Category Archives: Organic


The FDA is eerily close to approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption.  These “AquAdvantage” fish, as the company that created them calls them, are Atlantic salmon that are genetically altered to contain a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic “on-switch” from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon. Normally, salmon do not make growth hormone in cold weather, but the pout’s “on-switch” keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years. 

Two salmon of the same age, fed the same diet, one genetically modified, one not.

Two salmon of the same age, fed the same diet, one genetically modified, one not.

The company that created these mutants assures the FDA that they are the “identical in every measurable way” (no pun intended, one assumes) to traditional farmed Atlantic salmon, but this is one giant (pun intended)science experiment I’m NOT willing to be a participant in.

This growth-enhancing genetic modification is already approved in chickens and there are scientists working to develop other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease, or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the “enviropig,” developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.


Layer hen (front) and broiler [meat] hen (back), same age, one genetically modified, one not.

Layer hen (front) and broiler {meat} hen (back), same age, one genetically modified, one not.

Please tell me I’m not the only one that has issues with this! Why do we insist on trying to “fix” things (the environment, our health, billions and billions of years of evolution, giant corporations’ pocketbooks) by creating these difficult, dangerous, and quite frankly, creepy “solutions” instead of just reversing the thing we did in the first place to cause the problem?!

 We pump out millions of pigs per second; their massive amounts of crap are ruining our planet; so doesn’t the logical solution seem to be to stop pumping out so damn many pigs? No, apparently we think it’s better to genetically modify something that nature spent billions of years perfecting so that we can continue our gluttonous habits and possibly kill ourselves with the side effects in the future. (Or maybe we’ll just genetically modify ourselves to be resistant to the effects of digesting genetically modified pig. Because that’s the American way.)

There has not yet been a generation that’s eaten genetically modified (GM) foods for their entire life, so we have no research to show the long-term effects of this on our health (which is why 30 countries have already banned GM foods). American children are the guinea pigs.

It is likely that the GM salmon will not be labeled (no other GM foods are currently labeled), so you will have absolutely no way of avoiding the GM salmon, should you choose to eat salmon. One would assume that organic salmon guarantees no genetically modified organisms (as I’ve previously explained the strict regulations on organic labeling); however, the organic program does not currently have standards that pertain to seafood. “We may someday address aquatic species. It just hasn’t happened,” says Joan Shaffer, National Organics Program spokeswoman. Then why is there salmon with “organic” labels in our stores? The USDA regulates only the use of the organic seal, not the use of the word “organic,” so companies are free to place the word “organic” on their products whether or not they have been certified. Just another deceptive marketing tactic used by the food industry to mislead the public.

Plus, what happens when these unnatural fish get into the oceans? (And, yes, they inevitably will.) It is already speculated that they would out-compete wild fish for food and mates, spread their modified genes (which we do not know the effects of) throughout the population, and I imagine this could seriously alter some food chains.  (And surely we all know the dangers of altering seemingly unimportant food chains, right?)

How far will we take this? At what point does “playing God” become a bad idea?

Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, mixed berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry) and cauliflower (strange choice, I know, but I had some in the fridge & gave it a shot – it worked out well!)
Lunch: Tomato soup and crackers
Dinner: Spaghetti with meatless meatballs

Free Range: Not As Free As You Think

Anyone that thinks the 285 million caged hens in America are experiencing anything less than torture is fooling themselves. After learning about the cruelty and destruction caused by the egg industry, many people think that free-range, cage-free, or organic are the solution to the problem, but free-range isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Battery Cage Hens

Each of these terms – free-range, cage-free, and organic – invokes a positive image of sunshine, grass, and open spaces, but this is far from reality.

