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I’ve not posted in a while, but I almost spit my morning coffee out (in a chuckling shock) while reading this, and wanted to share.

Headline – PETA wants to put vegan ads on border fence. The billboard would read:
“If the Border Patrol Doesn’t Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will — Go Vegan.”
and would picture “fit and trim” Mexicans, in their own country, and obese American kids and grownups “gorging on meaty, fat- and cholesterol-packed American food” (according to a PETA spokesperson).

Really?? Apparently, ‘carne’ and ‘pollo’ don’t translate as meat products. And, for border crossers, a picture of a big, fat hamburger might actually be appealing.

Your thoughts?

A quote from an essay written by a member of the President’s Council for Bioethics:

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone–a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. … Eating on the street–even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat–displays lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. … Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. … This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior (Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul, p. 148-149, University of Chicago Press, 1999).

organic$

I’ve been a bit lazy about posting, though I keep thinking of things I want to discuss on here. Here’s one thing:

I’ve had several people email me and/or ask me for my thoughts on the recent New York Times article ‘Sticker Shock in the Organic Food Aisles’. Martin and Severson’s question is: how much is too much?

In reading the article, I had an only-slight ‘7 dollars for a gallon of milk!’ moment of outrage. UNTIL I realized a few things (well, three things, listed here in my order of importance).

First of all, a conventional gallon of milk at my local supermarket is about 4 bucks. And, I’m not much of a milk drinker so a gallon of milk is a lot of milk. But organically grown vegetables at places like Whole Foods have generally cost just under double the amount of conventional vegetables at conventional grocery stores. This is nothing that new. The idea that organics were going to price themselves out of the market has been around as long as the USDA organic label paved the path for these foods’ availability in grocery stores. Organic food is quite high in places like Whole Foods anyway, because of the business structure of the distribution system, NOT because of the price of producing the product.

Secondly, this is a point of comparison to conventional food prices, which are artificially low because of government subsidies to big commodity producers. A regular gallon of milk shouldn’t cost 99 cents, and you shouldn’t be able to by chicken for 59 cents a pound, in the year 2008, in the United States of America. Organic food producers (and there is a negative correlation to size here) are much less likely to receive USDA subsidies for their production. Add this to the cost of distribution, and a higher price point for consumers is what happens….. in grocery stores.

This leads to my third point, and one that I think will be echoed this growing season by local food advocates – while prices go up, due to higher prices for oil and fertilizers-of-all-types, those with shorter supply chains (farmers markets and CSAs) will go up less, proportionally, to organic and conventional foods alike in grocery stores.

We’ll wait and see what happens, with conventional and organic food prices alike!

Quiet/riot

By now you have heard about food riots around the world, from Haiti to Yemen, across Africa, and elsewhere.  I feel as though this blog should be weighing in on what is going on, but we’re all overwhelmed with other commitments right now (as you’ve probably guessed from the recent scarcity of posts).

In any case, Food First does it better than I could.  Check out their website for analysis of what is going on.  Raj Patel from Food First has a new book, and recently discussed the food crisis on Democracy Now.  The transcript is worth checking out.

Please stay tuned.  We’ll be posting more on this and other issues soon.

Fun and games

I just found out about a new computer game called Fatworld. The game creators describe it this way: “FATWORLD is a video game about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S. The game’s goal is not to tell people what to eat or how to exercise, but to demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations.”

I just downloaded it from their site, but have not explored it enough to offer an opinion on it (other than that I found it tedious to move my person around with the arrow keys). It seems to present an interesting opportunity for exploring these issues, perhaps even in the classroom. I’d be interested in what others think about it, aside from the small issue of the game necessarily requiring sedentary behavior.

I also think you can create communities so you can play the game with friends and family. Anyone have some spare time on their hands?

Good germs, bad germs

In the April 2008 issue of Harper’s there’s a really interesting article on “the raw-milk underground” – farmers who produce and sell unpasteurized milk to people who prefer its taste, nutritional content, and beneficial bacteria. Selling raw milk is illegal in Canada and in half of U.S. states.

Raw milk advocates say that we are weakening our bodies’ defenses against disease by eating only “sterilized,” bacteria-free foods. And, they argue, food companies contribute to chronic disease – making far more people sick than unpasteurized milk does – by promoting unhealthy diets. Yet legal and regulatory action is primarily taken against sources of acute, not chronic, illness. So raw milk dairies get shut down, while the major food conglomerates flourish.

I thought this quote from a dairy farmer nicely summarized the contradictions: “If my milk gets someone sick, I deserve some blame, but not all of it. People have to take responsibility for maintaining their own immune systems. And we have to look at an environmental level, too. Where did these germs come from? E. coli O157:H7 evolved on grain-fed cattle. It’s amazing to me that we’ve sat by as factory farmers feed more than half the antibiotics in the country to animals and breed these antibiotic-resistant bacteria at the same time the food corporations are destroying our immune systems.”

The irony, of course, is that Group Danone (maker of Dannon yogurt and Perrier water) is making a fortune selling yogurt advertised as containing probiotics (beneficial bacteria). Danone’s claims about the benefits of Activia and DanActive yogurt have been contested in a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year, but a Time Magazine article last week says that probiotic-fortified foods are the next big thing for the food industry. I guess the idea is to get all of the “good” bacteria with none of the risk. But would “bad” bacteria even pose a risk if we farmed and ate another way?

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’ve been swamped with work. Funny how writing a scholarly article dealing with an agri-food issue makes me less likely to blog about it. I hope I’ll be able to write something about it here, once the article is submitted. Sneak preview: it has to do with Mexican farmers and environmental activists working together to reframe the scientific debate about genetically engineered corn.

In the meantime, here’s some more news about food contamination. This time, it’s fancy Italian cheese, containing the carcinogen dioxin. Looks like it’s still not clear how exactly the contamination occurred, or how widespread it is, but yikes.

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