Moo if you <3 Social Justice

27 Jun

‘“Anyway you look at it,” Williams said, “it’s a social justice issue when so little of the consumer’s dollar goes to the producer.”’

The bulk of this post talks about the need for anti-trust regulation in the dairy industry, and the disconnect between dairy costs for consumers and low profits for dairy farmers.  Important stuff, but I wish it had elaborated a little more on the “critical connections between the struggles faced by rural farmers and low income urban residents, particularly those that live in so-called “food deserts” and would like to have access to high-quality dairy products.”

One of the many tensions I feel about organic/local/sustainable agriculture is its inaccessibility to low-income consumers.  My quest is a luxury; I have the disposable income to spend on higher (fairer) prices for food.  And I have much better access than most.  Surprisingly, living in a larger metro area like DC actually gives me MORE access to local agriculture than when I lived in a small industrial city in Ohio, surrounded by farmland instead of NoVa’s sprawling suburbs and exurbs.  There’s a critical mass of consumers looking for farmers markets, CSAs, co-ops, organic, etc, and therefore higher competition among food providers to meet those needs.  This leads to more locations, more options, lower prices than you’d find in a smaller town.  Which, actually, is exactly what I hope to accomplish by becoming one of those consumers who cares about how their food got to the table.  But a low income family living in a small city isn’t going to do the research to find obscure, expensive sources of fresh food.  This in turn means that, out of necessity, these consumers rely heavily on the cheaper, lower quality products pushed by the agribusiness kings…and in return, make the largest sacrifices to their health.  The obesity & diabetes epidemics in our country overwhelmingly affect low income communities, and that’s not a coincidence.  

All that to say, I would love to see folks from the slow food movement (or the organic, or the locavore, or what have you) hone in on what it would take to get slow food to make an impact on urban, low income consumers.

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Facts from the Source

23 Jun

I just found this after reading Ryan Goodman’s post on a similar topic and loved both.  There are so many competing priorities when you start talking to people about food sources:

-taste (obvi)

-health (nutrient preservation/balance, pesticides, genetic modifications, national obesity epidemics slanted towards low and moderate income communities)

-environment (again, pesticides, genetic modifications, plus erosion, soil quality, water quality, carbon footprints, all that jazz)

-humane treatment of animals

-humane treatment of laborers

These are all important things to think about, but the ability for farmers to make a living off of their farms is also key.  In my perfect food paradigm, farmers would be able to sell high quality food at competitive prices without government subsidies.  I’m interested in learning more about different business models that allow “sustainable farming” to be sustainable for farmers, too.

The Next Frontier: Dairy

20 Jun

I first started paying attention to the source of my food when I started frequenting my local farmers market in Toledo, Ohio.  Living in a food desert (closest decent grocery store…Kroger…was 7.5 miles away from the city center where I lived), I was easily hooked on fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer.  Slowly, I started asking questions about where and how the produce was grown.  My produce shopping wasn’t strict by any means, and when tomatoes stopped showing up in the farmers market, I pretty much went back to trekking to Kroger to get inferior tomatoes and that was the end of the season for me.

Now I’m living in the DC metro area, and the opportunities to find whatever off-beat food makes your heart sing abound.  One of my roommates is a vegetarian, and I started looking for meals I could make for our whole apartment and found that it really wasn’t that bad.  So for Lent I decided to cut out meat until I figured out my own value-system for meat consumption.  My reasoning was that, at the very top of the food chain, meat was probably a concentrated “bad player.”  Whatever ills I found in the food industry—government subsidies, health concerns, poor working conditions/unlivable wages, animal cruelty, environmental unsustainability—my elementary school education on food chains (remember the ones with the bald eagles and DEET?) told me to start at the top for maximum impact.  I’m still working out the details, but for now, I’ve settled on drastically reducing my meat-intake and buying local grass-fed meat when I do buy meat.  I’ve been buying at the farmers market, but I stopped by a local butcher with a friend yesterday and I may become a customer there.