“The waiter said, ‘All of our chicken is free-range.’ And I said, ‘He doesn’t look very free there on that plate.’”  – Joe Bob Briggs

The official regulation for “free-range” is that the birds have “access to the outdoors.”  So, often times, there is only a single, small door in the shed (packed with thousands of hens), which leads to a concrete patch or manure field, in some cases it is only opened for about 5 minutes per day, and only a few number of hens even realize that the door exists.  These chickens and eggs earn the free-range label.  There are absolutely no regulations on the amount of space per bird, the environmental conditions (concrete vs. grass), or the amount of time spent outdoors (if any).

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.”  -Wikipedia

The difference between free-range and cage-free is simply a door.  Cage-free hens are not confined to wire cages, but there is no door leading to the outdoors in their hen-houses.  They are over-crowded into dark sheds filled with toxic fumes (from waste) and rampant disease.

Cage Free Chickens

Organic does not indicate a lack of cages.  It only means that the hens are not fed antibiotics or hormones, and they eat organic corn. Organic eggs can come from battery caged hens.

Free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are typically de-beaked just as battery cage hens. And although chickens live for 7-15 years, free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are brutally slaughtered at age 1-2.


Male chicks, under any label (free-range, cage-free, organic), are considered useless  and are immediately killed by either suffocation, electrocution, gassing, or are ground up alive. No federal laws protect chickens from abuse under any label.

Live male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

Male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

You can show compassion by avoiding eggs.

Breakfast: Two bananas
Lunch: Veggie sub from Harris Teeter (another one of my usuals) – lettuce, tomato, olives, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, pickles, vinegar and oil, oregano, on a whole wheat sub
HT sandwich
Dinner: Nachos with black beans and Daiya vegan cheese

The Clean 15: Foods You Don’t Have To Buy Organic

To follow up on the The Dirty Dozen, here is The Clean 15: The top 15 foods you don’t need to buy organic.

There are many reasons to buy organic foods. The USDA Organic label tells you that fruits and veggies weren’t raised using manmade chemical pesticides, fossil fuel- or sewage-based fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds. On meat, the label indicates that the feed provided to the animals met those same standards, and that the animals weren’t administered hormones and antibiotics. Bottom line: Organic is more sustainable and healthier for the environment, the farmworkers, and often for you and your family.

How is organic healthier? Some studies suggest that organic produce has more nutrients than its conventional counterparts, probably because the soil is left in better condition after repeated plantings.  Plus, you avoid ingesting any harmful pesticide residues left on conventional produce.

But it can be hard to afford the premium price charged for organic foods. So, this is a list of the most pesticide-free produce, based on Environmental Working Group’s latest compilation of government data about pesticide residue.

The fruits and vegetables on this list are the least likely to have pesticides detected on the parts you eat (if you don’t eat the peel, the peel doesn’t count), after typical washing, whether or not they’re certified organic.

(Remember, though, that the earth and the farmworkers will thank you for any organic purchases you can make.)

Download the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 iPhone app, or PDF documents, to reference at the grocery store!

The Clean 15:

1. Onion
Onions don’t see as many pest threats, which means less pesticide spraying.

2. Avocado
Avocados have thick skins that protect the fruit from pesticide build-up.

3. Sweet Corn
Sweet corn may take a lot of fertilizer to grow, but you’re unlikely to end up with any pesticides on the kernels.

4. Pineapple
You won’t be eating the tough pineapple skin, which protects the fruit from pesticide residue. As with all your produce, you should rinse the pineapple before cutting.

5. Mango
Sweet mango flesh is protected by its thick skin from pesticides. Still, you’ll want to rinse under water before cutting open.

6. Asparagus
Asparagus face fewer threats from pests such as insects or disease, so fewer pesticides need to be used.

7. Sweet Peas
Sweet peas are among the least likely vegetables to have pesticide residue because of their protective pod.

8. Kiwi
Kiwi peel provides a barrier from pesticides. Give them a rinse before cutting.

9. Cabbage
Cabbage doesn’t hold on to so many pesticides because a ton of spraying isn’t required to grow it.

10. Eggplant
Maybe it’s the thick skin, but eggplants are among the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides.

