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Food Inc. and change

8 Nov

As a fan of Michael Pollan’s, I’ve wanted to see Food Inc since its release in theatres in June. This week, E and I finally got to see it as part of the Marshall Artist Series’ Fall Film Festival. I’m in the middle of reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was about to see.

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About the film (source):

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

This was a seriously powerful film, and I was shocked to realize how much surprised me. I had several moments where I was thisclose to crying, and I’m not the crying type. When I left the theatre, I was angry more than anything else. Food Inc. covers a lot of ground, so I’m going to talk about the matter which affected me the most.

  • In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, the FDA conducted only 9,164. In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. coli 0157h7 (an intensively dangerous deadly strain causing hemorrhagic colitis), so that if a plant repeatedly failed the tests, they could be shut down by the USDA. After being taken to court by the meat and poultry associations, the USDA no longer has the power. E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks have become more frequent in America,
    whether it be from spinach or jalapenos. In 2007, there were 73,000
    people sickened from the E. coli virus.

Our government is not protecting us. They are allowing corporations to rule in their own best interest, choosing bottom line and highest profit over humanity and ethics. If the meat you’re producing is making people sick or dead, you shouldn’t be allowed to produce it anymore. End of story. If you think that there are laws to protect you and your family against disease and unclean conditions, you are so very wrong. This doesn’t just affect carnivores – it affects everyone. E, as a vegetarian, is no safer than me because the waste and by-products from factory farming go into the ground, the water supply, and contaminate so much more than meat. We shouldn’t have to worry about peanut butter and vegetables making us sick, but we do, because the USDA, FDA and other government bodies are useless and too fearful of lawsuits to do anything about it.

  • SB63 Consumer Right to Know measure requiring all food derived from
    cloned animals to be labeled as such passed the California state
    legislature before being vetoed in 2007 by Governor Schwarzenegger,
    who said that he couldn’t sign a bill that pre-empted federal law.

Once again, WHERE IS OUT GOVERNMENT??!?!?! What kind of country is this that we don’t have the rights to see what’s in our food, the nutritional make-up of it or even to know whether it’s from a cloned animal or a genetically modified product. If we can’t count on being protected, we should at least be given the opportunity and rights to protect ourselves.

  • 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes; Among
    minorities, the rate will be 1 in 2.

We are literally making ourselves sick. From all the fat, salt and sugar we eat to the 200 lbs. of meat the average American consumer consumes in a year, we are helping ourselves into an early grave. Diabetes is no longer something that’s a genetic hurdle, but a certainty. When it’s cheaper to get a hamburger than an apple, there’s an issue. The cost of food isn’t just the price at the store or on the drive-through menu, but in the medical bills, the despair and the early loss of life 5, 10, 20 years from now. Just because the burger you eat today doesn’t hurt you, the effects of it will.

It really bothered me to not see Perdue, Tyson or Monsanto present their point of view in Food Inc, which stated that they declined to comment. In fact, a Tyson farmer who was willing to show the inside of his chicken houses changed his mind after some visits from company representatives, and a Perdue farmer who decided to show both the chicken houses and speak on camera lost her contracts. To be fair, Monsanto and an alliance of meat production associations did both publish responses to the film, which can be seen here and here. 1208 026

E’s stepfather is a dairy farmer, and I assumed every farm to be like his – happy workers, happy animals and green grass and rolling hills. I visited the farm to feed the newborn calves last Thanksgiving, and had a blast. The animals are happy, playful and respected, and get to see sunlight, roam in the pasture and eat grass if and when they choose to. Basic care, right?

Wrong.

Most of our meat comes from plants and factories, where the goal is to produce meat as uniformly and as cheaply as possible. Chickens are raised with hundreds packed so closely together they can’t move, without sunlight or fresh air and grow so quickly so fast they can no longer support their own body weight, are unable to stand and can die from being so huge. It takes a chicken 3 months to reach 5 pounds, and commercial broilers reach that weight in a mere 49 days. Cows spend their days knee-deep in manure, never knowing, feeling or touching grass (the very thing they should be eating!) or are literally lying on top of each other. These animals are being treated as a product instead of as beings with needs. They aren’t respected from the day they’re born until the day they die, and that’s a problem. We are led to believe that without factory farming, we will run out of food and land and that’s simply not true. Humans have been farming and cultivating for thousands of years and have yet to have such a problem. In the last 50 years, we’ve done more damage to the Earth and to ourselves than in the last 5000.