So next up:  dairy & eggs.  Animal products.  I’m going to start with dairy, partly because it’s the more intimidating and partly because I eat such a wide range of dairy products.  Also, my dad grew up on a family-owned dairy farm, so I’m interested in talking to him about “the good ol’ days” and how dairy farming has changed since then. 

Um, guys, milk is weird.  I got overwhelmed just on Wikipedia!  But I’m pressing on, trying to get a grasp on pasteurization, homogenization, and the conditions & care of dairy cows.  Plus, looking at different business models and what factors need to be in place for farmers to “do things right,” whatever definition of “right” I end up settling on.  Also, my roommates have tentatively agreed to change the milk we drink as an apartment (and share the cost of) if I do some cost-comparisons, so you’ll probably see some charts up here over the weekend.

Summer Produce is THE BEST

20 Jun

flip on a show on hulu, grab a paring knife, and pit some cherries!


A day in the (very very happy) life:
Breakfast:

-1 soft boiled egg

-ramekin-sized peach & sour cherry crisp, the crisp part being oats & sliced almonds with a bit of butter & sugar, with a dollop of amish yogurt.  this (with fruit varying based on whatever my csa gives me) is my new fave breakfast food.  make a handful at a time and eat cold.

Pre-lunch Snack

-handful of blueberries

-handful of brazil nuts

Lunch:

-spaghetti with zucchini & yellow squash, parmesan, and sun-dried tomato pesto (my roommate gave my basil plant a severe haircut to make this pesto, but it was so worth it)
Pre-dinner snack:-the most flavorful cucumber I’ve eaten since…well, last summer, probably.  Devoured while making “real” food, guilt-free, because, hello, it’s a cucumber
Dinner:

Creamy Swiss Chard Pasta
from one of my all-time favorite food blogs.  I will feel even better about this meal after I convince my roommates to go organic & maybe even local on milk and butter.

-roasted beets (roasted in aluminum foil and skinned after with paper towels…no mess!  Thank you, old faithful Best Recipe cookbook from Cooks Illustrated) with goat cheese

I’m going to go die of foodgasms now.

Immigration Policy and the Kitchen

19 Jun

The final kicker that made me decide to actually decide to start changing my food consumption had nothing to do with taste or health.  Economic justice is a biblical principle, and my faith demands that I rigorously seek justice.  I’m particularly concerned about the labor that gets food from the ground to my table.  Labor reform is tricky, and immigration is controversial, but again, I feel strongly that God asks me to wade into the muck and do what I can to seek fairness and dignity for all of those created in his image.  

Farmer knows best?

16 Jun

Anyone seriously involved with advocacy has probably encountered a righteous cause that does more harm than good due to shoddy research.  There is nothing more painful than getting a year into a campaign and THEN finding out important data that totally contradicts everything you (and large numbers of people who trusted you/your organization) have been fighting for.

That’s why stuff like this makes me cringe.  Food-ethics and the activism that goes along with it is complicated.  The science is complicated, the economics are complicated, and most terrifyingly, the power dynamics (aka the money trail) are complicated.

Questions I’ve learned to ask when determining whether to trust fact sheets, social justice campaigns, or just earnest activists:

1)  Who benefits from this information and how?

2)  Who would be hurt by this information and how?

3)  What disinterested third parties have been involved in producing this information?

4)  Why would those third parties be interested in finding/publishing/interacting this information?

5)  What data or questions are being left out of this?

6)  Who disagrees with this information and why?

This isn’t a fool-proof method by any means, but I find it a helpful “baloney detector.”  There are folks out there who sift through false information for a living and I’d love to hear some principles they use to make sure they’re getting the “real facts.”

What do you think?  Is HSUS acting on bad information?  What experts do you listen to when it comes to your food?

Agent Orange: Chemical Warfare in the Fields

13 Jun

Just like we see super-bacteria that has adapted to modern medicine, farmers are in a desperate and escalating fight against super-weeds.  Right.  Because this turned out SO WELL in Vietnam.

Most importantly, however, hotties like the Italian chef in the video at the bottom are standing guard over our vegetables.  Please, tell me more while feeding me some black spaghetti with crab.

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