Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Last night I caught the last 20 minutes of the movie Food Inc. on PBS. By the way, I love PBS, have I mentioned that before? Their documentaries are fantastic and who doesn't love Nature on Sunday nights? Great family television and NO commercials. Gotta love that! Anyhow back to Food Inc., I'm sure I'm one of the last people to watch the very revealing and widely promoted food industry documentary, but better late than never right?

I have heard many reviews and discussions about the film over the last year on NPR and even several bloggers have written about it after watching it and understanding how our food is made and where it comes from, so I was thrilled when I heard it would be on PBS. Like I said, I only caught the last 20 minutes or so (I thought it started at 9. The online listing said 9 but when I turned on the TV at 9:05 it was almost over. Boo! Hopefully they will re-run it this afternoon on one of the PBS digital channels.) and missed most of the film but the gist was that more and more food today is being grown on a huge scale, using LOTS of petroleum, with genetically engineered seeds and animals that have been cooped up in pens and feedlots fed lots of unhealthy hormone laden feed and sold to manufacturers to process the hell out of it, wrap it in shiny packaging and sell it to consumers out of gas stations and drive through windows. For the most part, they are absolutely right. Their message was for consumers to make healthier choices not just for the food industry but for their own families that are buying and eating so much processed and preserved food that is making them overweight and unhealthy. Um yeah. Have people forgot the saying, You are what you eat? Of course Doritos and soda aren't good for us. Of course eating McDonald's french fries and a Big Mac on a regular basis can't be good for your heart. Hello! How fucking brain dead have we become that we need a documentary, A MOVIE to tell us that our food sucks and that it's unhealthy?

It wasn't that long ago that milk and butter (the real stuff, not that margarine crap) were delivered directly to homes from the dairy and you would go to the butcher shop to buy your meat (generally local meat) and grow your own garden and take the time to can and freeze the food that was grown right in your own yard to feed your family for the winter. All without using genetically engineered seeds and animals, and fertilizers, and tons of petroleum to haul it all . How shitty is it that we as a nation have decided that instead of growing our own gardens (not me of course) and buying eggs and meat from local farms and butcher shops that we will now leave all of the prep work out of it and swing by the grocery store on the way home and see what's hot in the deli case. Granted I sometimes will swap the work for the convenience and I have certainly driven my car up to a speaker and shouted out the names of some food items that are not so healthy, then paid money for them before shoving a handful of french fries in my face, but I can assure that it doesn't happen very often.

Now that I got my little rant out there and wholeheartedly agree with the part of the movie that I saw but not much of that was new to me except for the part where the seed cleaner man was sued by seed mega giant Monsanto. I wanted to cry for that poor man... Being a farmer is tough work and I can certainly attest to that, but it's not all that bad. Not every dairy farm gives hormones to their cows to produce more milk. Hell the farm I work at is very much different from the farms featured in the movie. My boss is very careful about what her animals eat and what kinds of chemicals they have access to. She even paints her fences (actually I've been commissioned to paint her fence this year. I'm just waiting for a warm day.) with a non-toxic paint that won't make the cows sick when they chew on it or rub up against it, which is inevitable on a dairy farm. Her milk isn't organic or anything special. Her milk gets picked up every day and is pumped into a truck with other milk from the farm up the road and after her stop it will continue on to the next farm. Some farmers aren't as crazy, particular, anal, careful as my boss but as long as their milk passes the tests that are required of it, it all gets mixed together and distributed. Some goes off to make cheese, some for direct consumption, and so on.

Not all farms are huge factory farms. Granted the volume of food that comes out of one of those big factory farms is astronomical and can't be replicated on small farms and that's why those monster factory farms exist but not everything we buy is made this way. There are still farmers that let their animals graze in pastures. There are still farmers that don't buy into all the crap that is advertised in farming magazines. Seriously the farming supplies and advertising is out of control. Every time I get a peek in my boss's kitchen I can see stacks and stacks of magazine and brochures that came in the mail. Craziness! The farming industry has changed and some of those changes were not such great ones as it turns out but some other changes have been revolutionary. When my husband started working for my farmer boss over 20 years ago, she didn't even have a milk pipeline (a stainless steel pipe that transports the milk from each cow's milking machine to the bulk tank in the milk house to be cooled) in her barn. My husband at the ripe old age of 10 carried stainless steel buckets of milk from each cow into the milk house and dumped them into the big cooler tank. Twice a day! Granted I'm convinced that my boss lives in a continuous loop of 1987, a world where cell phones don't exist and answering machines are completely optional (Seriously she doesn't have one and is very rarely in the house. Makes her very hard to reach.). When I come for nightly chores twice a week, we don't use any fancy equipment, besides of course the automated milkers, you gotta draw the line somewhere. No, the most technologically advanced piece of equipment I use is a push broom and a pitch fork. I pitch out the food we feed to the cows from the silo. I carry around bales of hay and distribute them to hungry, drooling milk cows. I carry buckets of water to the heifers in the shed because there isn't even running water out there. Seriously antiquated, but it works and is a fairly environmentally friendly way of farming. May not make lots of money and sometimes even loses money depending on the ever changing milk prices.

