February 2011


There’s no one I know who makes a concerted effort to remain ignorant. And by ignorant, I mean “not knowing” or “unaware.” While people may “not care” about certain things, like what is in our food for example, it become a different story when people remain unaware because our government doesn’t regulate or publish what is in our food.

Genetically Modified Organisms, or G.M.O’s, are here to stay in our food supply–and yet, people who are concerned with their health attempt to avoid G.M.O’s in our food. H0wever, it is becoming more difficult to avoid eating G.M.O’s or eating animals that ate G.M.O’s–etc.

As reported in The New York Times on February 15th, “In the last three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved three new kinds of genetically engineered (G.E.) foods: alfalfa (which becomes hay), a type of corn grown to produce ethanol), and  sugar beets. And the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a super-fast-growing salmon — the first genetically modified animal to be sold in the U.S., but probably not the last — may not be far behind.” –Mark Bittman, food columnist for The Times, shares his thoughts about G.M.O’s in his recent editorial entitled, “Why Aren’t G.M.O Foods Labeled?”  It’s hard to consider the concept that G.M.O foods are becoming more prevalent and “accepted” in the United States of Agribusiness, to be sure–but what is even more disconcerting is that “the  F.D.A.and the U.S.D.A. will not require any of these products, or foods containing them, to be labeled as genetically engineered, because they don’t want to ‘suggest or imply’ that these foods are ‘different.'”

Hmmm.

As far as I can tell, creating a genetically-modified organism, for the express purpose of resisting pesticides, for example–is “different” than the simple crops that my father plants in his backyard garden. Dad has to deal with ground hogs, chipmunks, tomato blights–and he hasn’t ventured into his workshop to scientifically manufacture a seed to deter nature from being nature. Obviously, my father’s labor of love–his bountiful personal garden–cannot be compared to the overflowing G.M.O soybean field or the Frankensalmon (farm) that Bittman mentions in his editorial. Yet there is something fundamentally wrong with withholding information from a consumer.

I want to know what is in my food, and I want to know why the labels won’t keep up with what is being done scientifically to our food sources. And I’m not alone. Bittman reveals that 87% of Americans want G.M.O foods labeled accordingly.

What used to be simple–growing food, buying food–has become a convoluted permuation of avoidance and deceptive marketing. When will there be some clear and direct legislation to manage the vaguery of product labels? Why should I remain ignorant to whether the salmon I purchase is factory farmed or a G.M.O product?  If the labels don’t exist, I will be buying my food “blind.”

The Bittman article is informative, interesting, and disturbing. Take a read of it and while you do, I’ll get to learning how to create a container garden this spring/ summer, so as to avoid as much G.M.O “bounty” as I can.

Why Aren’t G.M.O. Foods Labeled? http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/why-arent-g-m-o-foods-labeled/

As an omnivore with a family that likes to eat meat, I’ve been on the prowl for over a year to revamp our family’s diet and eat meat that has been more consciously raised and finished. Factory farmed meat=not for me. My toddler loves hot dogs, but I was skeptical about serving him something that I typically associated with nitrites, unsavory animal parts, and general “yuck” factor. In my local supermarket, I came across Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs and I decided to give them a try. I had been buying Applegate Farms cold cuts for some time, as I appreciate the company’s dedication to humane treatment of animals. I am happy to report that Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs are now my family’s go-to hot dog. They are delicious!

My little guy really enjoyed these hot dogs. I gave it a try, eating a little bit and finding a pleasurable beef flavor that didn’t have any chemical or acidic aftertaste. They are plump and they aren’t greasy like some other hot dogs I’ve had in the past.

What really appeals to me is that Applegate Farms is a company that is forthright with its customers concerning its practices and products. Its new “Promise Tracker” allows the consumer to track the product (in my case, the hot dogs) back to the farm from which it originated.

