The Ramblings of Annie Abalam

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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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Playing With Our Food

I spent the greater part of last night rummaging food blogs for a piece that not only intrigued me, but incited enough cognitive response for me to write anything worthwhile.  The search yielded “Another pet peeve: can’t kids just eat?” Also from Food Politics, this piece discusses a new idea scientists believe will encourage children to eat fruits: My Fruity Faces.  My Fruity Faces are colorful stickers with faces that can be put on food – and consumed.  The main thought is that by making fruits more “fun,” children will be more inclined to eat them. 

I have the same qualms with this that Marion Nestle does.  To begin, the first ingredient (meaning the largest) is sugar.  Who would’ve guessed children would be more interested in fruit that is higher in sugar content than fruit that is not? Golly gee.  I am not certain of how much sugar is in these “My Fruity Faces,” but I would put money on it being a significant enough number to defeat the purpose of eating the fruit in the first place.  If an apple tastes like an Air Head, I would argue that it is not worth eating.

My other concern with this idea is that these are stickers.  You can stick them onto food, meaning they contain adhesive.  I think if you asked somebody “Would you like some glue with your apple?” They would most likely decline your very generous offer, even if it would make it taste “better”.

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Weekly Food Log

As we reach the end of the second week of class, my dietary choices remain the same – still vegan, nothing new.  Prior to this morning, I had no idea how I was going to turn “nothing has changed” into 250 words, but after our exhilarating class, I definitely have something to say.

The videos we watched were not foreign to me, and for the most part, were fairly tame (in the grand scheme of farm animal abuse videos – what we saw was vile, but it definitely gets worse).  Although I was asked to be a monster in class, as I left the room, I felt terrible.  It was like I had relapsed back to 14-year-old Psycho Vegan.  When I told my boyfriend what happened, he said “Annie, I agree that what they do to animals on factory farms is wrong, but I don’t think animals are beaten or thrown every day.” He was very wrong when he said this for two reasons: 1) animal cruelty happens every day.  As I said in class, it is a norm embedded in that culture and 2) I was still in 14-year-old Psycho Vegan state, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when I nearly lit his shoelace on fire after we walked out of Clyde’s. 

Once I settled down, I realized I had a mission on my hands: if I have no reason to change my diet (with the exception of buying local), I’ll continue to change his.  I will  most definitely be spending tomorrow finding footage of dairy cow abuse, plopping him down in front of it, and proving my point once and for all.  I will also be writing an email to my peers, apologizing for my behavior that even I am agitated by.

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Science’s Next Stab at Eradicating E. Coli O157: H7

At this point in the course, my diet has not changed at all, and I doubt that it will.  I have already enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma, so re-reading it is definitely fun, but I have not learned anything new from that source.  As for the other article we read, while I think it did an excellent job telling a story, most (if not all) of the information was something that I had seen in the past.  (Fortunately, I never get tired of reading about food politics and am happy to absorb the same information time and time again, depressing as it may be.)  What I am looking forward to is finding even more reasons to motivate my boyfriend to continue leaning towards a full-time vegan diet, and I think that the discussions we will have over the next few months will aid me in my quest.

I have spent most of my time in class trying to gauge how others will react to what they are about to learn.  I get upset every time I read about inhumane treatment of animals, or how unsafe it is for my family and friends to be… well, ignorant.  While I am not judging my peers, I am trying to evaluate whether I think they will be affected by what they read.  I was excited to take this class for a few reasons: 1) to expand my knowledge of something that greatly interests me and 2) to know that others are learning about food through an academic lens, and not from a wild activist like myself.  The topics we will explore are not ones that can be dismissed once you spend the time thinking about them, in my opinion.  At the end of the semester, I doubt that there will be vegetarians in the class, but I hope that they will be more aware of what makes its way (or doesn’t) onto their plate.

Food Politics discusses a new theory for eliminating (or “significantly affecting” the presence of) E. Coli O157:H7.  Apparently, shocking beef with an electrical current reduces this deadly strain of E. Coli’s likelihood of presenting itself.  The study conducted only examines the surface of the meat, however, so the reality that E. Coli lurks beneath the surface went untested.  The post links to an article that details the study further.  The scientists admitted that there was a possibility that inactivation of E. Coli cells could be attributed to either the formation of active chlorine gas, or the sodium chloride solution that the samples were placed in.  Still, the study’s final conclusion indicates that the “Log reduction of E. Coli was significantly affected by current intensity, frequency, and duration of treatment.”  The wording of this conclusion seems rather strong after stating earlier in the paper that electrical currents were merely the “most likely cause” of log reduction of E. Coli.

Most people in their right minds acknowledge that eating raw meat is not in their best interest.  Cooking food typically reduces the appearance of bacteria, thus shocking the surface of meat is not the answer to the meat contamination conundrum.  The results of this study do not impress me at all – from what I’ve read, no definitive knowledge was gained, and consumers appear to be in the same position they were prior to the study.  Furthermore, I think that the answer to the problem does not – and should not – lie in more scientific research.  As of right now, many people know that the food we raise livestock on is not ideal.  We also know that raising livestock the way Americans do greatly aids in the proliferation of E. Coli O157:H7 and other bacteria.  If the government would simply make use of this practically common knowledge, we probably would not be wasting our time trying to use electricity to make our food safe.

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