History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Oh, the 2012 holiday merry-go-round is already churning. We’ve barely finished with the shamrocks & green beer and Easter & Mother’s Day are hot on its heels.  Could I ask you to indulge me for a minute?  Could I tarry just a little longer at St. Patrick’s Day?

Not because I’m so very Irish (I am), but because Ireland offers one of the most memorable and recent cautionary tales about why we should be petrified about the extent of our current American practice of growing just a few varieties of a few crops year after year (monoculture).

It’s hard to imagine famine when you take for granted the endless array of processed foods in the typical American grocery store.  But, do a little Googling and you’ll soon learn that the huge cornucopia of shiny boxes and bags are manufactured from less than 12 crop varieties.

It is so, so dangerous to have your entire food supply invested in one single variety of one single crop, yet it’s unbelievably commonplace and even celebrated as the kind of modern progress needed to feed the world.  We’ve already discussed feeding the world, remember?

I can’t decide if our choice to play agricultural roulette is due to an over-abundance of confidence or ignorance, but it’s frightening. The really crazy thing is how many of us are Americans today because our ancestors were forced to flee starvation and workhouses in Ireland.  The Great Irish Hunger wasn’t all that long ago –  how quickly we forget.

For a while, the potato was a true savior for Ireland. It found its convoluted way from the Andes in South America to the struggling Irish peasants.  The Irish climate suited the tuber perfectly and these poor families were finally able to grow enough food to feed their families well on their tiny plots of land.

In the Andes, as many as 200 species of potato may be planted in the same field.

In the Andes, farmers cultivated diversity in the potato and enjoyed as many as 4.000 varieties. A really good source for learning about agrobiodiversity is the website SustainableTable (dot)org. Here’s a bit of Sustainable Table’s take on the potato situation in the Andes:

“This abundance of diversity is the result of farmers artificially selecting traits over generations for specific purposes, like resistance to disease, tolerance to high altitudes or poor soils, etc. This diversity is important for food security—in the event that a particular crop variety fails due to drought, flooding or a disease, another variety might survive to avoid food shortages.”

Meanwhile the Irish tale goes a little differently:

“In stark contrast to this [Andes] model of agrobiodiversity,  the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s was the result of a fungus that completely destroyed the Irish potato crop because only a few varieties of potatoes had been imported from the Andes to Europe, none of which were resistant to the disease. Because of a lack of crop diversity and over reliance on one crop to feed many of its population, Ireland experienced widespread famine and death.

 

The Irish you see, had a history of diversified farming but were no longer able to grow the variety of crops they relied on before the British occupied Ireland.  The British made it illegal for Irish Catholics to own or lease land and Irish farmland had been repurposed to raise grain and cattle to satisfy England’s insatiable taste for beef.  Irish farmers were forced onto tiny plots of meager land and struggled with subsistence wages. The potato was the only crop that could be counted on to keep a family fed under such restrictive conditions.

A one acre field of lumpers could be counted on to feed a family for a whole year

Irish potatoes were especially vulnerable because they planted just one kind, Lumpers.  And, because potatoes grow from other potatoes, they are like genetic clones – each exactly the same as all the others.  So, when an airborne mold blew into Ireland, the single crop expected to feed about 3 million people was devastated almost overnight, with few backup alternatives.

Of course, the suffering and starvation part of the tragedy was caused by a perfect storm of greed, prejudice and politics which amplified the already bad enough crop failure. I hope I’m wrong about this, but it feels like we may never get the greed + power = politics part right, but the lack of biodiversity?  That we are able to avoid.

Yet, amazingly enough, we don’t.  Industrial Farms plant huge monocultures of the three main government subsidized crops, year after year. They deplete the soil of beneficial microbes thereby becoming more and more reliant on synthetic (petroleum-based) fertilizers and pesticides.

Think about these statistics also from Sustainable Table:

  • Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), humans now rely upon just 14 species of mammals and birds to supply 90% of all animal-derived foods.
  • Twelve plant crops account for more than three-quarters of the food consumed in the world, and just three—rice, wheat, and maize—are relied on for more than half of the world’s food.
  • Reliance upon modern varieties of rice has caused more than 1,500 local rice varieties in Indonesia to become extinct.

For some reason, when Americans embrace new technology, we have a way of kicking the old to the curb so fast it’s lost forever.  Few farmers preserve their old hybrid seeds just in case their new GM crop fails.  I don’t know about you, but I like the security of  knowing I’ve left a popcorn trail to guide me home if the new and improved turns out to not be so great after all.

