Saturday, April 21, 2012

Food Fight and Small Changes

The food fight in this country is starting to heat up and really get interesting. One of the reasons I am so fascinated by our food system is because it brings together so many things that I am passionate about: food, animal welfare, politics, policy, government regulation, and economics. All these seemingly disparate ingredients come together to create this compelling, dramatic, sensational, gritty, and challenging thing called, food production in America. Seriously, truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction, and if food production were a tv show, it would be like watching Desperate Housewives, the entire Food Network, Law & Order, Tele Novelas, the Animal Planet, and Mad Men all rolled into one!

Unfortunately, it is not a tv show. It is far more relevant than mere entertainment and, unfortunately, it garners far less attention from the general public. As you may well imagine, I do a lot of reading on the subject of food production here in America and follow the relevant news and legislation closely. There has been a lot of food related matters in the news lately, even the mainstream news has gotten in on the action. Some of the news has been encouraging, like the growing public demand in California to require labeling when food products contain genetically altered organisms; and the growing number of public schools that are incorporating fresh produce, on campus gardens, and nutritional education into the school lunch programs. And then there is the bad news: Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducting armed raids on small scale pig farms which have recently been declared in violation of Michigan law for breeding “feral” pigs (which seems to be defined as any pig not part of a huge industrial hog farming operation); and Georgia lawmakers neglecting to pass legislation that would protect the right of every Georgia citizen to produce food for their own consumption.

Sometimes, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of change that is needed and the amount of misinformation and apathy that needs to be overcome in order for meaningful change to be achieved in our food system. So, I am taking this moment to remind myself, and those of you reading this blog, that change has to begin somewhere and has to begin sometime. I know that’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but it does give us the freedom to do SOMETHING, even if we can’t do EVERYTHING.

I don’t know about you, but knowing that any change, even a small one, is still a step in the right direction is encouraging. So, with that in mind, I am more determined than ever to make the small changes that I’m capable of making now, with the goal of seeing greater change in the future. Here are a few simple ways that you can make changes in your own daily life that can ultimately lead to much greater change in the future for you, your family, your community, and your country for generations to come.

1.     Reduce or eliminate factory-farmed meat from your diet. If the thought of giving up factory-farmed meat entirely is too daunting of a task to even consider, consider these alternatives instead:
a.     Give up meat for one or two days a week (for tips and further information, check out
b.     Find a local source for at least one category of meat (beef, pork, or chicken). ( is a great source for finding local providers of grass fed / free-range / organic meat)
2.     Find a local source for produce. It is true that farmer’s markets will charge more than a grocery store for their products, but it is also true that the quality will more than make up for it.  But here are some tips for making the best of your extra expenditures.
a.     Choose to purchase produce from your local organic farmer that makes the Dirty Dozen list (those fruits and vegetables which contain the highest level of pesticides and toxins when produced in “conventional” methods). If you don’t have a local farmer’s market, choose organic options from your grocery store when possible.
                                               i.     Apples
                                              ii.     Celery
                                            iii.     Strawberries
                                            iv.     Peaches
                                              v.     Spinach
                                            vi.     Necatarines
                                           vii.     Grapes
                                         viii.     Sweet Bell Peppers
                                            ix.     Potatoes
                                              x.     Blueberries
                                            xi.     Lettuce
                                           xii.     Kale / Collard Greens
b.     Better yet, choose one or two items from the list above and grow them yourself! Bell Peppers, Strawberries, and even Potatoes can be grown in containers, if your space is limited. If you’ve never gardened before, just pick one plant, do some research, and give it a try!
c.      Purchase items that are in season and in abundance.
3.     Most importantly, STAY INFORMED! Learn about the companies and businesses that control your food supply, learn about the laws and agencies that exist to regulate those businesses, find out if they are working to protect your interests… and if NOT… why? And never forget that consumers hold the power, not corporations! If you doubt the veracity of that statement, just ask Cambell’s, which recently revamped production processes in order to satisfy consumer demand to remove BPA from the canning process.

