dc meeting Sept '10

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Ellen's picture

Our meeting in September was on the Omnivore's Dilemma: what's for dinner? And as Darcy said afterward, it was a stimulating topic because everyone cares about food. The following is the meeting summary. I've added follow-up information in a couple of places where important questions came up during the discussion.

September 16, 2010, Ellen Wilkin

The Ominivore's Dilemma: What's for dinner? (with reference to Michael Pollan's book, the Omnivore's Dilemma)
What are we eating?
What did you have for dinner last night?
Where did you get it?

These are easy questions to answer.

Where did the original ingredients from?
Do you know what's in the food? The individual ingredients?
Was it completely organic, natural, or conventional (w/synthetic chemicals)?

These questions are a little harder to answer. Why?

Multiple reasons: Because we are omnivores. We have evolved to eat just about anything: meat, fish, fowl, fruit, vegetables, roots, and fungi. And because, as Americans, we have lost some of our connections to cultural rules, manners, traditions, that for centuries have governed what we had for dinner. And because we have bought into a faced-paced lifestyle, we rely more and more on other people to make our food and tell us what to eat. And tell us what is in what we eat.

Fast Food Nation
Now, most of us have only a short time to eat breakfast before we run out of the door for work or school or errands. Then we have only a short break for lunch, and then we come home and are really kind of tired now and would rather not spend much time making dinner.

We've Changed the Game
Life is a competition among species for calories (the solar energy captured by plants). The food chain is what links us to solar energy. Since World War II, we've industrialized our food chain and changed the whole game.
From a food chain that draws all energy from the sun
To a food chain that draws a lot of energy from fossil fuels.

New Rules
We have to come up with new rules. We can start by educating ourselves about where our food comes from, what it's made of, what nutritional value it has, and what impact it's production and shipment have on the earth and the peoples of the earth. Hopefully, we can combine these new rules with what we already know about what we should eat from our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Sometimes we can trace the food to its origin.

Produce
The produce we ate could be from ours or a neighbors garden, or from the local farm stand, or from the Farmer's Market. If so, we know it was grown locally and we might even be able to point out the very soil it came out of. We can even go up to the farmer and ask him directly if he uses pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

If we purchased it in the supermarket, it might be labeled as local, but we don't know what farm it is or how far away that farm is. However, we can ask. Places like King Soopers have special local produce experts who know exactly where this food comes from. After I talked with a produce manager, they agreed, at my request, to make the suggestion to management about labeling local produce to say which farms it comes from.

Sometimes the produce is labeled “from Chile” or Mexico, or California. Then we can't ask the farmer how he grew it. We have to rely on the food packaging to tell us what we want to know about the food. We have to rely on government agencies to tell us it is safe or “organic.”

More Questions
How much did it cost to get it to the market so you could buy it?
The farther away it comes from, the more it costs to get it to you, and the more fossil fuels used.

How much did it cost to make it?
Maybe not that much from a monetary stand point, but how can you know? Producers, middle men, and retailers all have to make money, so we know products cost less to make than we pay for them.

Meat and Poultry
If we look at meat and poultry it becomes even more difficult as we consider what the animals ate as being part of what makes up their flesh. What they ate is what we are now eating as we eat them. We also have a dilemma in that animals are much more like us than plants, and we wonder if the meat we are now eating had a good life as an animal.

Example: Chipotle gets their pork from a sustainable and organic farm in Virginia run by Joe Saladin. These pigs are happy pigs, they say.

Hidden Costs?
Are there other kinds of costs?
How about pollution? How about the quality and safety of the food itself? How well are the workers paid to harvest the produce? What are their working conditions like?

We have to ask because we do not and cannot oversee the food chains that result in the food we eat. We wouldn't get anything else done.

Where does your food come from?
Did you know that some lamb at Whole Foods comes from Iceland. I like to drink coffee that comes from Peru, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Local companies like Allegro Coffee, who supplies beans to Vic's Espresso in Boulder County, and Peaberry Coffee are socially conscious in their businesses. They buy directly from small cooperative farms in South America which supply food and money for entire villages. This is great, but these companies also create a huge carbon foot print to bring those beans here from South America. Is this too big a price to pay? Something to think about as we consume our favorite coffee beverage.

Chipotle gets their tomatoes from Florida where they are picked by slave labor.
These are all questions that are almost impossible for us as individuals to answer. Why is that?

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food nation, said at 2008's Slow Food Nation conference: "Does it matter whether an heirloom tomato is local and organic if it was harvested with slave labor?"
What is the difference between organic and natural foods?
Certified Organic is a program run by the USDA. Producers cannot use their label unless they meet a standard for organic that is clearly defined. “Natural” has no agreed on definition and is not certified by the government except when applied to meat and poultry. There it means "minimally processed."

