The Ramblings of Annie Abalam

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I Am Skeptical About the Chipotle Commercial

I read “The infamous Chipotle video: will it help get rid of gestation crates?” earlier this week.  I’m not sure when this video came out, but I swear I saw it before we came back for second semester.  The video is as heartwarming as can be, but as a daily Chipotle customer (when I’m at home – they know me by name and give me free burritos if I come more than once in a day, or if I look sad, or am wearing a provocative outfit) I am still unsure about how sincere Chipotle is.  In all of their franchises, they have the same ads up, stating that they get a vast majority of their meat from “happy” farms.  My standards for a “happy” farm are much higher than most, because I do not buy into the notion of “free range,” and most other labels.  As I have said many times before, I fear that Chipotle may be playing on these crafty, enticing labels.  Labels like those reduce – if not dismiss – customers’ guilt when they choose to plop a carcass onto their burrito.

As a large, successful company, I can only expect Chipotle to use advertising as a means of attracting customers.  I also believe that Chipotle might be setting what I would call a “faux example” for other companies to follow (I guess that would be mimetic isomorphism).  McDonald’s reacted very quickly once they saw the ad, and realized that they needed to hop on the Chipotle Wagon.  Naturally, this is too good to be true: McDonald’s did not put a date to when they would officially eliminate gestation crates.  Therefore, they could back out fairly easily.  Needless to say, I am not impressed with McDonald’s easy-way-out method of tricking customers into thinking that they will actually take interest in the welfare of the animals they demand to be slaughtered.  The real punchline for me is: McDonald’s used to have quite a bit of money in Chipotle, but pulled out in 2006.  McDonald’s move is like an older brother taking advice from his little brother.  Most older brothers do not stick with advice youngsters tell them.  I doubt McDonald’s will stick with Chipotle’s, and sometimes I wonder if Chipotle is even practicing what they preach.

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Weekly Food Log

The New York TImes articles we read on locavores really threw me for a loop.  Since the beginning of the semester, the answer to all problems concerning our food system was buying locally grown produce.  A transparent system through which we could be sure of the origins of our food appeared to be the solution to many issues.

However, after our discussion regarding the article “Math Lessons for Locavores,” I find myself completely lost.  I had plans to attend my local farmer’s market with my mom as soon as I reluctantly trudged back to Rye for spring break.  Now, however, I am questioning whether this is really a good idea.  I am so invested in knowing everything about my food that I can’t help but laugh at my current reality: I thought I was as informed as I could be, but after a discussion on the topic and a few articles, I think I might be the ignorant one, for once, which is really unnerving.  Locavores boast that by buying locally, they are helping the environment.  Tragically, the New York Times article articulates quite the opposite.  According to the article, transporting food hundreds of miles to grocery stores has minimal effect on the environment in the grand scheme of things.  The article also states that the worst offenders when it comes to the environment are humans with all of their appliances that guzzle energy to run, ie refrigerators.

All of my previous thoughts have been debunked.  I’m not certain if buying local is really the answer.  For the time being, however, I plan on at least supporting my local farmers and attempting to boycott industrial agriculture as much as humanly possible.

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Weekly Food Log

This week’s classes have thrown me for a loop.  While I do not always eat organic, I try my best to maintain an organic mini-fridge while at school.  The articles and excerpts we have looked at this week have left me so confused.  For the past six years, I have been in love with the organic movement.  After taking in this week’s offerings, I feel like my dream has been… debunked.

The beauty of organic food for me was that there was no mystery associated to it.  I assumed that all fruits and vegetables I bought had not been touched by pesticides, and the farmer who grew the food had at most an acre of land, allowing him to sing to his crops.  Unfortunately, this is not true.  I thought the only case of industrial organic farming was Horizon Organic, who appear to be quite honest with their customers about their large scale farming.  The readings this week suggest that Horizon Organic is far from the only guilty party when it comes to industrializing an industry whose claim to fame is small-scale farming.  So, where my allegedly pure fruits and vegetables come from seems like much more of a mystery than I could have ever imagined.  The whole thing has left me rather confused.

Fortunately, the solution presented seems like the best idea in the first place: know my supplier.  Blindly purchasing produce from packages in a grocery store is clearly not the answer if I have a vested interest in knowing my food’s origins.  I suppose buying local is my only option, and that is fine with me.  If only we could get SU to adopt the same ideology…

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Manure Lagoons, Dirty Water, and Money

A few days ago, I read this article about the first case in which a CAFO was punished for their gross violation of the Clean Water Act, and explored how hazardous CAFO outputs can be. Cows produce copious amounts of manure, resulting in what is called a “manure lagoon”. If and when these vats of feces leak, or rainwater forces the manure out, groundwater and nearby waterways can be contaminated… With poop. Aside from this being absolutely vile, it is hazardous to human health because it can contain “harmful quantities of nutrients, pathogens, and heavy metals,” according to the blog post.

This blog post is nothing new to me, but as usual, it saddens me that 1) this information is not common knowledge and 2) only now is anything being done to rectify it. People deserve to know what the outcomes of their choice to consume factory farmed dairy, and how the government is refusing to change he system. As far as I know, the reasoning for not regulating CAFOs more aggressively lies in economics – people do not want to pay more to ensure that manure lagoons are not a side effect of buying cheap milk, and factory farm lobbyists have infiltrated the USDA. Regardless, I do not consider state capture an excuse to continue the destruction of our environment, and dangerous drinking water.

