The Free Range Fallacy

HA! think again...
HA! think again...
Strolling through the poultry section of the supermarket, my eyes go right to the “free range” chicken as my product of choice. But then my analytical side pops in.  “What the hell is free-range anyway?” “Did this chicken really live out its life frollicking through the fields?”Well, looking into it further, unfortunately, probably not. The words Free Range means as much to food policy as the word ethical means to Monsanto.

Why? Because free range has no standardized legal definition in the United States. While we would like to think that our free range chickens  roamed free 24 hours a day, the more likely probability is that our winged friends were allowed out of their cages for a short period of time, given a glimpse of sunlight before shoved back into their metallic prisons. With the passing of prop 2 in California, at least we know that these cages need to meet some kind of government regulation as far as size and capacity is concerned… but it still doesn’t imply the free range we had in mind.

Why would farmers not comply with the consumer-centric idea of free range? Because this is too expensive! And it isn’t even necessarily the farmer’s fault. With the scrounge to make profits, especially now, it requires way more money that it is worth to raise chickens in a completely free range environment. The government subsidies only go so far.

In one study testing for the microbiological prevelance of Salmonella in free-range chickens, it was found that of the 135 chicken carcasses tested for the bacteria, 31% were tested positive for Salmonella. In fact, in one of the tested lots, 100% of the chickens tested positive! (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16300088?dopt=Abstract) These statistics completely ruin the consumer assumption of these free range chickens being 100% clean. They do present a cleaner option; however, by no means are these free range chickens completely exempt from possible disease and bacterial invasion.

What’s my point? If there were governmentally regulated terminology to standardize the definition of free-range (as has been done with certified organic) there would be much less variability in the quality of meat, dairy, and egg products consumers purchase. Do not have blind faith in that which you buy commercially, go do some research before you buy. You’ll thank yourself as your ignorant buddies heave over the toilet for having blindly accepted those supermarket fallacy terms as indicators of a quality product.

Be careful out there folks. That, or move to Europe. 😉

 

 

Fair Trade Food: Bohemian Trend or Sustainable Solution?

Free Trade for All?
Free Trade for All?
We’ve all been to our neighborhood coffee shops and seen the “Fair-Trade, no pesticide, organic yadda yadda yadda” but how many consumers actually understand what Fair Trade even means? Sounds like a term used on the play ground for teaching kids how to properly share their action figures…

But in FACT! Fair trade products, most popularly coffee, are the answer to sustainability and small farm support with in the international importation of products from developing countries. Sure, we love the local thing, saving energy on production and transportation of the goods we eat, but there are some things out there that you really just can’t find in your local area. Coffee from Colombia, quinoa from Ecuador are products that are particularly good when grown in these particular areas, but this does not mean we have to give into the money monster and support huge agrobusiness in order to get these products.

Oh no my friends, instead, we can import these products sustainably, and in support of small farmers in developing countries. This is actually what the elusive term, ‘fair trade’ actually implies, paying fair prices and promoting sustainable forms of production, while empowering and motivating farmers in developing countries to be able to work in their own businesses without crumbling under the pressure of the international food machine.

Raw Fair Trade Cherry Coffee Beans from Nicaragua
Raw Fair Trade Cherry Coffee Beans from Nicaragua

Here we find a variety of benefits of Fair-Trade fare:

a) Working against major industry to slow the run away train of international corporate food monopolies

b) Paying a normal amount for food

c) Eating food that actually tastes like something edible

d) Helping farmers in developing countries

e) Promoting community development

f) Sustaining local cultures/economies

g) Good Conscience?

TransFairUSA, a “only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S”, tells us a little more about fair trade certification:

“Fair Trade certification is a market-based model of international trade that benefits over one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.

Fair Trade Certified agricultural products including coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, flowers, honey and spices (vanilla) are currently available at over 35,000 retail establishments in the U.S.

Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment. But Fair Trade is much more than a fair price. “

So I guess that confirms it. Fair Trade products aren’t just a new-hippie label for meaningless feelings of good conscious, but rather, offer an alternative way to do business internationally without completely exploiting the little guy.