Change is never easy. But life is change. The status quo has never solved any problems or revolutionized anyone’s life. And while ignorance may be bliss, blissful ignorance can lead to oblivion.  This is an important time in our history. We are at a unique point when a light is being shined on corporate greed and mishandling of public trust, not only in financial markets, but in our food markets as well. We must act during this time, while there is still some transparency and while these corporations are still reeling from the initial shock of public outcry over practices that have long been safely hidden and ignored behind closed doors. Big Agriculture is working overtime right now to bring about legislation that will keep whistle-blowers out of their operations, shut down small independent farmers, keep consumers in the dark, and maintain the status quo. We need to be working just as hard to ensure that our food system remains open to public scrutiny, is held to high standards of safety, becomes more accountable and accommodating to consumers, and is properly regulated by those who SHOULD be acting on behalf of the people (not the corporations they are there to oversee). 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


This is a very interesting and exciting time in our country in regards to food production! There have been a number of small victories here lately for those of us working to restore food integrity back into our national system, bringing several issues to light for the general population to see. Among those is the FDA giving permission to schools to NOT use hamburger containing pink slime in school lunches. (If you would like to know more about pink slime, just Google it, it’s as disgusting as it sounds and it’s found in about 75% of all ground beef that is currently sold… Yum!)

Due to customer outrage over BPA, Campbell’s has now removed the offensive chemical from its canning process! (If you want to learn more about this issue, here is a link to a Forbes article that covers it.) Yes, I could go on about how despicable it is that a company knowingly uses a chemical which has been proven to cause all sorts of problems until consumers threaten to stop buying their product and do a little damage to the bottom line, BUT, I won’t. I’ll just celebrate this little victory and hope that the momentum continues to build, grow, and blossom!

Also in the news recently, the banishment of agri-giant, Monsanto, from several countries, though sadly, NOT the USA. Hungary, France, and Peru have all banned the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds, mainly because the long term effects are still unknown, but also because the known short term problems are bad enough. (If you are unfamiliar with Monsanto, check out one of my earlier blogs… or just Google it… there is a wealth of information out there and I really can’t begin to explain how scary they are in the context of this current post.)

There have been some notable losses, including Governor Branstad of Iowa signing into law the nation’s first ag-gag bill. This bill was passed to protect agricultural businesses from being damaged by those who might gain employment dishonestly with the express purpose of sabotaging operations. However, the bill uses broad strokes and ends up protecting these agricultural businesses from whistleblowers and investigators who would seek to bring into the light of public scrutiny certain practices and procedures that the big ag biz would rather keep safely tucked away in the dark. This bill is nothing more than blatant pandering to big ag and their big money, criminalizing those who might “damage” their bottom line by exposing (gasp) the truth! I hope the law is challenged (as I’m sure that it will be) and found to be unconstitutional (as it most certainly is).

We are currently at a crossroads or a pivot point of sorts. Yes, there are many issues that are finally coming to light and much needed changes that are being made in our food system (for the better). But there is still so much more to do. This is the time to change. This is the time for reform. This is the time to commit to restoring integrity to our food. It will take each of us making changes in our attitudes and behaviors and it will take all of us working together to bring about the necessary changes in modern agricultural practices.

Call me crazy (you won’t be the first, nor will you be the last), but I believe that we can actually leave a better world for future generations. However, I also believe that we are running out of time to be able to do that. There will come a point when we will have polluted, overmedicated, destroyed, used, abused, chemicalized (so, maybe I made that word up, but you know what I mean!) and leached this planet beyond the point of recovery. But I’m optimistic enough to believe that we aren’t there yet! And the best part is that each of us can make decisions every day that will help us turn that corner and (because I love to mix my metaphors) tip that scale in our favor, in favor of this planet over which we have been given stewardship, and in favor of the animals that are destined to share our fate (or we, theirs).  I challenge you to be an informed consumer, an informed voter, and an active participant in your own food system!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nation's First Ag-Gag Bill Needs To Be Stopped!