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Even More Labels

Earlier this week, I read the article Dr. Epstein posted, and conveniently also found a blog post on Food Politics addressing the same topic: Walmart’s new front-of-package “buy me” logo.  What these articles discuss is Walmart’s new labeling initiative, the bright green, “Great For You” label.  Walmart officials state that they have consulted many knowledgeable sources when determining whether a product will make the cut.  According to the blog post, over 80% of Great Value products did not make it onto the list of items that will be receiving the enticing label.

Labels and marketing have always been one of my greateest interests since diving into the treacherous world of America’s industrial food system.  The question I always ask myself is: is this label deceitful, or does it actually aim to educate the consumer? Walmart’s labeling campaign appears promising, as they have exercised some discretion when giving products this label.  As for the foods that do not garner the coveted “Great For You” label, these products might be viewed as possessing a “red light,” making consumers less likely to purchase them.  Marion Nestle cites a study whose findings revealed that people respond to traffic light signals when purchasing food.  This labeling program is just that.  Still, I find myself wary of Walmart’s plans.  I cannot help but assume that as a major corporation, they care about making money, not about the welfare of their consumers.  Another reason that Walmart’s campaign causes me anxiety is that Walmart’s customers are people who are sometimes not highly educated (and even people who have attended college often do not know where their food comes from) and would be painfully susceptible to misleading labels.  In no way am I suggesting that Walmart consumers are unintelligent – I am merely positing the idea that they might not be as well versed on what is healthy and what is not as a food fanatic… like myself.  All that I can say is that I hope that this campaign is remotely as wholesome as it appears to be at face value.  If so, I think it could greatly benefit the large population that purchases food from Walmart.

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Weekly Food Log

This week, I expanded my knowledge about food safety (especially foreign foods) and mononucleosis, neither of which have drastically changed my eating habits (well, mono has decreased my food intake).  What did catch my attention, however, was the chapter we read on Joel Salatin, owner of the revolutionary Polyface Farms.  Polyface Farms is the new face of the alternative farming movement.  Violently opposed to the industrial food system the U.S. champions, Salatin raises his animals the way many people would expect animals to be raised – outdoors, and humanely.

While I am not an omnivore, if there is one place I would encourage people to buy their food from, it would be a place like Salatin’s.  It is truly transparent – even the website uses that term to describe their operations.  There are pictures of how every animal lives out their days there, and all of them look quite happy.  I’d say they’re the luckiest animals being raised for consumption in the U.S.  Moving forward, I plan on heavily endorsing Polyface Farms’ mission and trying to find others like him near me and purchasing any food I can from them.  My mom is a real sucker for organic food, and I think she would appreciate knowing that I wasn’t going to be the Nightmare Vegan at the table when she serves dinner.  It is almost strange to think that I would ever push people to buy meat from one place or another, because aside from Polyface Farms, I’ve never heard of a farm that actually treats their animals well.  In fact, I’d say that I do not consider most “farms” these days to be farms.  My definition of a farm will always remain the same, which Polyface Farms meets.

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We need an urban dictionary for the USDA

The USDA has come up with so many fancy labels for things that, more often than not, people do not know what these labels mean, if they mean anything at all.  With all of these labels put on our food, the only way people will ever gain an understanding of what they imply is through research.  Unless consumers take the time to learn about these labels, they’ll never know what they may or may not support through their purchases.

This week, I read Lexicon of Sustainability: Cage free vs. pasture raised, the title drawing me in.  The post provides quick, understandable definitions of the three phrases commonly used in farming, namely egg farming: cage free, free range, and pasture raised (or “pastured”).  When I saw that Benny’s served cage free eggs a few years ago, my gut reaction was to shred the paper that put false hope in unsuspecting students’ minds, but I exercised some self-control and the sign was not harmed.  As the post says, cage free hens are merely not kept in cages.  This does not mean that they have enough room, or sanitary conditions, to live comfortably.  Most of the general public does not know that cage free hens are easily just as miserable as those kept in battery cages.  The concept of pasture raised is used by farmers that aim to differentiate themselves from industrial farmers, but the post says that this is not regulated, so I am a tad wary of this label.

Still, I find it upsetting that people can get sucked into labels so easily.  The labels are deceptively easy to understand.  I think that the words they use in these labels are supposed to paint pictures in consumers’ eyes that are a stark contrast to the reality, and it is not fair – especially to the chickens.

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Weekly Food Log

The piece we read on tomato production this week spoke to me.  With my diet, tomatoes are a staple, and while humans are not my priority, this whole business of slavery is just wrong.  Hunching over all day must be incredibly uncomfortable, and yield all kinds of health consequences.  Whenever I find myself in that position, getting myself back into an upright position is less than pleasurable, and ever since we read those articles, I think about tomato farmers every time.

I despise ignorance when it comes to many issues, especially when the reasoning behind ignorance is inconvenience.  For the first time in a long time, I find myself confronted with an issue that I find truly inconvenient.  I eat tomatoes every day, at almost every meal.  At this point, I doubt that Aramark gets their tomatoes from some cute farmer who picks his own, or provides his employees with back massages and tiramisu at the end of their shift.  Granted, I have not invested a great deal of time into researching ways to fix this injustice (to say the least), but I have thought about it every day.  I want to find a way to speak for those poor tomato farmers, because God knows I don’t want to start eliminating vegetables from my diet – especially while I’m on the meal plan at SU.

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