 7‑Eleven — that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America’s obesity epidemic. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills.”

“With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later. As the developing world grows richer, hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein-rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy — demand for meat and poultry worldwide is set to rise 25% by 2015 — but the earth can no longer deliver. Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste. Sustainable food has an élitist reputation, but each of us depends on the soil, animals and plants — and as every farmer knows, if you don’t take care of your land, it can’t take care of you.”

The full article contains more on the impact of corn subsidies, fertilizers & pesticides, the overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), and the impact to our American farmers. The article also profiles a few farms & businesses (such as Chipotle) that are successfully working to make a difference.

“Organic food continues to cost on average several times more than its conventional counterparts… But not all costs can be measured by a price tag. Once you factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier.”

“What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that’s to quit thinking big. We already eat four times as much meat and dairy as the rest of the world, and there’s not a nutritionist on the planet who would argue that 24‑oz. steaks and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes are what any person needs to stay alive.”

“[W]e have the chance to choose better food three times a day (or more often, if we’re particularly hungry). It’s true that most of us would prefer not to think too much about where our food comes from or what it’s doing to the planet […] But if there’s one difference between industrial agriculture and the emerging alternative, it’s that very thing: consciousness.”
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Breakfast: cereal & soy milk
Lunch: Chipotle burrito bol, no meat = free guac!
Dinner: General Tso’s TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), very yummy

The Dirty Six

Posted in Animal Welfare, Industrialized Farming on August 21, 2009 by Powered By Produce

In just one hour in the US, more than 1 million animals are killed for food. Before their slaughter, they endure a life of abuse. Considering that nearly 10 billion animals each year are treated as production units rather than social, intelligent animals, this is the gravest animal welfare problem in the country.

The Humane Society of the United States has identified the six worst animal practices in agribusiness:

1. Battery Cages
In the US, 95% of egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages: small wire enclosures stacked several tiers high, extending down long rows, inside windowless warehouses. These cages offer less space per hen than the area of a single piece of paper. The birds are so cramped that they are unable to spread their wings. While many countries are banning these abusive battery cages, the US still overcrowds 300 million hens in these cruel enclosures.

2. Fast Growth of Birds
More than 9 out of 10 land animals killed for human consumption in the US are chickens. About 9 billion are slaughtered each year. The chicken industry’s use of growth-promoting antibiotics has produced birds whose bodies struggle to function and are on the verge of structural collapse. (To put their growth rate into perspective, the University of Arkansas reports that if humans grew as fast as today’s chickens, we’d weigh 349 pounds by our second birthday.) Ninety percent of chickens have detectable leg problems and structural deformities. More than 25% suffer from chronic pain due to bone disease.

3. Forced Feeding for Foie Gras
French for “fatty liver,” the delicacy known as pate de foie gras is produced from the grossly enlarged liver of a duck or goose. Two to three times a day for several weeks, the birds are force-fed enormous quantities of food through a long pipe thrust down their throats to their stomachs. This deliberate overfeeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to as much as ten times their normal size. This impairs liver function, expands their abdomens, and makes movements as simple as standing or walking difficult and painful. Several European countries have banned the force-feeding of birds for foie gras.

4. Gestation Crates and Veal Crates
During their 4-month pregnancies, 60-70% of female pigs in the US are kept in gestation crates: individual metal stalls so small and narrow that the animals can’t even turn around or move more than one step forward or backward. Similarly, calves raised for veal are confined in restrictive crates, generally chained by the neck, that prohibit them from turning around. This takes an enormous mental and physical toll on the animals. Both of these practices are being phased out in the EU because of their abusive, inhumane nature, but they are still in use in the US.

5. Long-Distance Transport
Billions of animals endure the rigors of transport around the country. Overcrowded onto trucks that do not provide any protection from very hot and very cold weather, animals travel days without food, water, or rest. The conditions are so stressful that in-transit death is considered common.

6. Electric Stunning of Birds
At the slaughter plant, birds are moved off trucks, dumped from transport crates onto conveyors, and hung upside down by their legs in shackles. Their heads pass though electrified baths of water, intended to immobilize them before their throats are slit. From beginning to end, the entire process is filled with pain & suffering. Federal regulations do not require that birds be rendered insensible before they are slaughtered. The shackling of their legs causes pain, increased in those already suffering from leg disorders (see #2) or broken bones. Electric stunning has been found to be ineffective in consistently inducing unconsciousness.

You Can Help
Don’t support the cruelties endured by these animals.
-Refine your diet by eliminating the most abusive animal products.
-Reduce your consumption of animal products
-Replace animal products in your diet with vegetarian options
-Only consume animal products that are locally and humanely raised (try your local farmers’ market)
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Breakfast: English muffin with jelly
Lunch: Veggie sub from Quizno’s
Dinner: Cheeseless pizza loaded with spinach, mushrooms, onion, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and garlic

Why Go Veg: Reasons 5-8

Posted in Why Go Veg on August 20, 2009 by Powered By Produce

5. You’ll save your heart. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in the United States, and the standard American diet (SAD) that’s laden with saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy is largely to blame. Cardiovascular disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. Today, the average American male eating a meat-based diet has a 50 percent chance of dying from heart disease. His risk drops to 15 percent if he cuts out meat; it goes to 4 percent if he cuts out meat, dairy and eggs. Partly responsible is the fact that fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidant nutrients that protect the heart and its arteries. Plus, produce contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Incidentally, cholesterol levels for vegetarians are 14 percent lower than meat eaters.

6. You’ll avoid toxic chemicals. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of pesticide residue in our diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic; lead, cadmium) that cannot be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products are also laced with steroids and hormones.