Have we learned from the Irish potato famine?  Let’s see:

  • Dominant food source invested in extremely few crops of one variety, check.
  • A national food system serving the desires of the few not the needs of the many, check check.
  • Limited access to land discourages initiative and opportunity for people to feed themselves and rise above the limitations imposed by the system: check check check.

Well, it seems to me that what we’ve learned is how to do it again. The saddest thing is that we can’t even blame foreign occupation for our situation.  At least not unless you believe America is occupied by Monsanto, Cargill, General Mills, Dean Foods & Friends.  But blaming things on corporations implies you have no choice in the matter. Which is not entirely true.

So today, on this unusually summer-like first day of spring you can take a small step or two to do your part to restore biodiversity to our food system.

First, consider planting a small garden and growing a few heirloom varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Have you heard of Kitchen Gardener’s International?  Let Roger Doiron’s entertaining TED talk convince you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezuz_-eZTMI

Or, if gardening is not your thing, consider signing up for a Community Shared Agriculture  (CSA) share from a local farm growing heirloom fruits & veggies. Even better if they offer eggs and meat from heritage breed livestock.  And if they have fresh, locally produced dairy products too, well lucky you.  Go for it, please. Don’t know where to find a CSA? Look here.

And, if even a weekly box of goodness is too much obligation, at least do some shopping at your local farmer’s market. Home gardeners and small, diversified farmers are doing most of the work saving plants whose claims to fame are flavor and hardiness instead of uniformity and ability to withstand processing and shipping. But the success of their work is completely dependent on your commitment to buy from them.

Come ON, you can do it! The future is riding on what you have for dinner….

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Think Good Food is Elitist? Think again.

Thinking Thursday: something to ponder in the world of food and farming.

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Oh, the difference a well stocked larder makes…

I could not be more thrilled to see the new wave of cookbooks about buying meat directly from farmers and farmers markets and widening our horizons about using more parts of the animal.

I don’t like to focus on the negative, but I have one fairly big complaint. 

Many of these books, while making a heart-felt plea for us to change our meat buying priorities towards less quantity and better, more humane quality, are offering proof to many that non-industrial food is elitist. Which is not exactly true.

For example, I recently made a stew from Deborah Krasner’s beautiful book, Good Meat.  Yes, it is exactly what it claims to be: a complete guide to sourcing and cooking sustainable meat with more than 200 recipes.  A very useful and enjoyable book in many ways.  But, I’m a little disappointed about one thing.  The recipe for stew called for a little used and affordable cut of beef, but then it also called for many expensive ingredients like capers, black olives, 1 anchovy fillet (which of course came with a few close friends – more ceasar salad anyone??), and red wine.  And, it was laborious and time-consuming.

I could have bought a nice rib-eye and called it a day.

I get really frustrated by righteous, flippant comments on Facebook and blogs dismissing the idea of non-industrial food because it’s too expensive. People push back hard when their ways are criticized, and this topic is no exception.  Now, don’t get all touchy about what I’m going to say next, but I think we’re firing off our defense before we’ve given the matter real consideration.

It is absolutely true; non-industrial food is more expensive, especially if your approach is to simply swap each item in your standard American diet with its equivalent in artisan, organic goods. Or when you choose recipes like Deborah Krasner’s as your source of everyday eating. Time and time again, people stubbornly trot out this argument in order to be right.

And if you insist on believing this is your only alternative to industrial food, then yes, you are correct. Game over, ding-ding-ding; you win all the Con-Agra foods you can eat. 

But as Dr. Phil likes to say, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to get better?”  There are other options. We’ve just not been taught to give the matter much thought beyond dutiful reliance on advertisements, talk shows and popular ad-driven magazines for ideas and solutions.

These days, I go to the grocery store less and less. Instead, I hit up farms and farm markets. I grow a kitchen garden. I have a freezer & I can. I found a great local source for grains, flour and organic bulk foods where I buy staples and dry goods in bulk.

And, this is important, I begin by stocking my pantry well with things I like.  Then I cook what I have instead of approaching it backwards by wondering what I feel like, finding a recipe then buying a bunch of random and expensive ingredients to follow it.

By stretching the limits of my thinking, today it doesn’t take any longer for me to cook a meal from my pantry than it does for you to call for take out, drive wherever to pick it up and bring it back home.