Definition of Organic

From 25 ORGANIC FOODS PRODUCION ACT OF 1990
Title XXI. Organic Certification
from SEC. 2105. 7 U.S.C. 6504 NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR ORGANIC PRODUCTION:
“To be sold or labeled as an organically produced agricultural product under this title, an agricultural product shall---
(1) have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals, except as otherwise provided in this title;
(2) except as otherwise provided in this title and excluding livestock, not be produced on land to which any prohibited substances, including synthetic chemicals, have been applied during the 3 years immediately preceding the harvest of the agricultural products; and
(3) be produced and handled in compliance with an organic plan agreed to by the producer and handler of such product and the certifying agent.”
….from SEC. 2109. ø7 U.S.C. 6508¿ PROHIBITED CROP PRODUCTION PRACTICES AND MATERIALS:
“b) SOIL AMENDMENTS.---For a farm to be certified under this title, producers on such farm shall not---
(1) use any fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or any commercially blended fertilizers containing materials prohibited under this title or under the applicable State organic certification program; or
(2) use as a source of nitrogen: phosphorous, lime, potash, or any materials that are inconsistent with the applicable organic certification program.
(c) CROP MANAGEMENT.---For a farm to be certified under this title, producers on such farm shall not---
(1) use natural poisons such as arsenic or lead salts that have long-term effects and persist in the environment, as determined by the applicable governing State official or the Secretary;
(2) use plastic mulches, unless such mulches are removed at the end of each growing or harvest season; or (3) use transplants that are treated with any synthetic or prohibited material.”
from SEC. 2110. ø7 U.S.C. 6509¿ ANIMAL PRODUCTION PRACTICES AND MATERIALS.
“(a) IN GENERAL.---Any livestock that is to be slaughtered and sold or labeled as organically produced shall be raised in accordance with this title.
(b) BREEDER STOCK.---Breeder stock may be purchased from any source if such stock is not in the last third of gestation.
(c) PRACTICES.---For a farm to be certified under this title as an organic farm with respect to the livestock produced by such farm, producers on such farm---
(1) shall feed such livestock organically produced feed that meets the requirements of this title;
(2) shall not use the following feed---
(A) plastic pellets for roughage;
(B) manure refeeding; or
(C) feed formulas containing urea; and
(3) shall not use growth promoters and hormones on such livestock, whether implanted, ingested, or injected, including antibiotics and synthetic trace elements used to stimulate growth or production of such livestock.
(d) HEALTH CARE.---
(1) PROHIBITED PRACTICES.---For a farm to be certified under this title as an organic farm with respect to the livestock produced by such farm, producers on such farm shall not---
(A) use subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics;
(B) use synthetic internal parasiticides on a routine
basis; or
(C) administer medication, other than vaccinations, in
the absence of illness.”

Prohibited Substances
Title 7: Agriculture
PART 205—NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM
Subpart B—Applicability

§ 205.105 Allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients in organic production and handling.

To be sold or labeled as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)),” the product must be produced and handled without the use of:

(a) Synthetic substances and ingredients, except as provided in §205.601 or §205.603;

(b) Nonsynthetic substances prohibited in §205.602 or §205.604;

(c) Nonagricultural substances used in or on processed products, except as otherwise provided in §205.605;

(d) Nonorganic agricultural substances used in or on processed products, except as otherwise provided in §205.606;

(e) Excluded methods, except for vaccines: Provided, That, the vaccines are approved in accordance with §205.600(a);

(f) Ionizing radiation, as described in Food and Drug Administration regulation, 21 CFR 179.26; and

(g) Sewage sludge.

Other Terms to Know
CCOF Certified (found on Granny Smith apples purchased in September 2010 from King Soopers On Hover Rd. in Longmont and labeled “Organic.”): California Certified Organic Farmers, an organic certification and trade association.

Educate yourself
Manufacturers are changing the name of HFCS to Corn Sugar. Possibly because the market has dropped. Fewer people are buying items with HFCS in it. So, look out for this in the supermarket in any food that is processed.

Scientists have produced evidence that indicates HFCS is not as good for you as cane sugar. Also, we are eating HFCS in products that don't seem to have anything to do with corn. Or need sweetening.

We are Corn Walking
Here's a partial list of products that have HFCS in them:
Sodas
Fruit Drinks
Beer (not microbrewed)
coffee whiteners or creamers
Frozen Yogurt
TV dinners
Canned Fruit
Fruit Syrup
Ketchup
Candies
Soups
Snacks
Cake Mixes
Frosting
Gravy
Pancake Mixes

What do food cravings mean?
Carbohydrates and fat, some scientists now believe, relieve stress and send chemicals to the brain that make it feel good. (OD, p. 111) But our body craves foods that are not necessarily good for us, or were good for us thousands of years ago when we had to pound lots of calories for quick energy so we could run away from the saber-toothed tiger.

Growing awareness of corruption in the food industry

* Farmers being paid by the Agricultural Industry and the Federal Government to grow more corn than we need which supports the fossil fuel economy as well as the manufacturers of highly processed foods. The price of corn is now lower than the cost of producing it, which leaves the farmer quite poor. Often the corn farmer has to find a second job to feed his family.

* The price of corn is being driven down so far that other countries like Mexico cannot compete with U.S. Prices and so Mexican farmers can't sell their corn. But the purchase price of buying the corn back is so high that many Mexicans cannot afford to buy corn to make corn tortillas, which is a staple of the Mexican diet.