11. Papaya
Pesticide residue stays on papaya skin, but be sure to give them a wash before slicing open.

12. Watermelon
With that rind, watermelon has a natural defense against the onslaught of any chemical.

13. Broccoli
Conventional broccoli doesn’t retain so many pesticides because the crop faces fewer pest threats, which means less spraying.

14. Tomato
Tomatoes were on the 2008 Dirty Dozen list of foods with the most pesticide residue, but the latest update finds them cleaner than most. Why? The Environmental Working Group isn’t sure!

15. Sweet Potato
Not only are sweet potatoes unlikely to be contaminated with pesticides, they’re also packed with Vitamin A and beta carotene.

Breakfast: A peach (organic, since peaches top the Dirty Dozen list!)
Lunch: One of “the usuals” – a Veggie sub from the deli across the street (lettuce, tomato, avocado, cucumber, carrots, sprouts, vinegar and oil, on whole wheat)

Dinner: Pasta with artichoke hearts, olives, tomato, and spinach

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods To Eat Organic

Organic is important for both your health and the Earth, and organic is about much more than just food.  But organic is more expensive.  To help maximize your buck, you can focus your organic shopping on the foods that have the heaviest levels of pesticides.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80% by avoiding the most contaminated (conventionally grown) fruits & veggies.  If consumers get their USDA-recommended 5 daily servings of fruits & veggies from the 15 most contaminated, they could comsume an average of 10 pesticides a day.  Those who eat the 15 least contaminated (conventionally grown) produce will ingest less than 2 pesticides a day.  (Obviously, you avoid all pesticides by eating organic.)

The EWG publishes the list of the most and least contaminated (conventionally grown) foods based on statistical analysis of testing conducted by the USDA and the FDA.  This list reflects measurable pesticide residues on the parts of the food that is normally consumed (i.e. if peel is not consumed, peel does not count). 

1. Peaches
Multiple pesticides are regularly applied to these delicately skinned fruits in conventional orchards. Can’t find organic peaches? Safer alternatives include watermelon, tangerines, oranges and grapefruit.

2. Apples
Like peaches, apples are typically grown with the use of poisons to kill a variety of pests, from fungi to insects. Scrubbing and peeling doesn’t eliminate chemical residue completely, so it’s best to buy organic when it comes to apples. Peeling a fruit or vegetable also strips away many of their beneficial nutrients.

3. Bell Peppers
Peppers have thin skins that don’t offer much of a barrier to pesticides. They’re often heavily sprayed with insecticides.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include green peas, broccoli and cabbage.

4. Celery
Celery has no protective skin, which makes it almost impossible to wash off the chemicals that are used on conventional crops.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include broccoli, radishes and onions.

5. Nectarines
There were 26 different types of pesticides found on tested nectarines.

6. Strawberries
If you buy strawberries out of season, they’re most likely imported from countries that use less-stringent regulations for pesticide use.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include blueberries and kiwi.

7. Cherries
Even locally grown cherries are not safe. In fact, cherries grown in the U.S. were found to have three times more pesticide residue then imported cherries.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include blueberries, raspberries and cranberries.

8. Kale
Traditionally kale is known as a hardier vegetable that rarely suffers from pests and disease, but it was found to have high amounts of pesticide residue when tested this year. Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include cabbage, asparagus and broccoli.

9. Leafy Greens  (i.e. various types of lettuce)
Leafy greens are frequently contaminated with what are considered the most potent pesticides used on food.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

10. Grapes
Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Vineyards can be sprayed with different pesticides during different growth periods of the grape, and no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination because of the grape’s thin skin.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include blueberries and raspberries.

11. Carrots
In Europe pesticides commonly used on carrots, parsnips and onions will be banned within the next decade. The U.S. has yet to catch up with its European counterparts, so organic is the way to go with carrots.  Can’t find organic? At least be sure to scrub and peel them. Safer carrot alternatives include sweet corn, sweet peas and broccoli.