I fully acknowledge that behind every quick and easy dinner was a project like gardening, canning, or freezing leftovers for future meals.  Still and yet, the time investment averages out with fewer random errands here and there. And the quality for the price – well, there simply is no comparison.  With a very few exceptions, your home version can always beat the industrial version.

I admit I’ll probably never make a better a twinkie, I’ll leave that one to Hostess. But pop-tarts? DE-lish. Most requested pastry I’ve ever made.  Beats that foil-pouched frosted cardboard six ways ‘till Sunday.

A recent peek into my kitchen:

Polenta with tomato sauce:  I buy Bob’s Red Mill polenta, make a big batch following the recipe on the bag, let it firm up in a bowl, cut it into quarters and freeze each quarter separately. Later, when I need a quick supper, I thaw what I need, slice into 3/4 inch slices and fry them up in oil in my cast iron skillet. Serve with tomato sauce & parmesan or maple syrup if you like yours sweet. Crispy crusted outside, creamy and comforting inside… good, quick food on the cheap. One quarter serves two, or dinner and breakfast for one.

Home made bread: Store bought bread is a big source of commercial yuk. I rarely eat bread unless I’ve made it myself. I’m not an exceptionally skilled baker and my bread is more everyday than special, but makes the best toast ever. I love the Buttermilk Bread recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, bake several loaves at once, freeze all but one and I can go for a week or more. It makes a hearty and filling breakfast.  Didn’t eat it all?  Easy.  Repurpose the stale bread into ready-to-go breadcrumbs in the food processor.

Pickled Egg Sandwiches: I’m a little addicted to these at the moment. It does take some extra time to make a big batch of pickled eggs, but they last for weeks. I’m always trying new ways to eat my yummy eggs and have settled on this as a favorite. Lightly toasting a thick slice of my homemade bread, I slather it with mayonnaise, top with a sliced pickled egg and a generous grind of coarse black pepper or a drizzle of Indian pepper chutney. Yum.  They’re good too sliced over a bowl of slaw when I’m suffering from winter fresh veggie blues.  Check out Punk Domestics for a bunch of great pickled egg recipes.

Italian Cole Slaw: cabbage is a cheap and nutrient dense vegetable. About this time of year, I am dying for crispy, crunchy, salad-y things.  Mayo-free slaw is so fresh, easy, lasts for days and is useful in so many ways. When I’m craving it, I can’t get enough. I eat it plain, slice pickled eggs and carrots on top or add some tart green crunch to a sandwich.

Apples & peanut butter: We’re lucky to have two large orchards nearby. The Ida Reds are still nice and fresh – I like mine small & crispy. One of our orchards also sells fresh ground peanut butter too – a perfect quickie meal.  A good store of apples helps get through the lean winter months.

Cheese:  Soft cheeses are like a blank canvas – this buttermilk cheese is one of my favorites.  It requires no exotic equipment or ingredients. And no extraordinary skills. You can drizzle with honey or maple syrup and serve with fruit, use in baked goods, stuff ravioli or shells, smear with savory things. I like to top saucy dishes with a slice – the sauce and the cheese together make a pretty perfect bite. Or drizzle my cheese with some olive oil, a splash of vinegar & some freshly ground pepper. Have some pickles or preserved peppers & some crusty bread? Yum.

Meatballs:  Who doesn’t love meatballs? Always good to have on hand, they freeze easily.  Make sure you always have some good sauce, a box of your favorite pasta and some meatballs in the freezer & you’re never unprepared to put a meal on the table fast. Here’s my go-to recipe – Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Spaghetti & Meatballs. One thing I do differently: I prefer to use all ground beef.  Taking care to brown the meatballs gently, then finishing in the oven is the secret to a tender, tender meatball.  If I have it, a nice splurge is adding grated Parmesan to the meatballs. If I don’t, they’re still pretty awesome.  You can also stretch your ground beef further with grains like bulgur or brown rice and I’ll bet nobody will know…

Stew: I happened to have beef so that’s the stew I made. All meats are good for stew and the long, slow braise allows you to use a less expensive piece of meat and still enjoy a top shelf meal. Stretching the meat by adding extra potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables makes it last longer.  Use up leftovers from the fridge, make a big batch, eat half and freeze half for later.  Stretch it further by serving over grits, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, pearl barley or bulgur.

