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.


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