12. Pears
As insects become more resilient to the pesticides used on pears, more and more chemicals are used. The safest bet is to go organic.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include honeydew mellon and mangos.

Runner Up: Potatoes
America’s popular spud appeared on the previous dirty dozen list, although it has slipped off the most current version. However, EWG analyst Chris Campbell points out that potatoes are now “just off the list,” so you should still try to buy organic when possible. Potatoes also get the double whammy of fungicides added to the soil for growing.  Can’t find organic? Safer alternatives include eggplant and earthy mushrooms.

It’s also important to remember that this dirty dozen list provides no information about antibiotics or hormones, or about the impact of producing food on the surrounding environment. For this reason, here are some of the most important foods to buy organic, when taking a more holistic approach.

For overall environmental impact, meat is the king of foods, even if it’s not the most likely to have pesticide residue per se. But raising animals with conventional methods means using hormones to speed up growth, antibiotics to resist disease on crowded feed lots, and both pesticides and chemical fertilizers to grow the grain fed to the animals. Additionally, it takes many times the water and energy to raise one meal’s worth of meat than it does one meal’s worth of grain.

Consumers looking to avoid meats raised with these substances can seek out certified organic meat. To meet USDA standards, this meat can come only from animals fed organic feed and given no hormones or antibiotics. Searching out cuts from grass-fed animals ensures that you’re eating meat from an animal that was fed a more natural diet, and looking for a local source of meats cuts down on the environmental cost of transportation.

Pesticides and other man-made chemicals have been found in human breast milk, so it should come as no surprise that they have been found in dairy products, too. Organic dairies cannot feed their cows with grains grown with pesticides, nor can they use antibiotics or growth hormones like rBGH or rBST.

Many of the beans you buy are grown in countries that don’t regulate use of chemicals and pesticides. Look for the USDA Organic label to ensure you’re not buying beans that have been grown or processed with the use of potentially harmful chemicals.

Go a step further and look for the Fair Trade Certified label to ensure that your purchase supports farmers who are paid fairly and treated well. To complete the trifecta, look for shade-grown varieties, then you know the coffee is being grown under the canopy of the rainforest, leaving those ancient trees intact, along with the wildlife that call them home.
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Cup of soy yogurt, baby carrots & celery with hummus, and strawberries
Dinner: Veggie lasagna

A Tale of Two Cattle

How did your hamburger get to your plate — and what did it eat along the way?
The journey of beef illustrates the great American food chain

ORGANIC (1% of all cattle)
This is the way all beef used to be raised — and how some people still imagine it is.
Bill Niman tends a small herd with one of the lightest hands in the business and produces what Bay Area chefs swear is unparalleled beef
Diet: Grass
Niman’s cows eat only grass, along with a smattering of hay. That’s the normal diet for cattle. Their rumen, a digestive organ, can break down grasses we’d find inedible
Supplements: None
Niman gives no supplements whatsoever to his cattle — no drugs, no hormones, no additives. That’s not ironclad for organic beef — some companies might use antimicrobials — but generally the animals are supplement-free
Environmental Impact: Living with the Land
To prevent his ranch from becoming overgrazed, Niman shifts his cattle around the land, ensuring that the grass has time to recover between feedings. The result is a surprisingly low-impact hamburger, since grass doesn’t need chemical fertilizer to grow and its presence helps prevent soil erosion. There’s no need to clean up manure — with Niman’s low cattle density, the waste just fertilizes the land
Human Impact: The Omega Effect
Beef has a bad rep among nutritionists, but that might be partly unfair for grass-fed steaks. According to research from the University of California, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef

CONVENTIONAL (99% of all cattle)
The vast majority of all American cattle start off on open ranges, but that’s where the similarity to their organic cousins ends. They’re shifted after a few months to the tight quarters of an industrial feedlot, to be fattened up as fast as possible
Diet: Grass and corn
Conventional cattle feed off grass pasture for the first several months, but at the feedlot, they’re switched to a heavily corn-based diet, which makes them gain weight faster but also makes them get sick more easily
Supplements: Chemicals
In part to help them survive the crowded conditions of feedlots, where infections can spread fast, conventional cattle are given antibiotics in their feed, and sometimes growth hormones, bloods and fats
Environmental Impact: Waste
A 1,000-head feedlot produces up to 280 tons of manure a week, and the smell can be powerful. All that feed corn requires millions of tons of fertilizer and, ultimately, a lot of petroleum
Human Impact: Fat Attack
Feeding corn to cattle for the last several months of their lives doesn’t just get them fatter faster; it also changes the quality of the beef. Corn helps produce that marbled taste many of us love, but it can result in beef that is higher in fat — helping to fuel the obesity epidemic
Breakfast: Cereal & soy milk
Lunch: Mushroom ravioli
Dinner: Veggie burger (from the frozen aisle)

Pesticide Facts

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults, depending on body weight.  This is due to the fact that children take in  more toxic chemicals relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify such chemicals.  According to the EPA’s “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment,” children receive fifty percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), half of produce currently tested in grocery stores contains measurable residues of pesticides.  Laboratory tests of eight industry leader baby food reveal the presence of 16 pesticides, including three carcinogens.  In blood samples of children aged 2-4, concentrations of pesticide residues are six times higher in children eating conventionally farmed produce compared to those eating organic food.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), organophospahte pesticides (OP) are now found in the blood of 95% of Americans tested.  OP levels are twice as high in blood samples taken from children than in adults.  Exposure to OP is linked to hyperactivity, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, developmental delays, and motor dysfunction.  OPs account for half of the insecticides used in the US. 

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one of the main sources of pesticide exposure for US children comes from the food they eat.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) strictly prohibits mixing different types of pesticides for disposal due to the well-known process of the individual chemicals combining into new, highly toxic chemical compounds.  There are no regulations regarding pesticide mixture on a consumer product level even though, in a similar manner, those same individual pesticide residues interact and mix together into new chemical compounds when conventional multiple ingredient products are made.  Sixty-two percent of food products tested contain a measurable mixture of residues of at least three different pesticides.

Currently, more than 400 chemicals can be regularly used in conventional farming as biocides to kill weeds and insects.  For example, apples can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides.  None of these chemicals are present in organic foods.

More than 300 synthetic food additives are allowed by the FDA in conventional foods.  None of these is allowed in foods that are USDA certified organic.

Breakfast: Cereal & soy milk
Lunch: Grilled veggie sandwich with bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, zucchini, and tomoato
Dinner: Veggie stir-fry, lo-mein, and veggie egg roll

Organic: So much more than healthy

Organic is not just about food. It’s a much more expansive way of thinking that embraces cyclical resource use, where waste from one source becomes food for another. It honors natural laws and detests mindless waste, dispersal of toxic chemicals, cheap substitutes, and depleted soil.

All of humanity ate organic food until the twentieth century. Now, we’ve been on a chemical binge diet for about 80 years (a blink of an eye in planetary history) and what do we have to show for it? We’ve lost 1/3 of America’s topsoil, buried toxic waste everywhere, polluted & depleted water systems, worsened global warming, and exacerbated ailments ranging from cancer to diabetes to obesity.

This is not just hippie blather preaching the tofu way to happiness. I see organic as a philosophy of wholeness, a science of integration, and a crucial way to maintain nature’s ingenious, delicate, interdependent web of life. It is a pragmatic state of mind offering real solutions to some of society’s worst problems.

Organic backs a sensible farm policy that protects not only farmers, but also the health of all Americans. It can lower health-care costs by eliminating toxic lifestyles and the unnecessary, preventable diseases they cause. It could even help stabilize fuel prices & reduce our dependence of foreign oil by using less fossil fuels & chemicals, and trapping and building carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere. Organic farming is an absolutely critical WME (weapon of mass enlightenment) in humanity’s now-or-never fight against global warming.