A Beef Stew Secret: Oranges are not grown locally in Pennsylvania. For me, they are hard to resist. When I do buy them, I make sure to use every part – peels & all. With a vegetable peeler, peel one continuous spiral of just the orange part of the peel. Toss it on top of your stew as it cooks, removing before serving.

I can go on and on, but you get the picture.  As long as my pantry is reasonably well stocked with staples, I don’t even have to do much planning; I always have a fast meal available when I need one.  And it costs less. Less in every way; less time, less gas, less indecision.

I’m sure you won’t even have to tax your brain to identify at least one habit you could easily change that would decrease cost, increase nutrition and support local farms.   What are some of your favorite pantry standbys?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

Chefs and Foodies elevate lowly cuts like belly, tongue and oxtail to pricy new heights

Gentrification as I understand it means a bunch of people “discover” a declining neighborhood with great architecture.  Coffee shops and upscale cupcakeries are opened, arty folk start hanging out and buying up buildings, prices go up and before you know it, the people who’ve lived there forever are now the ones who don’t really belong.

How does gentrification apply to meat?  It used to be that wealthy people ate the expensive steaks and roasts and slaves, tenant farmers and poor folk made the most they could of what was left. Depending on how enthusiastic and creative your immigrant ancestors were in the kitchen, you either have fond memories of sublime stews and rich saucy dishes or scary ones of being forced to eat shoe leather and like it.

I could not be more thrilled about the newfound enthusiasm for well raised meats and charcuterie.  As a farmer, I am torn between relief that my meat will bring premium prices meaning I can pay my bills (I like paying my bills) and my higher mission that everyone can eat an adequate amount of highly nutritious humanely raised meat and dairy. Prices on cheap well raised cuts like tongue, oxtail and belly now rival those of more expensive cuts of industrial meat.

I have no highly formed theory on this topic; rather just some deeply worrisome gray questions. There will be more to come about this; I can feel it.

In which we give thanks for fast food of the slow kind

In which we give thanks for fast food of the slow kind

Last Summer's Roasted Tomato Ketchup - I still can't believe how useful this was!

Yesterday, after a long day,  I was able to make an awesome supper of pan seared Devon steaks, salad and a pasta side in just 20 minutes because of my well stocked pantry.  Sorry, I was starving to death and taking pictures before wolfing it down just didn’t enter my mind. Sad because this meal was beautiful as well as tasty.

Thanks to my new and improved steak cooking skills (thank you Alton Brown), my freezer full of well raised beef, and my pantry full of last summer’s bounty, I was able to revert to the all-American can & jar method of cooking and had it on the table in no time.

The difference is that in my house, those convenience food jars are filled with preservative free, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables either from our garden or local farms.  Yes, there was a bit of a learning curve, yes I had some failures, and yes I invested some time and money but there’s no turning back for me now. The improvement in flavor, value, nutrition and sustainability is unbelievable – I’m hooked!

One very basic word of advice for those just beginning: stick to the simple.  My first year canning, I was resistant to “geese in dresses” style of country food. In my quest to be super modern, I tried plenty of complex, expensive and hard to source gourmet recipes.

Jam from rose petals is a lovely idea, but when it comes to every day eating, my family prefers jam that tastes like sun ripened fruit, not perfume.  There’s only so much rose flavored meat glaze and seltzer/jam spritzers (good ways to use jams & jellies) we can use and fridge space is at a premium. So, floral flavored jams are out. (Don’t think that’s ended my plans for dandelion wine and nasturtium capers this summer though).

Lesson learned, the things that make my every day life easier are the plainer things.  The more basic the recipe, the more flexible and useful it is as an ingredient. Let the quality of the ingredient shine – seasonings can be adapted later.

Some basic home-made love I can no longer live without:

  1. Roasted corn relish
  2. Home made chicken and beef stock
  3. Rendered smoked lard or bacon grease
  4. Fresh tomato sauce, frozen
  5. Strawberry Jam
  6. Peach Jam
  7. Roasted Tomato Ketchup
  8. Hot Sauce
  9. Roasted Peppers in Oil
  10. Onion Marmalade
  11. Preserved Lemons
  12. Home made pickles
  13. Plain tomato sauce, canned
  14. Apple pectin stock
  15. Roasted beets buttered, diced and frozen
  16. Blanched green beans, frozen
  17. Good quality cultured butter preferably home-made
  18. Greek style yogurt, again preferably full fat and home-made
  19. Beef and pork purchased directly from my favorite farmer by the quarter or half

Start (slowly & simply) now by making a short list of basics used regularly in your Go To recipes. Prepare now by gathering your supplies and having them ready to go when the harvest hits (always sooner than you think).  I recommend starting with the most basic, inexpensive and comprehensive of books, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Spend your time and energy on recipes you know you will use.  I won’t sugar coat the part where the peeling, slicing and dicing is time-consuming and spending a few hours in a steam filled kitchen in the middle of August isn’t my first choice for fun ways to spend a summer day.