7. You’ll help reduce famine. Right now, 72 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there would be enough food to feed the entire planet. In addition, using land for animal agriculture is inefficient in terms of maximizing food production. According to the journal Soil and Water, one acre of land could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 pounds of carrots or just 250 pounds of beef.

8. You’ll provide a great role model for your kids. “If you set a good example and feed your children good food, chances are they’ll live a longer and healthier life,” says Christine Beard, a certified nutrition educator and author of Become a Vegetarian in 5 Easy Steps. “You’re also providing a market for vegetarian products and making it more likely that they’ll be available for the children.”
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Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Asian stir-fry (leftover from dinner last night)
Dinner: Soy chorizo (from Trader Joe’s) taco and homemade guacamole

Growing Local Farm Movement

Posted in Miscellaneous, Organic on August 11, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Last week, CNN reported on the growing local food movement, or Community Supported Agricurture (CSAs). From the article:

[The farmers] describe their farming technique as “beyond organic,” saying they use no artificial fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics and don’t keep their animals penned up.

Life on their property — where cattle and sheep graze in open fields and chickens follow along to clean up after them — looks much like the classic image of a family farm. [The Farmers] say they consider themselves healers to both their customers and, according to their Web site, a food system that “had become a machine with little regard for food safety, food taste and animal welfare.”

“People are becoming very disconnected from the food system,” Liz Young said. “Buying from a local CSA or just shopping at a local farm, you can see where it’s coming from. You can talk to the farmers and figure out how the animals or the produce is raised.

Members of the nation’s handful of meat CSAs, and the thousands of others, offer a list of reasons.

The food is healthier and tastes better, they say. They like supporting their local economy. Eliminating cross-country delivery is better for the environment, as are the sustainable farming techniques the farmers tend to use.

“Being part of a CSA means that I know the first names of the people who are raising the meat I eat,” said Andrew Johnson of Kansas City, Missouri, a member of the Parker Farms meat CSA in Richmond, Missouri. “Whereas, with the meat I buy from the grocery store, I don’t know where it came from or who raised it.”

Others say they appreciate that animals from the usually small family farms don’t spend their lives in processing plants, conditions that advocates call inhumane.

Because CSA members deal with the farmers directly, they are able to visit the farms and see exactly how their food is produced. The transparency, they say, creates an incentive for farmers to raise their animals as naturally as possible.

“Is it as cheap as the lowest-price chicken in the grocery store? Absolutely not,” Tim Young said. “But with our prices and the prices of any sustainable farmer, you’ve got everything baked in: the cost to the environment, the cost to the health care system, the cost of producing that animal [in a humane way].”

“I don’t think it is significant, but if it does end up costing a bit more, it is still important to us to make this a priority,” he said. “There are other expenses I am willing to give up rather than give up a safe, trusted food source.”
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Breakfast: Bagel with “better than cream cheese” (a non-dairy cream cheese subsitute)
Lunch: Veggie sub with avocado, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, shredded carrots, vinegar & oil
Diner: Burrito with beans, rice, zucchini, squash, peppers & salsa

Meet Your Meat: Pigs

Posted in Animal Welfare, Meet Your Meat on August 10, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Back to the basics this week: Meet your meat.

Pigs are often compared to dogs because they are affectionate, loyal, and intelligent. Most people are not familiar with pigs because 97% of pigs in the United States today are on factory farms. People would be surprised to learn that pigs dream, recognize names, play video games better than some primates, and lead social lives of the same complexity as primates. In fact, according to Dr. Donald Broom, Cambridge University professor and former scientific advisor to the Council of Europe, “[Pigs] have the cognative ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds.” Learn more about the intelligence of pigs.

Pigs on today’s farms are denied all of their instincts. Mother pigs (sows) spend the majority of their lives in individual “gestation crates” which are two feet wide, too small for them to even turn around. According to a March 2004 article in the Des Moines Register, “A pregnant sow’s biological need to build a nest before having her litter is so great that some sows confined in modern hog buildings will rub their snouts raw on the concrete floor while trying to satisfy the drive.”

This deprived environment causes neurotic coping behaviors such as continual bar biting, obsessive pressing on water bottles, and sham chewing (chewing nothing). One slaughterhouse investigator wrote, “what will remain with me forever is the sound of desperate pigs banging their heads against immovable doors and their constant and repeated biting at the prison bars that held them captive. This, I now know, is a sign of mental collapse.”

Piglets are taken from their mothers as young as 10 day old and are packed into overcrowed pens until they are sent off for breeding or fattening. Because they are not properly weaned from their mothers, they bite each other’s tails, searching for milk. To prevent this problem, piglets’ tails are cut off and the ends of their teeth are broken off, both without the use of pain killers.

Just like all other animals in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), sick pigs are left untreated and either die from illness or are killed by “thumping” (slamming animal’s head against the floor until they die), drowning, or standing on their neck. According to a November 2002 article in the New York Times, “Sick pigs, being unproductive ‘production units’ are clubbed to death on the spot.” Approximately 100 million pigs are killed in the US each year. A Washington Post article reported that, “[hogs] are dunked in taks of hot water after they are stunned to soften the hides for skinning. As a result, a botched slaughter condemns some hogs to being scalded and drowned. Secret videotape from an Iowa pork plant shows hogs squealing and kicking as they are being lowered into the water.”

According to one slaughter plant worker, “After they left me, the hogs would go up a hundred-foot ramp to a tank where they’re dunked in 140° water…Water any hotter than that would take the meat right off their bones…There’s no way these animals can bleed out in the few minutes it takes to get up the ramp. By the time they hit the scalding tank, they’re still fully conscious and squealing. Happens all the time.”

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Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Falafel pita sandwich
Dinner: Went to a BBQ – veggie burger, pasta salad, cornbread, beans