I know other young farmers, people my age who have given up on other careers and have started farming, to get into the family business just like their parents and grandparents did generations before. The sad part is that not all families carry on the farming tradition and operating farms shut down when the farmer finally decides that it's too much work. I can't blame them for that either. Being tied down to a farm isn't for everyone. It's hard to go away for even a day if there isn't someone around to feed and milk your cows. They don't care if you need a vacation, they still need to eat.

While we can't change how people run their farms as long as they are following the law, we can do things to make the food we eat safer and healthier. Start by growing your own garden if you have the room, really it's not that hard at all or even purchasing a garden share from a local CSA or just stopping by the local Farmer's market in the summer and support your local farmers. Trust me, as the local and organic farming movement gains momentum, there are farms popping up in many communities both rural and urban, you just have to look for them. Not hard stuff and that's what the film suggested also. Making a choice on what kinds of farming and food production you support when you go to the grocery store or out to eat. Don't buy those cheap white eggs, buy the more expensive brown ones from the lady up the road (and almost get pecked to death by her free range chickens on the walk from your car to her garage store) in support of a local woman trying to offer healthy and very tasty food to her neighbors. Support that kind of farming not the kind that gets loads of bad press and is clouded in controversy over salmonella outbreaks and unfair treatment to animals and workers. Buying and eating healthy, unprocessed, organic, local food is more expensive, no doubt about that, but if you can squeeze in one or two things on a regular basis, it can be affordable. It can also turn you into a food snob *ahem* so be careful.

Oh by the way, Happy Earth Day! Now step away from the computer and go turn your compost pile.


sheila said...

Wow, I've been wanting to watch that movie FOREVER but it was never re-run! I missed it! I'll have to do a search and dvr it. I heard it was very eye opening. Thanks!

Riot Kitty said...

Amen, sister!

Out in Them Sticks said...

I was so on board with this when I read Michael Pollan's book, The Ominvore's Dilemma. I thought getting meat via the farmer made a lot of sense. I was prepared to pay 3 times for it. But, I found out it was more like 8-10 times as much as the grocery stuff. Our area is expensive. Even a local raised broiler costs 25 bucks which is 8 times as much as one in the grocery. That's why I was thinking of getting our own for the homestead. But after feed and such I think it'd be about $15+ a bird (5 times) after the cost of feed and the pullets... not mention it's a lot of work.

But the eggs do make sense, so we will have to do that next year. Sorry to hijack your comments. I guess I'm a little frustrated because I really would like to feed local, clean food to my family!

Anonymous said...

Have I told you lately how awesome you are? - Mr. Gardener

Sidhe said...

I made sure to DVR this one and watched it this morning. I had seen it before but (and I'm not ashamed to admit) I like the affirmation that all the work I do to feed my family good food is worth it.

BTW-we priced out meat today at Walmart. Last week we sold half a cow for $500 and the purchasers also paid for processing which came to about $135, so they got a half for approximately $635. We estimated that they paid approximately the same amount that they would have paid at Walmart for the same amount of meat but what they got in return is so much more...they got grass fed beef, with no hormones, no antibiotics and humane living arrangements...which they are able to confirm at their convenience any time they want.

Aliceson said...

Chickens seems to be on the expensive side here too (I pay 2.50/lb.), which is too bad because we eat quite a bit of chicken.

The pork and beef on the other hand seem to be quite reasonable to buy locally. We paid about 1.50/lb for the hog we bought last fall. Hell of a deal considering the quality was top-notch.

Yes Sidhe, such a good feeling to know that you're doing the right thing and getting a much better product. After all, we are what we eat. At least that's what I keep telling myself. I *heart* local, natural farmers!

Jan said...

One of the many things I love about living close to Amish country is the availability and cost-effectiveness of locally raised food.

Don't even get me started on the hand-crafted Amish furniture we've started collecting.

Shady Lady said...

Awesome movie! I drove the meat guy (at our local grocery) a little crazy today trying to find out which deli meat came from humanely treated animals. We've made lots of changes, but it just occurred to me that we needed to make a change in our deli meat selection.

Juli Ryan said...

I am a big fan of Michael Pollan, but I haven't seen Food, Inc. yet. I'm happy and relieved that your way of thinking seems like it is more mainstream in the US.

In NZ, it is common to have your own vegetable garden, or buy from local farmers. With the exception of chickens (and some pigs), the farming practices here are much like the natural ideals you describe. Mostly organic fruits and vegetables, pasture-fed cows and sheep, no hormones or antibiotics, no GMO. We buy the expensive eggs, but not the expensive chicken. We often go to the local butcher to buy our meat (sadly, butchers are falling victim to supermarkets). We do not eat packaged, processed foods very often.