Thursday, April 5, 2012

Apparently, we're all eating poop.

Song for this post: "Windowsill" ~ Arcade Fire

I'm not usually one to rock a boat. I have opinions, sure. Strong ones, in fact. But I usually keep them to myself. I'm not a big confrontation person. So I think it's fair to say that, when I do pipe up, I mean it.

The weather is getting warmer in Seattle. For the past week it's been sunny out when I get home in the evenings. It's got me pretty excited about the massive gardens and vegetable beds on my property.  When I lived in North Seattle, we had a huge garden and grew our own vegetables.  I haven't had the chance to in the last year and half though, because Lower Capitol Hill isn't exactly swarming with lawn space.

My mother has a garden. In fact, she has such a huge garden that she could probably supply vegetables to a respectable percentage of her town. And she just built a greenhouse. I think it's wonderful. I can grow vegetables but that's about it. Flowers elude me.

Why am I rambling on about gardening?

Because I hate the United States.

That was a genuine statement. Don't get me wrong. There are definitely worse places.

I'm thankful to live in a community that prides itself on being green, regardless of the reputation or cliche we've become, and wish other parts of the country (like Kentucky, for example) had the opportunity to practice some system of ethics and social responsibility in the arena of "gardening" (read: food production).

The truth is, what we put in our mouths is largely controlled by a handful of companies. I know. You've heard it before. "Monsanto is the devil!" "The FDA is corrupt!" But have you ever stopped to think about the social repercussions of the way our food industry functions?

When I lived in Central Washington, a primarily agricultural area, I bought produce from our local farms. I loved summer because you could drive out to a farm, pull right up, and buy their produce from them right there. Cheap. Fresh. Organic. Off the farm. Now I buy organic vegetables from the grocery store and make an effort to buy from local farmers. I DO NOT EVER buy corn from the grocery store. I DO NOT EVER buy soy products from the grocery store. I only buy locally produced dairy. I only purchase cage free eggs. I eat free range chicken. I DO NOT eat beef.

Why, Elle? Why are you such a cliche, Seattle-green, woohoo earth, food nazi?

Here's why: (this post is long so brace yourself)

1. One company controls 90% of America's industrialized crops. Just one. That one company also holds the patents on genetically engineered seeds as well as the exclusive rights to spray crops with their patented pesticides. Those pesticides are a close cousin to something you may have heard of: a little biochemical weapon from the Vietnam war called Agent Orange. What is agent orange?

Agent orange was an herbicidal chemical produced by the US Department of Defense and Monsanto as a weapon to kill the Vietnamese during the war. The chemical was sprayed over areas of Vietnam and is responsible for killing 400,000 people.  Effective war tool? Sure. But you know it by another name: Roundup...the common product you can buy at Walmart that kills weeds in your garden. It was so effective at killing weeds that Monsanto developed a Roundup-resistant soy bean, patented it, and basically took control of agriculture in the United States. It wasn't just their patents that did this, it was also their own board of directors and team of attorneys who also sat in important United States political positions (say hello to Superior Court Judge Clarence Thomas amongst so many others). This muddying of the political process brought on a number of laws that protect large corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, and IBP (animal products). These companies are so in bed with the FDA that our food production process hasn't just become corrupt, it's become DANGEROUS for you and me and YOUR CHILDREN. This crop chemical has now been proven to cause horrible birth defects.

It's also become socially unjust. Take corn for example:

Corn was originally grown in the United States by the Native Americans who got it from Mexico. In fact, corn was one of Mexico's largest cash crops.  When a handful of large corporations took control of food production in the 70s, they needed a way to produce more corn for a cheaper price.  So the FDA got a law passed making an exception for fair wage in corn production. Because of that, industrialized farms could plant larger crops, hire more workers, and pay less. The corn industry BOOMED.  But that put more than 1,000,000 Mexican farmers out of work. Let me make this more plain: WE BANKRUPTED A COUNTRY WITH OUR GREED.  Then, to enable the need for cheap workers, they bussed those out of work Mexican workers over the border and put them to work in these high-production farms. To keep immigration at arms length, they allowed for X amount of employees to be deported annually. But it gets worse. These farming facilities are security access. So not only can you not see how they're handling your food, you can't see how they're abusing their workers who are too afraid to speak up because they're illegal immigrants. And now people get pissed about Mexican citizens coming to America for a better life?!?!? Do your research. We are responsible for a good portion of the low quality of life in Mexico. Our country bankrupted them, ruined their crops, starved their families, and then pretty much sold them into American food production slavery before making them a scapegoat for our own crimes.

Does that sound moral to you? Me either.

It doesn't just stop at produce though. You see the exact same thing in the production of animal products. Tyson is the largest meat producer ON THE PLANET and has conveniently escaped multiple attempts to monitor their production process time and time again.  Have you ever watched how they process chickens? I can't watch it without crying and nearly vomiting. I want no part of that. It's disgusting. Is the processing of animals for food violent? Sure. I accept that. My family hunts. I've watched my grandfather skin a deer. But there is a HUGE difference between this:

...and the humane killing of animals for food. 