For more information please check out/support: (amongst many others)

So the next time you buy a cup of joe, take a break from your average Fascist coffee and make your morning caffiene buzz fair.

*Important to note that there are many other products that fulfill the “fair-trade” certification, I just chose to focus on coffee because fair-trade coffee is probably the most common fair trade product confronting average consumers.

An Email I Received from Slow Food

“In these final days before President-Elect Obama makes his selection for Secretary of Agriculture, Slow Food Los Angeles urges you to express your support for dynamic and sustainable choices for the post.

An online petition available at http://www.fooddemocracynow.org is accepting signatures. The petition lists six suggestions including Gus Schumacher, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Slow Food leader Neil Hamilton, the Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

Josh Viertel, Erika Lesser, Slow Food USA board members, and Slow Food leaders from around the country have signed the petition and are spreading the word. SFUSA is encouraging members and friends to add their names in support of the suggested candidates: Even if the new administration doesn’t pick one of the listed candidates, signing the petition sends a strong message that we want a good, clean, and fair food system and that we expect our new administration to make choices that support that vision.

For more information on the nominees and the role of the Secretary of Agriculture, check out Kim Severson’s piece in last week’s Diner’s Journal on the New York Times’ website:
http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/foodies-make-a-pitch-to-obama/

as well as Steph Larson’s comments, posted on one of our perennial favorites, The Ethicurean:
http://www.ethicurean.com/2008/11/15/ag-sec/

For more about the mission of Food Democracy Now!, read their mission an description at:
http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/about-us/

Please sign the petition! This could dictate the future of how we understand and experience the not only the food we eat, but also the environment we live in!

Fear Not: Raw Milk Cheese

 Since the 1940s the FDA prohibited production/importation of any raw milk cheese that hadn’t been aged at least 60 days. Why? Well…because raw milk chese is unpasteurized (heated above 140 Degrees) and is in theory chock full of harmful, death causing bacteria…While most of the cheese in the States is produced industrially, and therefore pasteurized, this regulation was not a real problem; however, shortly after, a movement of angry(?) American Artisan cheesemakers ignited in order to bring back the traditional methods of cheese production, using raw milk and traditional technology, produced on a much smaller scale than say… Kraft’s zombie cheese. (I hesitate to call American cheese, cheese, but for all intents and purposes..)

Sadly, at the same time that these artisan producers were “Bringin’ back” the old ways of cheese-making, an industrial cheese producer used fresh Mexican style cheese in one of its products that ended up  making a lot of people pretty sick, and even killed a few. What did this disaster mean for the American people? BAN ALL RAW MILK CHEESE!!IT’S EVIILLLLLLLL.

Now, Is this an appropriate reaction? Probably not. If we banned everything that killed people America you could say Ciao Ciao to pretty much everything from McDonald’s, most food products from China, anything with artificial coloring/sweetener, etc….. so basically everything on the industrial menu here in the US of A.

Thankfully, the FDA never went through with the raw milk ban. HOWEVER, they definitely don’t hesitate to remind consumers about the hidden dangers of eating raw milk cheese….to be honest, I am more afraid to eat a piece of the plasticky personality-lacking cheese that is being produced industrially, that is much more likely to make me sick to me stomach in all honesty.

Anywho, even though it is not illegal to produce, artisan cheese producers are having a hard time getting their feet back in the door of the industry. People are too scared to actually enjoy food, and good tasting food no less? Apparently Americans prefer the sterile, hospital quality, ‘SAFE’ foods that are so convieniently offered to the masses by these huge corporations. Many studies have been done however that prove the ability of raw milk cheese to be just as safe as the pasteurized stuff.

The Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association is committed to maintaining traditional standards of raw milk cheese production, and giving these artisan producers the opportunity to continue doing what they do best, making some delicious fresh cheese.

This is yet another example of why us Americans have very little sense of food tradition or craft, because every time something gets too good, we think it’s going to kill us.

