Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ingredients

Remember the Super Bowl commercial this year, "God Made a Farmer?" Wasn't it great? It reached out to so many people and there was more buzz about it than any other commercial during the game. I think commercials like this are proving that America wants to be healthy. America wants to get back to our roots and live better. When I first moved to Nashville I was so excited about the emphasis on "farm to table" restaurants, the abundance of local farmers' markets, and the large amount of bikeways and greenways we have. This city really wants to be healthy. The trend of local restaurants wanting to buy from local farmers is great! Maybe it's just a mental thing, but eating a salad that was in the soil less than 24 hours before, just gives me such a great feeling! As most of you know, I work in news. For years now, we have been doing stories about "food deserts" and "community gardens." They all just seemed so mundane to me that I never thought twice about these community efforts. But lately I have realized that the human race really is in a crisis. We are feeding ourselves plates full of shit and we are making ourselves sick. The food we eat is triggering diseases and we are killing ourselves. We laugh at our diseases and act like being fat is ok. In a meeting at work today our web producer told us that the owner of Heart Attack Grill died (from a heart attack of course). This is disgusting. We make jokes about serious conditions that we have given ourselves and it is not funny. If you are over 350 pounds, you can eat for free at the "Heart Attack Grill." Good Lord. Our forefathers must be rolling over in their graves.
I am still on my food documentary kick, the latest being "Ingredients." Below are my notes from this one. I love food. I've said it a million times before and I'll say it a few more times at least :) Ever since I started this journey to good health, I have become obsessed with learning about what we put into our bodies and where it comes from.
Taste buds are here for a reason: to guide us to better nutrition. It is not greed or gluttony to enjoy the taste of food; it is the natural drive to nourish ourselves. The state of food in America is not a happy story. The industrial food model is not interested in flavor or quality. Through grassroots pressure on a weekly basis is the only reason there is anything truly edible in this country. The push for local food stems from the failings of the industrial food model. How did we get to the point where we are eating food more differently than we ever have before? Here it is... broken down, plain and simple: In the U.S. beginning, we had more land than labor. Modern mechanization and agriculture production flourished. The global commodity trade came of age. America's abundance began supplying hungry cities overseas. Scientific advances increased yields. Less labor was needed and people left the farm. After WWII, factories began producing fertilizer and farming became a chemical process. The agriculture business was born! With an increase in the abundance of food, the cost to grow food products was more more than it was worth. Government subsidies began and that is when Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz famously said to farmers: "Adapt or Die." What a douchelord. This era became the end of family farming for many.
A lady in this documentary pointed this out and I had a Eureka moment. Over the years we have had tons and tons of food recalls, from spinach to scallions to peanut butter, etc... But remember the dog food recall? People FREAKED out about the dog food recall! If food runoff has made it to our dog food factories, our country is in serious trouble. We shrugged our shoulders when people were dying from infected spinach, but when dog food was infiltrated, we pay attention. I love my puppy as much as the next person, but it's just ridiculous.
Back in the day European settlers liked us because of the micro climate and our rich soil. I have always admired the French and their way of life. If I had the money I would be in France attending cooking school right now. That is my lifelong dream (thank you Audrey Hepburn). In many European cities if you want bread, you wait in line either at the beginning of the day, or at the end. You go to the market everyday for your ingredients. There are no Wal-Marts or Super Targets. You eat what is in season and is available in your area. We are told that food should be cheap. but who's telling us this? The fast food industry! Dollar Menus and the 99 cent aisle in the grocer. We spend less on food in America that any other country in the world. Cheap food is our inalienable right, right? We are creatures of convenience. There are roughly 17,000 new foods introduced each year. As if we need any more versions of cheese poofs in our pantry!!
With the growth of local farmers' markets, an alternative food system is being established. People are returning to the pleasures of seasonal eating- the way our grandparents ate. These markets are providing work for young farmers, proving that you can still make a living from our land. I went to the farmers' market this weekend and I had so much fun. There was a sweet little old farmer man who handpicked my vegetables for me and explained to me what was in season and what was actually grown locally. These people at the market are passionate about food. They want to help us buy the best local produce available. Go to your local market, ask what's in season, and learn from your neighborhood farmers.
Our race to cheaper food has pushed farmers and ranchers to lower costs in many ways. They are forced to increase operations, use cheap labor and corn feed and operate on a mass production scale. The U.S. beef industry has been able to cut prices in half since the 1960s. This is incredible and I am not discounting the brilliance and the hard work behind our food industry. A good friend of mine has worked in the beef industry his whole life and I respect his hard work, but there are hidden costs to conventional farming methods. Mass scale operations bring on quality control issues. This results are food safety problems and food borne illnesses, such as: E. Coli and salmonella. There are around 5,200 deaths a year that are traced to food borne illnesses. I wrote this in my previous blog, but I'm going to mention it again because it still astounds me: one pound of ground beef is made from hundreds, if not thousands of different cows. If ONE of those cows had some strand disease, it's all mixed in that batch and makes it hard to trace the source of that illness. The beef is distributed in every direction possible, which is a problem of mass scale production. Someone in the documentary "Ingredients" is quoted as saying: "The greatest single factor in all livestock disease is density." This pretty much says it all.
In the year 2000 there was less farmland in the world for the first time EVER. There was a huge world net loss and acreage has been dropping ever since. There are more people in the world to feed but less land to feed them on. Eventually these two lines will cross and it ain't gonna be pretty! Suburbia absorbs farmland and there are new developments everywhere you look. How will we feed ourselves in the future if there is no farmland? I imagine we will eat straight chemicals and junk that comes from machines. Farmers make up less than 1% of the world's population, but yet they are supposed to feed the world. When is the last time you had to choose your profession in one of those little drop box thingys? Guess what occupation is not listed: "farmer." They have to choose "other." It just amazes me that we really have no idea where our food comes from and what is in it. This is our body we are talking about here. Literally the only thing keeping us alive. We put more energy into picking out our clothes and shaving than taking care of what's inside us. When was the last time you ate something that had seriously impressionable flavor? Think really hard about what that food was and try to figure out why your body reacted the way it did. Take the time to listen to your body and follow your taste buds. Our bodies are smart. Increase your quality of life. Get food from your local farmer and take care of yourself. Your body will thank you.

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