Killing animals for food is not new to me. My whole family hunts. They used to own a hunting business for Pete's sake. My mother and grandfather have spoken at length about how important it is to respect the animal. To be humane. My mother even spiritually thanks the animal. IBP and Tyson do not respect the animal.

Why don't you eat beef, Elle?

Well, mostly because it's just disgusting. But the deal for me was sealed when I learned how foul what I wasn't eating really is.

Large-scale beef processors (like IBP) have so many cows crammed in such a small space that they live, eat, and breathe in their own feces.  In fact, there is SO MUCH feces in these facilities that it gets caked to the cow's hide. Then, when the cow goes for processing, this shit and urine inevitably gets mixed up with the meat. What's that, I just said? They DO NOT wash the cows before they cut them up. That'd be like me going to the bathroom, coming out, and wiping with your burger.

This unsanitary method is what causes parasites to end up in your meat. This is what causes e.coli, salmonella, and mad cow disease. It's also what prompted the FDA to pass a bill requiring beef production companies to bathe their product in ammonia to kill all bacteria and parasites. You saw it floating around on Facebook. It's called by it's affectionate street name: pink slime:

SRSLY?!?! The FDA allows 15% of that shit in all beef products?!?! That's INSANE! 15%!

It's okay. I don't want to eat it either.

Quick aside, IBP is responsible for 70% of the country's beef. You may see it called something else in the grocery store, but the parent company is MOST LIKELY IBP. And they're buying Tyson. So the most disgusting food producer in the country will be preparing all of your meals from now on.

Look, I'm not asking you to jump on the crazy-ass, neo-food revolutionist, I live off the grid bandwagon. Lord knows I'm not a fanatic. But I'm conscious of what the fuck I'm putting in my mouth.

This morning I learned that margarine is 70% identical to paint. That's right. House paint. I don't eat margarine anyway because I think it tastes foul. But really, you shouldn't either.

You all wonder why 1/4 Americans has some form of diabetes. You see cancer on the rise. You wonder why we're all fat beyond belief. It's because we're not paying attention to what we're putting in your mouths. IT'S YOUR BODY FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE A TEMPLE. Stop putting plastic and ammonia and house paint and feces in your stomach. I promise you'll feel a lot healthier.

But, just as importantly, make the conscious effort not to support companies who make their money off the backs of an abused and disenfranchised workforce. It's slavery. You're silly if you think otherwise.

"Oh but I don't have room for a garden to grow my own vegetables."

That's okay. There are lots of options.

  • Many grocery stores (like QFC, Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, and Central Market) go out of their way to offer locally grown produce and locally produced meat and dairy products. 
  • If you're willing to drive a bit, head to a local farm and buy fresh produce and eggs. 
  • Shop at a local butcher or, like me, give up most meats altogether. I still eat chicken occasionally but I'm primarily a fish and nuts girl. My family buys whole cows and has them butchered and frozen. Pretty cool way to do it, if you ask me.
  • Lots of towns have a farmer's market.  Check it out. Get some sun. Buy some healthy shit.
  • Lots of cities have garden coops. You can sign up for a small part of the garden where you can grow the vegetables of your choosing.  Awesome!  
  • Have a friend with a yard? Ask if you can work together to grow fresh produce. You both get tasty, fresh food and quality time together.
  • If you must buy regular produce from the grocery store, wash the shit out of it when you get it home. 
  • Get a chicken. Eat its fresh eggs. Chickens are awesome and super entertaining. If Tori Spelling can keep one as a pet I'm sure you can figure it out.
  • Post a craigslist ad in your community to pool local farming and dairy resources. Build a network.
  • Research off brand labels in your grocery store.  Kroger (Fred Meyer and QFC) is a huge grocery name with affordable poultry prices.  They also only do business with 2 farms who are both required to slaughter their chickens using CAS instead of traditional electrocution and scalding water baths.
You may not be able to do a lot, but you can surely do a little. Everyone can. I'm not asking you to spend a ton a month at Whole Foods. I'm just asking you to not do nothing. I'm asking you to think and make educated choices.

My point is, don't be dumb. You're better than that.

A few years ago I had a conversation about organic food with my Nanna. Her response?

"Back then we just called it food."

More poignant words could not be spoken.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! I always feel "lucky" to live a few blocks from a butcher that sells locally produced meat and eggs (Rainshadow Meats in Melrose Market), but it's also frustrating that I should feel "lucky." I believe that everyone should have access to whole, organic, safe and affordable healthy foods. I do empathize with friends who have kids and don't have a choice but to buy their meat and processed foods in bulk due to financial and time constraints, but I also don't think meat should be so accessible and mass produced. It's quite the dilemma, but the more people know about where their food comes from, the more they can make educated decisions.

    Thanks for this post - I always have to remind myself every few months that it's definitely worth the extra bucks (for meat at least - organic produce, such as the farmer's market is typically affordable), and exercising constraint, with animal products. It's such a shame that our government is so deeply entangled (in a horrid $$$$ way) with the agricultural industry, and we need to stop turning a blind eye.