Imagine with me, if you will, your favorite restaurant. A place you enjoy eating on a regular basis. Now suppose that a reporter comes in while you are dining there and asks the manager for a tour of the kitchen. Upon hearing this request, the manager becomes irate, telling the reporter that she has no business looking into his kitchen, there is nothing there for the reporter to see, go away and don’t EVER come back!!! Then, let’s say that a few weeks later, you are watching the local news and you see an undercover investigative story about that same restaurant! Only this time, the reporter sent in someone else, someone who entered under false pretenses, someone who went into the restaurant with a hidden camera, someone disguised as the new employee hired to wash dishes. While there under cover of employment, the dishwasher discovers deplorable conditions in the kitchen: it is rat infested, the food is past the expiration dates and not stored properly, roaches scurry across countertops and dart behind open containers of food, and employee hygiene is completely lacking. Now let’s say that following this news cast, your city passes a new law that affects restaurants. That’s good right? This undercover investigation brings to light a horrible health risk taking place right under your very nose, it’s horrible, thank goodness there will now be better laws to protect you as a consumer! Nope. Sorry. The new law doesn’t protect you as a consumer. This new law protects the restaurant owner. This new law prohibits anyone from entering his kitchen under false pretenses ever again. This new law means that no other restaurant in town will ever need to worry about being infiltrated and exposed. No other restaurant owner in town ever needs to worry about suffering such an embarrassment and financial loss over something so trivial as the health of its employees and patrons. How would you feel about your formerly favorite restaurant? How would you feel about the new law set up for the sole purpose of protecting such places? How would you feel to know that your health means little when compared to the restaurant owners and the influence they wield?

I don’t know about you, but I would not react well to such a development. And I paint this little picture, because that is EXACTLY what is going on right now. Well, not exactly, this law protects agricultural businesses, not restaurants, but it affects a significant portion of the nation’s food system. Iowa has passed the nation’s first Ag Gag Law. There are a number of these floating about in different states at different stages of passage, but this is the first to await signage into law. The bill currently sits on the governor’s desk and I would ask each of you to consider contacting him. I sent the following message this morning:

Dear Governor Branstad,
You currently have a bill on your desk, House File 589, which I respectfully ask you to consider NOT signing. As the nation's first Ag-Gag bill, you will be setting a strong and destructive precedent for future bills throughout this country that would seek to provide unconstitutional protection for agribusinesses at the expense of consumer safety and the humane treatment of animals.
Any industry that actively seeks to keep its operations hidden from the view of the public is an industry that needs to be brought into the light, not afforded special protections. Though I am not a citizen of your great state, the large number of hog farms that would be protected by this legislation directly affects me as a consumer.
I am not comfortable with any aspect of our national food system being afforded this level of protection and secrecy. Again, I respectfully ask that you not sign this bill. It is, at the very least, deserving of a public debate... anything less gives the strong appearance that big agriculture can just buy legislation that works in its favor.
LeeAnna Tatum

These Ag-Gag bills make it illegal to enter an agricultural facility under false pretenses, some states even have bills in progress that make it illegal to take unauthorized pictures of agricultural facilities, and punish whistle-blowers. Now, I ask you… does this sound like a law that is in the best interest of citizens and consumers, or lobbyists and big agriculture? I can promise you that the farm, down the road where I get my pork doesn’t care who sees their operation, they would welcome picture taking, and even offer tours. Why? Because they have nothing to hide. There is nothing there that they are ashamed for you to see. Why is big agriculture pushing these Ag-Gag bills? Because they do not want you to see how they operate. They know that if the public saw what conditions are really like, they would lose consumers. They don’t want you to see what is going on in the kitchen…. doesn’t that make you want to know why?????  

Iowa may be only one state, but it has one of the highest percentages of hog farms in the nation (can’t put my finger on the stats with the exact number right at the moment), so chances are quite good that if you purchase pork (any pork product) from the grocery store, you are a consumer of Iowa agriculture. This issue is relevant to you.

You are the consumer. You have EVERY right to know what is going on behind closed doors at these facilities. You should know. You need to know. It’s about facing your food and holding the producers of that food accountable. These laws are attempting to prohibit you from doing just that.

