Posts Tagged 'factory farming'

“Big Food” at the Yale Peabody Museum

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“Big Food” is an exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven about the complexity of American eating habits. It looks at how a person’s environment can affect his or her food choices, explaining things like food deserts, food swamps, and portion sizes. 

The most amazing thing about Big Food, I think, is that it exists. Who ever would have thought that a museum would market an exhibit on the evolution of food? It shows how much more important food choice has become to people, and how much people are willing to think about it. 

The exhibit’s target audience is families and kids.  I appreciate the notion of getting younger kids to think about which snacks are healthy and where their food is coming from. The chosen wording was perfect – understandable and relatable. On industrial farming, it read, “Did you know that it takes more than 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef? Or, put another way, the wheat used to produce one large hamburger can make five loaves of bread.”

The exhibit shows the shift from living in rural to urban areas, and how this change has affected eating habits. It reads, “Rates of obesity are far higher among city-dwellers, particularly in developing countries, as people shift from producing their own food to purchasing processed foods.” The exhibit also introduces the terms “food desert” – places where at least 20% of people live at or below the poverty line and without a supermarket within a one-mile radius, and “food swamp” – neighborhoods filled with fast food restaurants and stores that sell unhealthy foods. The exhibit expertly delivers hard-hitting facts, including, “There are now five fast food restaurants for every one supermarket in the United States.” 

Under the heading “Community Collaboration,” there are explanations of what we can do to improve our eating habits. Guess what? Buying local is featured! There is a chart showing foods grown in Connecticut on a month-by-month basis.

If the best part of the Big Food exhibit is that it exists, then the second-best part of is that it hosts events. Tonight there was a (sold out) event that featured Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia, Jason Sobocinski of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and Tagen Engel, Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council. They were answering questions and giving samples! Big Food is running until December 2, and there are tons of more events to come. To see a listing, click here.

In the back corner of the exhibit, there is a darkly lit wall that reads a quote from Alice Waters. “If we are what we eat, then Americans are cheap, fast and easy.” The display of the quote gives an ominous tone, different than the rest of the exhibit. The contrast, I think, works beautifully, providing a sense of urgency to take the knowledge the exhibit has to offer and use it to make a change.

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Local Farms Are In

Whenever I explain my blog to someone, I’m bombarded with names of shops I should visit, restaurants I should check out, and recipes I should try. I love it – people are really enthusiastic about the local eating movement.

Why, though, have so many people started to take notice? Opinion pieces in The New York Times constantly discuss food, urban gardens and CSA memberships are considered very hip, and people rave about restaurants that use local ingredients. Locavore was the 2007 word of the year for the Oxford American Dictionary. I’m curious as to what has sparked this line of thinking that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in America only a decade ago. I have a few theories and as I continue my research I intend to add to this list. If you have your own ideas or disagree with mine, I would love to hear your contributions.

Food Lovers Have Faith in the White House

The Obama administration promised right off the bat to hold a commitment to nutritious and sustainable food. Michelle Obama started a White House garden in 2009, a few weeks after Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, drilled into the pavement in front of the USDA and introduced “The People’s Garden” initiative. The USDA came out with the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which promotes local food systems. Check out ObamaFoodorama for more info.

Pioneers of the local food movement, including Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, one of the first restaurants to use local organic ingredients and hormone-free meat, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, now have someone listening to them. When I say listening, I don’t mean directly following their instructions – if we had it Alice Water’s way, we’d be tripling the budget for school lunches, something that most people would say we cannot afford – but their voices are not completely lost. Many members of Congress have been seen carrying The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Alice Waters visited Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden last week. Michelle’s fight against obesity, with her “Let’s Move!” campaign, also goes hand-in-hand with the push for fresh grown ingredients. She wants to eliminate “Food Deserts,” underserved communities without access to supermarkets that have fresh food.

I’m not saying that the road for small local farmers has suddenly been paved with gold. But these White House initiatives have provided an ideal climate for celebrity food advocates, and made the idea of local and sustainable farming less foreign to the general public. And with her great style and great arms, Michelle Obama is very trendy – her support for the local food movement can guarantee that of many Americans.

Urban Gardens are the New Victory Gardens

Okay, so I wasn’t around for Victory Gardens, but I get the idea. Also known as war gardens or food gardens for defense, they were planted during World War I and II to lessen the strain on public food supply during wartime. Eleanor Roosevelt started a Victory Garden on the White House front lawn (sound familiar?) and families across the country cultivated their own produce. With the start of the People’s Garden movement discussed above came the induction of urban gardens, which are also very hot right now. The New York Times did a feature on roof gardens in Manhattan, and people compete to see who can have the most creative location for a garden. Check out this Truck Farm video, an idea that has gained popularity:

Pink Slime is a Quite the Catchphrase

When Gerald Zirnstein coined the term pink slime for what Beef Products Inc. (BPI) calls Lean Finely Textured Beef, people took notice. How could you not stop and pay attention when people use the term pink slime to describe what your hamburger is made out of?

A brief recap: About ten years ago, BPI had the idea of taking fatty beef trimmings that had been previously deemed appropriate for pet food and cooking oil and to instead use them for ground beef. This had never been done before because these cuts of beef were extremely susceptible to salmonella and E. coli. To solve this problem, BPI sprayed the trimmings with ammonia. Presto, no more bacteria. This ground beef was then mixed with “normal” ground beef and then sent off to places like your Stop & Shop or school lunch tray.

It is, in a sense, beef so nasty that they clean it with ammonia.

The public lashed out against pink slime, and major grocery stores along with McDonalds pledged to stop carrying BPI ground beef. As a result, three of the four BPI plants have been temporarily shut down.

In response, Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, have spearheaded the “Dude, it’s beef!” campaign. They are determined to make pink slime a term of the past, and promise that Lean Finely Textured Beef is leaner and less fattening than typical ground beef.

Opinion writer for The New York Times Mark  Bittman weighed in on the issue. He points out that pink slime came into existence as a way to resolve the E. coli dilemma. If pink slime was the solution, he says, what then is the problem? He answers his own question: factory farming. He insists that in order to truly address pink slime, we must see it as a symptom of the larger issue of industrialized farming.

Pink slime, then, increased public apprehension towards factory farming, maybe even pushing towards local or grass-fed beef.

More theories to come about the popularity of local farming.

The Meatrix I

Watch this video by Sustainable Table to learn about the harsh realities of factory farming. It’s the first of a clever and informative series. Obviously, this movie has an angle, so be wary of some of the over-the-top statements. Its message, though, is one that we should all keep in mind – to learn where your meat is coming from.