I believe that Food Inc. is an important film, and that it’s important for the public to see it, especially now that it’s out on DVD and Blu-Ray. I will warn that it has some very graphic scenes, and I was horrified at some of the scenes I saw. Several of the bloggers I read had some interesting points to make about the movie as well.

At the end of the day, I’m angry. Really freaking angry, actually – at myself for being so naive, the government for not protecting us, especially from life-threatening diseases that are preventable, and the giant meat conglomerates for abusing their farmers, workers and animals to add another dollar in their big, fat pockets. Food Inc. has taught me an important lesson, though – I have no right to be angry or indignant if I’m not willing to do anything about it. Thankfully, there’s a silver lining to all of this – we can change. In fact, according to Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farms, “The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put there for them to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting.”

The Food Inc. website has some fantastic tips on how we can make a difference:

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The way I feel about food now has forever impacted me, and I’m making changes in my own life. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and E is a vegetarian, but it’s just not the right choice for me, but this is:

  1. Eating ethical meat – if my meat isn’t naturally-raised, pastured or grass-fed, I’m not eating it. I believe that animals have the right to be respected and treated humanely, whether I choose to eat them or not. I stopped eating veal after my day with the calves, and pork went out the window a couple of weeks ago. I will only be purchasing meat for myself or eating meat served in a restaurant or in someone’s home if it fits the criteria. A few retaurants, including Savannah’s and Jewel City Seafood in town and Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston are safe, and there’s a farm about an hour away where I can buy meat and poultry. Otherwise, my options are to have a meal consisting of ocean-friendly fish/seafood or one that is meatless. The only exception to this would be game that is caught by a loved one, such as venison or wild turkey.
  2. Continue buying organic milk, yogurt and produce, and buy other natural and organic products as budget and availability allow.
  3. I will make more of an effort to learn where my food is coming from and what it’s made of, and to respect the seasons, and not just what was flown in.
  4. I will support companies and products that I believe in, and let every dollar we spend vote in our best interest.

Have you seen Food Inc? What opinions or thoughts did you have about the film and/or your eating habits? How do you vote at breakfast, lunch and dinner?

The Downside to the Upside

10 Apr

Like everyone else, I have my good days and my not-so-good-days. This week has been no different, and was absolutely jam-packed with ups and downs. If only someone could package a week like that – “Now with 48% more speed bumps and 17% sunshine and kittens!”. Don’t get me wrong; life is full of rocks and of rainbows, so it’s not like I expect everything to be perfect all the time. Trust me, spend half of your time sweating your guts out in Spandex, and you learn to re-evaluate! I got to spend time last weekend with family, including my gorgeous niece and hysterical nephew, which always puts a smile on my face, and I made cupcakes for the event, which allowed me to indulge in the thrill of baking without having to indulge in the thrill of eating 3 dozen baked goods – I mostly left that up to everyone else! E and I also got a little bit of work done around the yard, and are looking forward to the day when our schedule’s not blighted by rain, sleet or freezing weather.

This week was also the beginning of Passover. Although homesickness hit Wednesday night, being able to go to the Seder at our synagogue really helped me get back into the beat. As the Rabbi says, “There’s home, and then there’s home.” Sometimes a little bit of familiarity is all you need to wipe off the glum, and a glass (or four) of Mogen David certainly doesn’t hurt. The most difficult part of Passover for me is definitely the limitations on food. With so many restrictions, it can be hard to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. None of the five grains (oats, wheat, barley, spelt and rye) are permissible, and, being an Ashkenazi Jew, neither are legumes (soy, peanut, beans, peas, etc.), rices, seeds or corn products. Due to possible contamination, dried fruits are mostly out, as are frozen vegetables. Aspartame, sucralose, MSG, ascorbic acid, citric acid, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, polysorbates, sodium citrate and xanthan gum aren’t invited to the party, either. Basically, 99% of everything I eat: gone. For this week, I’ll be sticking to a diet of chicken, cheese (not together!), olive oil, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, and matzoh products. Thankfully, I was able to find Kosher for Passover Israeli couscous and noodles, and I learnt that, as a grass, quinoa is safe as well. This is also the first year in a long time that I’m fully keeping Passover for the full 8 days, so it’ll be interesting to see how it affects my weight loss.

Speaking of weight loss, I’m now down 31 lbs. Below are two sets of progression shot pictures, the first in each being from February 24th, and the second are from April 6th.

As much as I dislike taking the photos, they help to see the little changes and differences in my body as time passes on. It’s one thing to see a number on a scale, but it’s a whole different ballgame to see it on your body.