I encourage you to contact Governor Branstad of Iowa and let him know that you do not want the agribusinesses of his state to receive extra protection at the expense of, you, the consumer.  Here is the link for contacting him should you choose to do so:

Here is a link to the bill itself, should you want to read it. It really is frightening. This bill is sickening in its transparency... it doesn't even pretend to be something that protects or benefits the general public... every aspect of it is clearly to protect the corporation against any attempt to hold them accountable for actionable offenses. The entire purpose of this bill is to make any individual who brings things to light that could end up costing the company money be held liable as a CRIMINAL for the financial damages. No other industry is afforded that kind of protection. And NO industry should be afforded it. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Does God Care About What You Eat?

In the Message translation of the Bible, the word, “food” is mentioned 212 times.  To give that a little bit of context, the word, “love” is in there 586 times, “obey” comes in at a 90 count, “faith” is mentioned 227 times, and “pray” makes an appearance 499 times.  Now, I’m not saying that they best way to find out if something is important to God is to count how many times it is mentioned in the Bible, but there is something to be said for the frequency in which the topic of food is covered.

There are several places in the Bible where God gives specific instruction about food. In the first chapter of Genesis, he gave man “every sort of seed bearing plant on earth and every kind of fruit bearing tree” for food. In Genesis 9, God told Noah (after the flood receded), “all living creatures are yours for food. Just as I gave you the plants, now I give you everything else”.  In Genesis 41, God gave Joseph specific wisdom regarding a coming famine and Joseph was able to take advantage of seven years of bumper crops in preparation for the seven years of famine that followed. God also gave specific instruction regarding food to the Israelites, His chosen people. In historical retrospect, we can see that many of those instructions protected them from common disease and food-born illnesses of the times.  There are many other examples of God's direct involvement with mankind's food, but in the interest of my own short attention span... I'll move on! :)

Food is mentioned in the context of necessity, refreshment, companionship, sacrifice, temptation, blessing, fellowship, offering, and lifestyle.  We are told to feed the hungry, to abstain from gluttony, to thank God for His daily provision of food, and to trust Him for it. Clearly, God not only understands the role that food plays in our lives, but as our Creator, He designed it that way. He provided us with a wide array of foods varying in tastes, textures, aromas, and nutrition. He gave us food, not only to provide for our nutritional needs, but also to bring us together, and to bring us pleasure.

I have done a LOT of research about food, food production, agriculture, and nutrition in the past few years and I am surprised by how little attention is given to the topic by Christians. I’m not saying there are not Christians out there who care deeply about the ethics of food (and have written about it), but they seem to be in short supply, comparatively speaking. It is far and away the secular groups that are leading the charge to improve the food system that we currently have here in America.

Our environment, the welfare of animals, the working conditions for low wage agriculture workers, our health, ethical practices in the food industry, our responsibilities as consumers… all of these things should matter to all of us, most especially those of us who claim to be Christians.  We really are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our Creator gave us many wonderful things on this planet to eat, but we have strayed very far from the natural buffet that He provided.  It just seems to me that since He made us, He probably knows best how to fuel us. Science has done a lot of wonderful things, but “improving” our food system is NOT one of them!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Livin' la Vida Local!

If you love to shop local and are proud to support your local farmer, wear it proud! You can help increase awareness and promote buying local just by getting dressed in the morning! :) Ok, before I go any further, and in the interest of full disclosure.... I must tell you that I am promoting my own product from Carefree Clothing Company, a t-shirt business that my sister and I have just started. It is our desire to provide fun and interesting designs that can also help raise awareness for important issues. Our first design is currently available for Pre-sale. You can purchase it now and it should ship out the first week of March. It is the "Local Life" design pictured here. The shirt is available in Asphalt and Chocolate and it is made right here in the USA.  
Please check out our online storefront, 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gardening is a Victory!

That's a beautiful head of cabbage, if I may say so myself!

I harvested my first ever cabbage yesterday! I have been growing a few vegetables at a time for a few years now, but this was my first cabbage. I have been relatively successful with growing tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumber, and various herbs; all in containers. This spring I will be trying my hand at two new things in the garden… raised bed gardening, and starting from seed.  By making these two changes, I SHOULD be able to produce a lot more and spend a lot less in the process. But I must admit that I am a bit trepidatious about this foray into the unknown.

