We had the pleasure of a guest lecture today from Anthony John, also known as the Manic Organic of the HGTV: Food Network show. He spoke to us about his farm and about his philosophy of growing good food that is sustainable ecologically but also taste good and is a pleasure to eat – obvious perhaps, but this is not a criteria for most big industrial farming today. The students really enjoyed it and so did we!
It is not easy to be a critical consumer. You need to know an awful lot about food and be careful about nutritional content. The more you know the more disillusioned you become. It makes it even more difficult when organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation is not themselves careful about what they put their logo on. Have a look at the following video.
Cashew nuts have become a favourite of the Western world. 60% of all cashew nuts are produced in India under appalling conditions for workers that make almost nothing. This article in The Guardian gives an accurate report of the conditions for the workers in the deshelling process, which has workers, mostly women, sitting in the same awkward position for hours and having their hands destroyed by the liquid released from the nuts (in the picture they have gloves, but this is not always the case).
As has become a theme of this blog, we here see another example of the hidden human cost of our food choices.
Here is a powerful argument for buying organic vegetables and fruit for health reasons.
What is organic food? Is it better to eat organic? Is it healthier? What should I do?
It is not easy to navigate the jungle of organic food these days. There are several standards and who knows what to do. It is generally also more expensive to buy organic food.
Many of the standards surrounding organic food now follow the USDA standards. It can easily be found on their website.
It is a little bit cumbersome to go through this and see what is counted as organic and not. Organic vegetables and fruits are counted as organic based on how they are grown, which means a limited use of modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, though organic or biological pesticides, such as Bt toxin, are still used.
There is no scientific consensus on the question whether organic food is healthier than conventional food. The Mayo Clinic has a good website for organic food, which expresses this view as well.
The problems we have noticed previously on this blog about how humans are treated within the conventional food system is not changed or made better by buying organic food. The stamp organic could be put on the beef in Fast Food Nation and nothing would have changed in the movie.
Buying organic meat has an impact on how animals are treated before they get to the slaughter houses, however, and to be certified as organic, all cattle should meet the following criteria according to USDA, namely, to be raised on certified organic pastures, never receive antibiotics, never receive growth-promoting hormones, be fed only certified organic grains (corn is a grain) and grasses, and they must have unrestricted outdoor access. This naturally will contribute to giving animals better quality of life.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this is, however, that animals will not be given antibiotics. This is very important and if this were to become more common will have a huge impact on the meat industry. If you want to eat meat, I suggest you buy organically certified meat if you can afford it.
It is not clear that buying organic vegetables and fruits contribute much to a better conventional food system. It is today unfortunately more of a market ploy. It is more important to buy local and get a personal relation, if possible, with the producer of the vegetables and fruits you consume.
As part of the course we have been reading Michael Moss new book called Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked US. It is a great book that describes how food companies manipulate the food to make us like it more. Through advanced research they are designing food to fit our taste buds. An example of this can be found in the new Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos. It is a real bestseller for Taco Bell and there is a good reason for why we like it. Have a look at this video also by Michael Moss of the NYT:
We have been challenging the students to think about the question: In what sense are our food choices our own? This is just one example of course. Culture and tradition is another. Men and women also have very different pressures put on their choices of food. On the last point, please have a look at this stand up comedy skit by Iliza Shlesinger:
Here is another example of the human suffering in the food industry.
Biotechnology has turned Argentina in to the world’s third-largest soy producer, but behind this boom lies a ruthless use of in other countries banned pesticides. As AP has put the finger on in their recent story this has and is causing death and suffering of workers and people living close to these farms.
People living in North-America and Europe where these food companies come from, Monsanto in this case, have been so obsessed with the suffering of animals that we have been blind to the real horror of the food industry. The developing world is being exploited so that we can have cheap food and in this case soy products for various vegan foods.
The amount of antibiotics used in the industrial farming of animals has a back side. See the new CDC Report presented in this NYT article:
One of the last scenes of Fast Food Nation is the documentary footage from the kill floor of the slaughterhouse. It leaves a lasting impression on anyone who sees it. The movie is not really about this, however, but more about the social and human cost of the industrial production of meat. This will be the topic of tomorrows class, but before expanding on that I wanted to mention a recent article I read from Harper’s Magazine.
Here is the link (you need a subscription to read it):
The article is called “The Way of All Flesh” and is written by Ted Conover. In it the author describes his time working undercover as an inspector for Cargill Meat Solutions in Schuyler, Nebraska. He gives a very objective and dispassionate account of his job inspecting the newly slaughtered cattle by slicing open lymph nods, hearts, livers etc. looking for infections. It is one of the best descriptions of what goes on in a meat factory I have read.
It is not so much a worry about the treatment of the animals that I take away from the article – although the description of the killing of the cattle with the ‘knocker’ is particularly gruesome – but the worry that the meat is not healthy. He for example writes: “What I’d seen on the viscera table made me suspect that consumers could be getting quite a dose of pharmaceuticals with their beef.” All the antibiotics pumped into cattle and other farmed animals are actually making the animals sick, the article implies.
As much as 70% of all antibiotics sold in the US is administered to livestock. Naturally, antibiotics keeps the feedlots healthy, but it is also believed that antibiotics makes the animals gain weight faster. All these pharmaceuticals will reach us humans in some way. It is a well known fact that it finds its way into rivers and lakes from the manure, but is it also present in the meat itself? There is no straight forward answer to this. Frontline has a good report on this problem:
Surprisingly, Mr. Conover’s article does not end with a recommendation to become vegan. He himself still eats meat despite his experience, but he eats much less of it and no ground beef. When he eats meet it is also of much higher quality and naturally then more expensive as well.
In todays class we watched Richard Linklater’s movie Fast Food Nation. It is written by Linklater and Eric Schlosser and based on Schlosser’s book with the same name. It is a very interesting movie that like few others portrays the costs, human and otherwise, of our conventional food system. Both the book and the movie were well received when they appeared (the book in 2001 and the movie in 2006).
NYT book review:
NYT movie review:
As the movie reviewer in NYT writes: “If it’s true that we are what we eat, then how, this film asks, do we even know who we are?” The criticism is hence not only aimed at the production system but also at the consumer. It portrays the dirty backside to our food choices. We will follow this up on Monday with a deeper discussion of the movie.