By spending your time on projects that you will definitely use, the payoff is obvious right away and you will appreciate the kitchen boost again and again.  I swear, after enjoying your bounty for a winter, next April you will  be revving your engines for next canning season!

Salsa made from our roasted corn relish. Fresh corn from our garden truly is summer in a jar all winter long.

In Which We Share A Great Find

In Which We Share A Great Find

As I learn more about farming, it seems all roads lead eventually back to WWII.  I have to confess some sheepish remorse for not caring more about American history when I was in school. Especially now, since the lessons (apparently not learned) of that era seem to be coming right back at us.

Trolling the internet one day, I stumbled upon this amazing online exhibit created by Corey Bernat; Beans are Bullets & Of Course I Can: A Collection of War-Era Food Posters from the Collection of the National Agricultural Library.

Advertisers are plundering these again timely and appealing images to sell us new books and products. We scan them in a quick way and are attracted to their nostalgic wholesome and honest feel, but did we take time to really examine the message?

Can you believe it? America Wastes 40% of All Food Produced Each Year

This skillful and entertaining exhibit identifies the root of our present alignment of government, deceptive advertising practices, industrial food production and farming methods.  That’s the dark part.

There is also an uplifting part where citizens join forces and engage in efforts greater than themselves for the betterment of the nation.

A secret invasion is going on every minute of every day, staged behind every computer and television screen, cell phone, street corner and magazine and we seem determined to avoid knowing about it. The war for our brainspace is 24/7 and we couldn’t seem to care less.

Pitch In And Help

If you don’t think there’s a warfare mentality to American style advertising, search Amazon to see just how many times a military word, strategy or reference is made in the titles of books on marketing and advertising.

There’s no doubt that advertisers have invaded our brain space; but, since we invited them in, we can ask them to leave. The real question is, “ Will we?”

Now, don’t let me finish on a negative note – I’m not really  a conspiracy theory sort of girl.  Rather,  I’m a “Let’s get out there and do something to make things better” one.

What better place to start than planting a garden & putting up some of your own food this summer? You might find you enjoy your quiet evenings in the garden and/or kitchen much more than the ones you spend watching TV.

Give it a try….

In which we say thanks for telling us what we’re supposed to want

In which we say thanks for telling us what we’re supposed to want

Trying Hard Not to be Chicken Little

I’m trying hard not to be Chicken Little here – but the recent announcement by Michelle Obama of the “Nutrition Charter” in partnership with, of all things, Walmart, leaves me really tired. Yet another retail driven approach to solve a policy driven problem.

This would be the third time in recent days that Big Business/Big Agriculture has completely driven government policy. The recent Food Safety Bill, USDA approval for unfettered use of GMO alfalfa and now this. Sigh.

Bill and I don’t grocery shop together often, but when we do it’s a living demonstration of how marketing works.  He is a product driven problem solver. When he has a problem to solve, he finds a product for that purpose and he buys it. He enjoys (loves?) convenience and value added products.  I (she) on the other hand, do not. I am attracted to more hand crafted and DIY items.

Of course, I’d like to believe my preferences are smart and independent, but I suspect I’m probably drinking Kool-Aid too, mine’s  just a different flavor.  Who knows for sure??

So now I’m wondering, how do we form our consumer beliefs anyway? I feel myself firmly attracted to and repelled by products that upon further examination I realize that I  really don’t know much about.  Many times it takes nothing more than a well designed package and my mind just fills in the information I want the label to contain. Honestly, we don’t even have to be paying attention – somehow the influence just sneaks right in and plants itself.

Big Food Marketers teamed with the help of the USDA have a practice of feeding you “knowledge” via their use of “helpful” information and FAQs.  You can be sure that according to their helpful information, your “wisest” choice is the product that is most efficient and cost effective for them to produce.  This continues to be such an effective strategy because we don’t really care to know more. Our food ignorance provides the perfect medium for their information to take root.