During WWII, every American was encouraged to plant a Victory Garden. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that around 20 million gardens were planted and that domestic production of fruit and vegetables equaled that of commercial vegetable production during the same period. I wonder what kind of difference we could make to improve the environment, improve our health, and alleviate hunger if we each began to grow more of our own food.

No matter how much, or how a small an outdoor space you may have… chances are you have enough space to grow some of your own food. It’s a great way to know that the food you are eating is fresh and safe. No need to worry about e-coli in your home-grown spinach! Aside from the nutritional gains of growing your own food, it’s just plain fun! I love watching the plants grow and the little tiny buds turn into growing squash, tomatoes, or peppers.

It’s also really nice to have that personal connection with your food. There is a wonderful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment making fresh food from scratch and even more so when you also took part in growing it. You may not have time to tend a large garden or the space for one, but try planting a few herbs to grow in your windowsill or if you have a patio or balcony… plant a tomato with some herbs in small containers.  You could plant a salsa garden (tomato, jalapeno, cilantro) or an Italian garden of tomato, sweet bell pepper, and basil.

I'll continue to update from time to time on my gardening experiences. Believe me, if I can do this... anyone can!!!! If you’re an experienced gardener, please feel free to share your experience with those of us just starting to figure it out! And if you’ve never gardened before, give it a try… spring is just around the corner!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dream the Impossible Dream

Since embarking on this little journey of mine and writing about it in this little blog, I often find myself wondering if it is really worth it. Indeed, my journey was delayed time and time again because I battled with the notion of whether my actions really mattered or not. I’m only one person. How does any of this make any real difference? I’m not going to put factory farms out of business because I’m no longer buying their products. My actions alone won’t improve the environment or treatment of livestock. Can one person really make a difference?

Despite my doubts, my reservations, my questions, and my insecurities I eventually decided that this was something that I HAD to do. It really doesn’t matter if it changes the world. It doesn’t matter if no one else gets it. It doesn’t matter if no one ever reads this, or changes their minds, or is pushed to think about things in a different way. It would be great if those things did happen, but the important thing is that to NOT do this would be to deny a part of who I am. It would mean turning my back on things that I truly believe in. It would mean giving up hope in a brighter future and a better world. It would mean that a part of the person that I was created to be would never even have the opportunity to blossom, much less grow.

When we are children, we are encouraged to dream BIG! Who ever laughs at a kid who wants be an astronaut when he/she grows up?  (Mean people, that’s who!) We think it’s great when a kid wants to be a scientist and an artist and a cowboy all rolled into one. But then we grow up. And we’re told to be realistic. Maybe not in so many words, maybe not by anyone in particular. But society tells us to grow up, and that is often just another way of saying that you should put your dreams in a box. Or at least, scale them back. Size them down. Make them fit expectations. Or make them profitable!

Maybe I don’t want to grow up. Because I don’t want to put my dreams in a box anymore. I don’t want to shrink my expectations down to size. I want to believe that I can do anything. I want to believe that change is possible. I want to believe that I can leave this world a better place because I was a part of it.

I believe that each of us has a role to fill. Each of us has been given a gift or gifts by our Creator and it is in His purpose that we find fulfillment. He is the one who gives us our dreams, our passions, our talents, our skills. When we deny those dreams and limit ourselves to what is expected of us… we deny Him the opportunity to use us to do good and positive and, yes, even BIG things. He not only gave us the capacity to dream big, but He will also give us the strength and wisdom and opportunity to do BIG.

I have no control over anyone else. (Shocking, I know!) I can’t make people read my blog, or care about animals, or change their behaviors, or improve their business practices. I do this for me. I know. That sounds selfish. But it’s not. Not only can I not control anyone else, I can’t BE anyone else. I can only be me. So, the best thing that I can do for myself, and for those I love, and for the causes I believe in, and for my Creator is to be the unique me that I was created to be. And part of being ME is to make this stand for things that I believe are important. The rest is out of my hands.