I often fear that I am preaching to the choir, an unheard voice in an uncaring world. It takes more than one to make a difference and I can only hope that consumers the world over will vote with their pocketbooks to save the Earth (and their health along with it).
Breakfast: Strawberries
Lunch: Pasta primavera
Dinner: Vegetarian Chili

Time Magazine on "The High Price of Cheap Food"

Time Magazine has an excellent article this week about America’s food crisis. Here are a few excerpts, but be sure to read the full article here.

“Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He’s fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That’s the state of your bacon — circa 2009.”

“The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans. Those hidden prices are the creeping erosion of our fertile farmland, cages for egg-laying chickens so packed that the birds can’t even raise their wings and the scary rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among farm animals. Add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.”

“And perhaps worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous. A series of recalls involving contaminated foods this year — including an outbreak of salmonella from tainted peanuts that killed at least eight people and sickened 600 — has consumers rightly worried about the safety of their meals. A food system — from seed to 7‑Eleven — that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America’s obesity epidemic. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills.”

“With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later. As the developing world grows richer, hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein-rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy — demand for meat and poultry worldwide is set to rise 25% by 2015 — but the earth can no longer deliver. Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste. Sustainable food has an élitist reputation, but each of us depends on the soil, animals and plants — and as every farmer knows, if you don’t take care of your land, it can’t take care of you.”

The full article contains more on the impact of corn subsidies, fertilizers & pesticides, the overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), and the impact to our American farmers. The article also profiles a few farms & businesses (such as Chipotle) that are successfully working to make a difference.

“Organic food continues to cost on average several times more than its conventional counterparts… But not all costs can be measured by a price tag. Once you factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier.”

“What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that’s to quit thinking big. We already eat four times as much meat and dairy as the rest of the world, and there’s not a nutritionist on the planet who would argue that 24‑oz. steaks and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes are what any person needs to stay alive.”

“[W]e have the chance to choose better food three times a day (or more often, if we’re particularly hungry). It’s true that most of us would prefer not to think too much about where our food comes from or what it’s doing to the planet […] But if there’s one difference between industrial agriculture and the emerging alternative, it’s that very thing: consciousness.”
Breakfast: cereal & soy milk
Lunch: Chipotle burrito bol, no meat = free guac!
Dinner: General Tso’s TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), very yummy

Growing Local Farm Movement

Last week, CNN reported on the growing local food movement, or Community Supported Agricurture (CSAs). From the article:

[The farmers] describe their farming technique as “beyond organic,” saying they use no artificial fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics and don’t keep their animals penned up.

Life on their property — where cattle and sheep graze in open fields and chickens follow along to clean up after them — looks much like the classic image of a family farm. [The Farmers] say they consider themselves healers to both their customers and, according to their Web site, a food system that “had become a machine with little regard for food safety, food taste and animal welfare.”

“People are becoming very disconnected from the food system,” Liz Young said. “Buying from a local CSA or just shopping at a local farm, you can see where it’s coming from. You can talk to the farmers and figure out how the animals or the produce is raised.

Members of the nation’s handful of meat CSAs, and the thousands of others, offer a list of reasons.

The food is healthier and tastes better, they say. They like supporting their local economy. Eliminating cross-country delivery is better for the environment, as are the sustainable farming techniques the farmers tend to use.

“Being part of a CSA means that I know the first names of the people who are raising the meat I eat,” said Andrew Johnson of Kansas City, Missouri, a member of the Parker Farms meat CSA in Richmond, Missouri. “Whereas, with the meat I buy from the grocery store, I don’t know where it came from or who raised it.”

Others say they appreciate that animals from the usually small family farms don’t spend their lives in processing plants, conditions that advocates call inhumane.

Because CSA members deal with the farmers directly, they are able to visit the farms and see exactly how their food is produced. The transparency, they say, creates an incentive for farmers to raise their animals as naturally as possible.