That’s where these photos come in handy. If you are on your own path, I suggest that you take photos, too; they can be reassuring when nothing else is. I’m starting to see a bit of a difference overall, especially in my lower abdomen and in my face. My muscle tone is definitely improving – the other day I could even see a slight bicep in each arm!

Like everyone else, I do have low points and frustrations in this process. My main one right now is definitely an emotional one for me, and is purely mental. Unlike most people, I have never been a normal size, or at least not for as far back as I can remember. I was wearing adult sizes before I ever hit puberty, and by the end of high school, my uniform’s elements had to be either custom made or taken from the men’s section. I am now at least 17 pounds lighter than I was on my wedding day, and about 5 pounds lighter than I was when E and I met. While I am still by no means a normal size or weight, I don’t remember being this size, And I’m struggling with it. As a bigger person, I’ve always been happy and had pretty good self-esteem. Now, I find that crumbling. I was never obsessive or concerned with how I looked or compared myself to others, and I find that’s all I do now. Every conversation I have revolves around food, the gym or weight, and to be honest, it’s messing me up.

Long story short, I don’t know who I am at this size. That’s a pretty heavy statement, and it’s one that I’ve taken to heart. I find myself shying away from social situations, and becoming withdrawn. I’m trying my best to work through, but it’s a toughie. My biggest fear is that as the weight comes off, this feeling will only get bigger and stronger, and where’s it’s so internal, the only person who could fix it or quash it is me. I think I may be the first person in history who gets less happy as they lose weight, not more so.

I’m curious to know, any stumbling blocks of your own recently? Have you accomplished anything recently that threw you for a loop?

To all of my Jewish friends, family and readers

22 Dec

The Milton Pumpkin Festival

17 Oct

Milton, West Virginia is home to the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival, which was started in 1985 and held on October 2nd through the 5th. The event draws about 60,000 people annually, so it’s quite a big deal around here, and very popular.

This was my first time coming out to the festival, and E and I had a blast, going both the first and the last day.

Once arriving at WV Pumpkin Park, we were greeted by a large smiling pumpkin, who we’ve affectionately dubbed ‘Mr. Punkin.’ The event is fairly affordable, with parking costs at $1, and entrance at $5 for adults.

There was a lot to see and do, with live entertainment, giant pumpkins being auctioned off, sheep shearing, karaoke, chainsaw art and more. The pumpkin auction is probably one of the biggest attractions at the festival, and is for a wonderful cause. The money raised is in fact used to award 3 $2000 scholarships to local students, which is presented to the winners at the end of the auction.

Not only were there several crafts and food vendors, but many had interesting displays and set-ups showing how their product was made. There were folks selling freshly roasted corn on the cob (a definite favorite of E’s), which was bright, smoky and creamy.

A couple of gentleman were making and selling sugar popcorn – they were really sweet, and it was fun watching them make it.

Lincoln County FFA students were selling their Sorghum Molasses, which was really interesting. As a project, the students cultivated it through planting, cutting, harvesting and cooking.

Having made 150-250 gallons, the molasses was sold to raise money to send the kids to a national convention.

Of course, being a fall festival, there were plenty of pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows for sale. We didn’t pick any up, but we had fun looking at all the different varieties up for grabs.

I loved the sign at this booth, and couldn’t help but smile at its adorableness!

We did pick up some pumpkin donuts, a pumpkin roll, 2 quarts of sugar-free apple butter, some marinated green tomatoes, several varieties of mustard, some cheeseball mixes, spiced pecans and some green pepper pickled relish.

We also picked up a couple of crafts that are perfect for Christmas, including a Marshall University snowman wreath that I can’t wait to hang up. GO HERD!

This booth made stone ground cornmeal and flour, and it was really interesting to see the process. It seems like a lot of hard work, and made me that much more appreciative for the conveniences that modern life affords me!

Also, there were several participants who had ‘booths’ that were focused on what life was like in the times of the pioneers.

Not only was it interesting to see, but it was really fun seeing how the various children at the festival reacted to the unfamiliar, and participated.

I also had my first honest-to-goodness American corn dog – it was definitely different from the ones back home! It was almost sweet in some ways, with a really crisp outside and smooth interior.

We had a great time, and if nothing else, the festival allowed us to meet some great people, enjoy some delicious food, and reminded us of our connection to the earth, and where food really comes from.

I think that for me, the best part of the festival was spending time in the crisp fall air with E, walking and talking and just sharing the memory.
I can’t wait for next year!