I find it really interesting that the USDA grading system we use to evaluate meat has changed so conveniently to remain in step with the changing practices of the feedlot industry and industrialization of meat processing.  The quality of beef has changed so much since the 1920’s, the USDA grading system no longer has categories appropriate to grass fed meat and the handling requirements for beef are definitely to the detriment of grass fed beef.  Apparently, today’s Prime is yesterday’s Select. And, did you know, then “Select” was called “Good”. It was changed because good just sounded ok while select sounds, well, select.

We needed to be taught to prefer this lesser beef.  I could go on…..

Food conglomerates are now busy working to beat independent third party certification to the punch by creating their own certifying organizations and labels.  Of course, surprise surprise, their well-spun animal husbandry standards match exactly their current factory farming methods. They know we won’t look under the surface – we’ll just look for some kind of label.  So, they create some crafty wording and homey logo to slap on their packaging and along we go.

Most of us sort of  know what Organic means and what can be bad about Natural?  Grass Fed, Grass finished, Pastured, Pasture finished, Free Range, what??  For example, from the Giant Eagle website:

Nature’s Basket®

At Giant Eagle®, we’re proud to provide meat that is as good as nature intended. That’s why our Nature’s Basket® meats come from a passionate generation of farmers and ranchers who raise animals without added hormones or antibiotics while fulfilling an uncompromising commitment to quality and a healthy environment.

We are grateful for the land, and with Nature’s Basket®, we can bring you the best it has to offer. We are committed to responsible management of our resources and are hopeful that supporting farms with eco-friendly methods will make a positive difference for years to come. Our Nature’s Basket® meats go through strict quality testing with consumers — just like you — to ensure that it has the great taste you’ve come to expect from Giant Eagle®. And we will remain steadfast in our effort to bring delicious, fresh and wholesome food to your table.

We trust that you will prepare our Nature’s Basket® meats with pride and joy, knowing that you are enjoying natural, flavorful food.

What does this really mean? Many words saying not a lot. Conveniently, my mind quickly fills in the holes with what I want to believe.  What kind of cows were fed what kind of food? How many cows to a square foot at the feedlot where they live for 3 – 6 months? I’m skeptical about but appreciate said lack of hormones and antibiotics, but what about the uncompromising commitment to quality and a healthy environment? Is that from some flowery mission statement or a real practice?  What kind of lives did these cattle get to live? What type of stewardship of the land was practiced? How was manure disposal handled? How were the neighbors of this feedlot impacted by the facility? Would they concur that a healthy environment is a respected goal? How were the grains these cows eat raised? GMO, non GMO’s? What type of pesticides? What about the transport, auction and slaughter facilities? Safe, humane for man and beast?  How has this meat been aged? Has it been irradiated? Sprayed to retain its redness? Pink slime added?

Thanks for telling me what I’m supposed to prefer…. more from the Giant Eagle website:

What is the difference between grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef?

Cattle spend the first year or more of their lives in the pasture, but for the final three to six months, the vast majority of U.S. beef cattle are fed a nutritionally balanced mixture of grain and nutrients (can you please tell us about the feedlot they live on for three to six months?).

On a small number of U.S. farms, ranchers raise cattle that continue to feed on grass through the final stage. There are no significant nutritional differences or differences in safety between grass-finished and grain-finished products. The principle differences are taste and texture. (Really, not what I hear…..)

Most American consumers prefer the taste of beef that comes from corn-finished cattle. The grass-finished market aims to satisfy consumers who prefer the taste of grass-finished beef.  (What does this mean? Let’s nip this whole grass-fed potential loss of market share nightmare in the bud??)

What you can do:

  1. Pay attention when you see food issues in the news – it really is relevant to you
  2. Know there are two sides to issues you see in the news
  3. Question ads and commercials
  4. Question whether the charming picture on the label has any resemblance to the real life “farm”
  5. Don’t be satisfied with the wordy generalizations on the labels, look for specific facts.  Or lack thereof –if it doesn’t say otherwise, it’s factory food.
  6. Reclaim your brain space
  7. Buy from people who can show you the cows/chickens/pigs/goats/sheep
  8. Join an organization like Slow Foods or PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not being hard on Giant Eagle – I shop there too. They’re just passing along the information they got from the helpful folks at the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association . Let’s not forget their lawsuit against Oprah.

All I ask is that we simply call things what they really are.  And stop looking to retail to solve all our problems.