The question came up: what about NAFTA? Isn't it keep prices fair? I double-checked and found a couple of articles that clarify the situation. Basically, NAFTA's price controls have ended, the price of yellow corn has been forced up by increased demand for ethanol, and Mexico's white corn is indexed to the international price of yellow corn. One article also said that the Mexican corn crop was not as abundant as usual, and that also contributed. Mexico has internal problems as well, including boosting manufacturing instead of helping farmers automate so they can compete with other countries.
1. Mexico's Poor Seek Relief From Tortilla Shortage, Lorne Matalon in Reynosa, Mexico for National Geographic News, June 4, 2008 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080604-mexico-food.html
2. A Culinary and Cultural Staple in Crisis, Mexico Grapples With Soaring Prices for Corn -- and Tortillas, By Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post Foreign Service, Saturday, January 27, 2007 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/26/AR2007012601896.html

* Slave labor used on US farms to pick produce (the 1997 Miguel Flores slavery case)

Spoiled by increased Industrialization
We want our tomatoes in the winter. We want our hamburgers in the summer. Is this the best way to eat? Some of our culture rules would say no.

Part of our lively discussion was, because we the food chain is industrialized in this country, we don't have things like scurvy to deal with in the winter months. We can get fruits and vegetables and their nutrients all year round. Upon reflection, I am wondering how much we really need to stay healthy and if there are other foods like root vegetables that might give us enough vitamins and minerals without the tropical fruits. Another avenue of research ahead!

How do you decide what to eat?
This is so much work!

Cultural traditions can still guide us
Maybe if we can turn to our cultural traditions and menus, we'll be OK. What traditions does your family hold around food and eating?

Organic/Sustainability movement helps
Deciding what to eat is easier as we become more aware of where our foods come from and change the food chain a little by little back to the way it was before WWII.

Tension between logic of nature and logic of human industry
This tension will always be there. Started when the first humans began to hunt. We turned to agriculture because we got so good at hunting, we wiped out the species.
Humans work towards a monoculture (fields of genetically identical corn plants) whereas nature always goes to a polyculture, one of diverse plants and animals. Perhaps we will find a balance?

“All food chains start with a patch of soil and finish with a human body.” – Michael Pollan
We can trace a lot of health and nutrition problems back to “the farm.”

Linda Davies will pick up the discussion and answer these questions more fully next month when she presents In Defense of Food: what shall we eat? at our next meeting, Thursday, October 21st at Ellen's house.

References:
1. The USDA National Organic Program http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop
2. Prohibitred Substances, Organic Certification, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Official US.Government web site http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=93c28659f65b678aa05ed0759cb2f0fc&rgn=div8&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.2...
3. Organic vs. natural a source of confusion in food labeling, Labeling of food a growing source of confusion, critics say, July 10, 2009 By Monica Eng Tribune reporter http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-07-10/business/chi-natural-foods-10-jul10_1_organics-or-least-chip-popular-horizon-organ...
4. Renaming High Fructose Corn Syrup As "Corn Sugar" Is A Genius Branding Move, Joe Weisenthal, Business Insider, Sep. 15, 2010, 11:09 AM
http://www.businessinsider.com/rebranding-high-fructose-corn-syrup-as-corn-sugar-is-a-genius-move-2010-9#ixzz0zcIj4Oni
5. High Fructose Corn Syrup Becomes 'Corn Sugar': Blogging World Grimaces, John Hudson, The Atlantic Wire, What Everybody's Thinking, Yahoo! News, Tue Sep 14, 1:58 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/atlantic/20100914/cm_atlantic/highfructosecornsyrupbecomescornsugarbloggingworldgrimaces5028
6. High fructose corn syrup, by any other name By EMILY FREDRIX, Associated Press, updated 9/14/2010 11:04:56 AM ET http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39169416/ns/business-consumer_news/
7. The Plant: Corn's Conquest, from The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Penguin Books, 2007.
8. The Industrialization of Eating: What We Do Know, from In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Penguin Books, 2008, pp. 104-105.
9. The Tender Story of Icelandic Lamb, by Kate Medley, September 7th, 2010, form Whole Story: The Official Whole Foods Market Blog http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2010/09/the-tender-story-of-icelandic-lamb/
10. About Allegro from the official Allegro Coffee web site http://www.allegrocoffee.com/main/do/About
11. Chipotle Challenge: time to back up ‘food with integrity’ by Sean Sellers on grist.com, 11 Dec 2009 8:50 AM http://www.grist.org/article/steve-ells-will-you-accept-the-chipotle-challenge/
12. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers Offial Web site http://www.ciw-online.org/101.html#cff
13. Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes by Barry Estabrook in Gourmet Magazine, Originally Published March 2009 http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2009/03/politics-of-the-plate-the-price-of-tomatoes
14. Food, Inc, film by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan
15. What's the Difference Between Corn Syrup and Sugar? By Remy Melina, Life's Little Mysteries Staff Writer, posted: 15 September 2010 12:30 pm ET http://www.livescience.com/health/high-fructose-corn-syrup-sugar-100915.html
__________________________
Ellen
Ever learning, Everlasting