Willing to take the risk…? Feast your eyes on some of these delish raw-milk cheeses that you have been missing out on:

"Oregonzola" and "Oregon Bleu" amongst many others from Rogue Creamery
"Oregonzola" and "Oregon Bleu" amongst many others from Rogue Creamery

Selection of Fresh Cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie in Washington
Selection of Fresh Cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie in Washington

Raw milk cheese produced by artisans in America is not only delicious but it is also environmentally friendly. Most of this cheese is made by hand or at least in small-scale production facilites, reducing carbon emissions. As well as the fact that most of the animal’s used for this processed are family owned and well treated. PLUS, by purchasing artisan cheese you are not only doing yourself a favor, but you are also supporting the local economy, instead of funding another one of Kraft’s (sorry but this is the biggest industrial cheese producer that comes to mind) new “food system facilities”.

 

For more info on Raw Milk Cheese, Check out :

Pass the Cheese please? 😉
 

 

 

 

Monsanto: Laughing in the face of Recession

Just when I thought Monsanto couldn’t monopolize the industry any more than they already have, the company’s Roundup Ready 2 soybean strain has been approved for use in the European Union. Awesome.

A statement from Monsanto’s executive vice president of global commercial business, Brett Begemann concludes that, “The European Union regulatory approval demonstrates the growing acceptance of Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans throughout the world.” Throughout the WORLD?! My god, what is the “world” coming to? And does this “world” really accept Monsanto’s zombie soybeans or is it the money hungry food execs that see this as a good business venture, forcing the rest of us to passively observe?
I hope this doesn’t mean that soon other countries will have to experience what it means to eat food that isn’t actually…food Our dear friend Brett has included that the company is committed to the promise that this soy bean variety will double soy bean yields by 2030.

“As we look to deliver on our commitment to double yield by 2030, Roundup Ready 2 Yield is critical. This trait is important not only for its weed control and yield benefits, but because it serves as the platform for future soybean technologies that will deliver additional value to farmers and others.”

The acceptance of Monsanto’s synthetic soybeans delivers two very problematic consequences.

1) This ensures that more funding and interest will continue to be put into producing advancements and innovative strategies for biotechnology product launches, especially those focusing on the food industry.

2)Monsanto is continuing to make money off of their industrialized food, while everyone else in the country and abroad is starving to death in the face of an world-wide economic meltdown. Observe: The following graph is a picture of Monsanto’s quarterly dividends…. things seem to be looking up. *Cough*

Monsanto's Quarterly Dividend
Monsanto's Quarterly Profit/Loss Dividend

In Fact, the company has been doing SO well recently that they have reaffirmed their goal to double 2007’s profits by 2012… I don’t hear Circuit City or Bally Total Fitness bragging about their quarter’s profitable season, oh wait. that’s because they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy….

For constantly updated information on Monsanto’s happily inflating share price, visit: http://www.marketwatch.com/quotes/mon
 

 

 

Homegrown Education

Has all this talk about pesticides and genetically modified seeds killed your appetite for the commerically produced stuff??

Good.

You are now ready to start considering the many alternatives to your consumerist lifestyle. No longer do you need to be dependent on the faceless grocery gods to put food on your table. Now you may be asking, “How am I supposed to get fresh zucchinis, and lettuce, and tomatoes, and and and ALL THOSE OTHER FRUITS AND VEGGIES, if I boycott the supermarket?!”

Well my dear friends, the simplest answer is to grow them yourself! Yes! that’s right, growing your own fruits and vegetables not only shrinks your carbon footprint and saves your funds, but it’s also immensely satisfying! What could be better than biting into a tangy, juicy, ruby red tomato that you plucked off the vine from your own garden? The students of the Garden Club at Pitzer College in So Cal seem to understand the distinction…

I was lucky enough to meet with these students to discuss some of the benefits of growing your own produce. They even offer some really great tips on how to go about starting your own garden. Check out the video below to learn from these groundbreaking (hah no pun intended) students.

…P.S. I shot/edited this video in a very short amount of time because I wanted to put it up onto the site as soon as possible…It says it’s 7:37 mins long, but its only about 5:30.

No more complaining about the high cost of buying organic, because nothing is cheaper than doing it yourself!! Thanks Pitzer Kids… I’m going to go pick myself somethin’ tasty.