“Is it as cheap as the lowest-price chicken in the grocery store? Absolutely not,” Tim Young said. “But with our prices and the prices of any sustainable farmer, you’ve got everything baked in: the cost to the environment, the cost to the health care system, the cost of producing that animal [in a humane way].”

“I don’t think it is significant, but if it does end up costing a bit more, it is still important to us to make this a priority,” he said. “There are other expenses I am willing to give up rather than give up a safe, trusted food source.”
Breakfast: Bagel with “better than cream cheese” (a non-dairy cream cheese subsitute)
Lunch: Veggie sub with avocado, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, shredded carrots, vinegar & oil
Diner: Burrito with beans, rice, zucchini, squash, peppers & salsa

Buzz Words

It is difficult to reject industrialized farming practices when we don’t understand what we’re buying. The educated consumer can put their money where their values lie.

Organic – Certainly this is the biggest buzz word in the supermarket today, yet most people don’t even know what it means. Most basically, ‘organic’ means that fruits & veggies were grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation, and that meat, dairy, and eggs are from animals that were not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or “animal protein products” (aka feeding dead animals back to live animals).

However, not all organics are created equal. The USDA (who wants their farmers to profit) has 3 official categories of ‘organic’:

100% Organic – All ingredients were raised/harvested in a fully organic way

Organic – Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients – Made with at least 74% organic ingredients and restrictions on the remaining 26%, including no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

It is important to realize that ‘organic’ does NOT indicate grass-fed or free-range. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy sold at large-scale suppliers (like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, HEB, etc) are most often fed a diet of organic corn and raised in CAFO-like conditions (many animals crammed into a small space, etc).

At the beginning of the organic movement, organic was hyped as better for the environment, however this is now hotly debated. Most research suggests that organic agriculture has marginally lower carbon emissions than conventional methods, but the results depend on the crop, the soils, and the skill of the farmer.

The quality of organic foods over conventional foods is another debated issue. Some studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of vitamins and nutrients, but there are also claims that this is not true.

Grass-Fed – This one, at its basics, is fairly self-explanatory: the animal is fed grass, not corn. Because the animal is eating what it was designed to eat, the meat and dairy products produced from grass-fed animals is healthier for you. There is no debate about this. It has less total fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, and fewer calories. It is richer in antioxidants including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and richer in healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids.

However, ‘grass-fed’ does NOT indicate ‘organic’. These animals could still be treated with antibiotics, hormones, or may be eating grass treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. At local farmers’ markets, this is generally not the case, but at grocery stores, check for both ‘grass-fed’ and ‘organic’ labels just to be sure. The USDA is currently working on official regulations for ‘grass-fed’ product labeling.

Vegetarian-fed – Indicates that the animal was not fed rendered “animal protein products.” This does NOT indicate ‘organic’ nor ‘grass-fed’.

Natural – One of the biggest marketing ploys out there. Many people associate ‘natural’ with ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’. Don’t fall for it! Most ‘natural’ products do not contain synthetic ingredients, but there are no regulations on what can be labeled ‘natural,’ they’re just trying to leech on to the organic movement by confusing consumers.

Free Range/Cage-Free – Another deceiving term. Do not be fooled into thinking these animals live on an open field. The USDA does not have any regulations on ‘free range’ labeling, except with regards to poultry. The official USDA regulations on ‘free range’ poultry state that the chickens must have “access to the outdoors” to be labeled free range. Unfortunately, this leads to farmers having a small door in their chicken coop, that they admit is kept closed for the beginning of the chicken’s life and only opened after the chickens are used to being crammed in the hen house, so they don’t even try to go outside once it’s opened. And this is labeled ‘free-range.’ Similarly, ‘cage-free’ may indicate a lack of wire mesh, but the animals are still crammed far too many to a coop.

For beef, pork, and other non-poultry, there is absolutely no criteria, and the USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.” Uh, right. Once again, claims of free-range and cage-free are much more believable at a local farmer’s market, than in the grocery store.

Buyers beware.