Simply, the hot dogs taste good because the beef is derived from grass-fed, free-roaming animals. These are cows that haven’t been sick or fed antibiotics. The meat that goes into Applegate Farms hot dogs is quality meat–it’s not a mish-mash of grade Z meat that would frighten a customer. The ingredients list is short and clear: “Organic Grass-Fed Beef, Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Sea Salt, Celery Powder, Organic Onion Powder, Organic Spices, Organic Paprika.” It’s that simple. There’s nothing on the ingredients list that is a mystery or that I can’t pronounce. There’s nothing like “natural flavors” that are typically synthetic. Applegate Farms is clear and straightforward with what goes into its products and why the final product is superior.

What also appeals to me is that the organic uncured beef hot dog is also lower in fat than its counterparts in my supermarket. Weighing in with 6 grams of fat (as opposed to 14 grams in other brands) per serving makes me feel better about what I’m serving.

It means a lot to me to be able to make a conscious decision about what my family eats–and I have to say, Applegate Farms makes it a bit easier for me. I’ve stood in supermarkets, staring at factory farmed meat and felt frozen in place, wondering what I should/could buy without putting my family at risk for e. coli, omega-6 fat, etc. I’ve wondered if the labels I’ve been reading that say “cage free” or “organic” actually mean what they say. When I buy Applegate Farms products, I’m not worried. I appreciate having that peace of mind when I buy food for my family.

My favorite products are currently these hot dogs, the ham, the cheese, the uncured bacon, and the sausages. Delicious!

Hotdogs

Recently, I purchased some air-chilled chicken wings for my family to eat for dinner @ Whole Foods. The cost was very comparable to what I would have paid for factory farmed chickens in my local supermarket. What I noticed, however, on the Whole Foods packaging, was a label of “Step 3 Animal Welfare” which I thought was interesting.

Now, I learned that Whole Foods has partnered with the Global Animal Partnership to label Whole Foods’ meat with a five step rating that takes “humanely raised” labels to a new level. Instead of vague descriptors, the five steps are clearly delineated, from Step 1 (“No crates or cages: Animals live their lives with space to move around and stretch their legs”) through Step 5 (“Animals raised to Step 5+ standards must be born and live their entire lives on one farm.”)

If you’ve tried to purchase meat with a conscious effort to buy a product that was from a humane source, you’ve probably noticed how many labels are deceptively vague. I appreciate the fact that I can go into Whole Foods and purchase meat that now has a more clear label/ rating system.

 If you visit the website, you’ll see more detail about how Whole Foods is using this system to certify their meat producers’ animal welfare practices. I found this not only very informative, but really progressive. I would love to see this commitment become a standard on all meats that consumers can by (wishful thinking, I get it!).

Off to Whole Foods tomorrow!

Read more here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/5step.php

So it’s disturbing to teach freshmen English when I am using Chew on This, Food Inc, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a myriad of other sources to teach persuasive writing–and my students say things like “who cares if the chickens are factory farmed?” or “I would eat @ (insert a fast food restaurant name here) anyway.” It seems as though there’s an apathy that can’t be shaken because it’s not “cool” to care about treating animals humanely, or to learn about how genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are not always regulated  by our government.

But then I encounter this article– http://news.change.org/stories/food-fight-college-students-demand-cage-free-eggs-on-campus

So 10,000 Penn State students are advocating for cage-free eggs in the university’s dining halls. I’m encouraged that the apathetic attitude I see from fourteen year-old students transforms into a call-to-action only a few years later.

It’s hard to live in this era without realizing the detrimental after-effects of factory farming–especially the current method of farming chickens. The manure alone pollutes our water supply, our soil, and the billions of tons have nowhere to go. Chickens–social, intelligent creatures, deserve respect–even if they are being bred to be our meal. The challenge remains to enlighten without preaching, and remove a veil of ignorance perpetuated by deceptive marketing and clever labeling. It’s great to see our collegiate generation responding to the current issues. It gives me hope that the nonfiction unit I am doing with my students will resonate with them long and hard enough to truly affect change.

So I was engaged on Valentine’s Day in 2004, and married six months later. Six years later,  I am with my soul mate. There’s nothing better than that.

Best Valentine’s present ever.