Archive for the Organic Category

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

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

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

Buzz Words

Posted in Free Range, Organic on May 16, 2009 by Powered By Produce

It is difficult to reject industrialized farming practices when we don’t understand what we’re buying. The educated consumer can put their money where their values lie.

Organic – Certainly this is the biggest buzz word in the supermarket today, yet most people don’t even know what it means. Most basically, ‘organic’ means that fruits & veggies were grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation, and that meat, dairy, and eggs are from animals that were not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or “animal protein products.”

However, not all organics are created equal. The USDA (who wants their farmers to profit) has 3 official categories of ‘organic’:

100% Organic – All ingredients were raised/harvested in a fully organic way

Organic – Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients – Made with at least 70% organic ingredients and restrictions on the remaining 30%, including no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

It is important to realize that ‘organic’ does NOT indicate grass-fed or free-range. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy sold at large-scale suppliers (like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, HEB, etc) are most often fed a diet of organic corn and raised in CAFO-like conditions (many animals crammed into a small space, etc).

At the beginning of the organic movement, organic was hyped as better for the environment, however this is now hotly debated. Most research suggests that organic agriculture has marginally lower carbon emissions than conventional methods, but the results depend on the crop, the soils, and the skill of the farmer.

The quality of organic foods over conventional foods is another debated issue. Some studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of vitamins and nutrients, but there are also claims that this is not true.

Grass-Fed – This one, at its basics, is fairly self-explanatory: the animal is fed grass, not corn. Because the animal is eating what it was designed to eat, the meat and dairy products produced from grass-fed animals is healthier for you. There is no debate about this. It has less total fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, and fewer calories. It is richer in antioxidants including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and richer in healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids.

However, ‘grass-fed’ does NOT indicate ‘organic’. These animals could still be treated with antibiotics, hormones, or may be eating grass treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. At local farmers’ markets, this is generally not the case, but at grocery stores, check for both ‘grass-fed’ and ‘organic’ labels just to be sure. The USDA is currently working on official regulations for ‘grass-fed’ product labeling.

Vegetarian-fed – Indicates that the animal was not fed rendered “animal protein products.” This does NOT indicate ‘organic’ nor ‘grass-fed’.

Natural – One of the biggest marketing ploys out there. Many people associate ‘natural’ with ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’. Don’t fall for it! Most ‘natural’ products do not contain synthetic ingredients, but there are no regulations on what can be labeled ‘natural,’ they’re just trying to leech on to the organic movement by confusing consumers.

Free Range/Cage-Free – Another deceiving term. Do not be fooled into thinking these animals live on an open field. The USDA does not have any regulations on ‘free range’ labeling, except with regards to poultry. The official USDA regulations on ‘free range’ poultry state that the chickens must have “access to the outdoors” to be labeled free range. Unfortunately, this leads to farmers having a small door in their chicken coop, that they admit is kept closed for the beginning of the chicken’s life and only opened after the chickens are used to being crammed in the hen house, so they don’t even try to go outside once it’s opened. And this is labeled ‘free-range.’ Similarly, ‘cage-free’ may indicate a lack of wire mesh, but the animals are still crammed far too many to a coop.

For beef, pork, and other non-poultry, there is absolutely no criteria, and the USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.” Uh, right. Once again, claims of free-range and cage-free are much more believable at a local farmer’s market, than in the grocery store.

Buyers beware.