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).