Archive for the tag “local food”

Prop 37 Fails: Why We Can’t Rely on Policy to Change Our Food System

On Tuesday, Californians voted on Proposition 37, which if passed, would have required the mandatory labeling of genetically-modified foods (GMOs). Ultimately, the proposition failed by a relatively narrow margin: 46.9 percent to 53.1 percent. This indicates that close to half of all California voters (or more than four million people) would like GMOs labeled and greater transparency on the part of the food industry. As for those who voted no, many were likely swayed by the aggressive marketing (read: propaganda) efforts of the Big Food companies that poured more than $45 million dollars into the “No on 37” campaign.

According to public health lawyer Michele Simon, Big Food companies like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Nestle, and Kraft, which donated funds to “No on 37” engaged in lying, scare tactics, misrepresentation, and various dirty tricks to protect their profits and keep California voters uninformed about their food choices.

None of this should surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the power that Big Food corporations wield and the deception they employ to encourage consumers to buy products that are causing harm to their health, the environment and their communities.

The problem with the tactic employed by proponents of Prop 37 is that the food movement attempted to directly confront Big Food in a legislative, policy-based battle. Prop 37 proponents worked in the arena that Big Food controls. Our governmental food agencies are strongly influenced by Big Ag and Big Food through lobbying and PAC donations. As Americans, we function under a state of corporate socialism and in no situation is this more apparent than when it comes to our food.

Engaging a government with deep ties to Big Food was a valiant and courageous effort, but the proposition’s failure shows that the food movement should rely more on itself and less on the government. This is the same government that appointed former head of public policy at Monsanto, Michael Taylor, as deputy commissioner of foods at the FDA. This is also the same government that continually hands out subsidies to the producers of the largest commodity crops like corn and soy, which are predominately (upwards of 90 percent) GMO. The federal government also determines the content of school lunches across the country and exhibited its allegiance to Big Food corporations when Congress voted to keep the designation of pizza as a vegetable in school meals — much to the pleasure of Big Food companies like ConAgra and Schwan’s, which manufacture and sell these products to schools.

Tom Philpot pointed out recently that if that food movement wants to make this bold of a move, it had better be ready for a fight. Or put more pithily, Philpot quotes Omar of The Wire, “‘Come at the king, you best not miss.'”

The real answer to usurping power from corporations like Monsanto, Kraft and Coca-cola lies in navigating terrain these corporations aren’t already deeply entrenched in. The “Yes on Prop 37” campaign raised nine million dollars to get its message out but was outspent fivefold by Big Food. The food movement learned a valuable lesson in the failure of Prop 37: We can’t outspend Big Food and we can’t out campaign them — but we can outsmart them.

This is precisely why the food movement should be operating with more stealth, savvy and direct-action style engagement. One example of this and an immediate solution to the lack of labeling on GMO foods is for consumers to label foods themselves (visit labelityourself.com). This site provides ready-made warning labels for GMO foods and advocates for guerrilla-style tactics. “Label It Yourself is a decentralized, autonomous grassroots campaign born out of our broken food system,” according to the site. “We have been asking our government to label food products so we can make educated decisions about what we eat. The government has ignored our requests and so we are taking matters into our own hands.”

Mandating the labeling of GMOs in California would have been an enormous victory for the food movement but the fact that Prop 37 failed indicates that we need to speak louder and with more ferocity. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it has become abundantly clear that time is of the essence. Big Ag is the second largest contributor to climate change and it accounts for roughly a third of emissions globally. We can’t wait to be saved from the devastation that climate change is bringing to our communities.

Localizing our food supply and minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides presents a viable alternative to Big Ag’s devastating forms of food production and has the potential to create truly sustainable and resilient communities. But let’s not wait for legislation or for the government to cut ties with Big Food — let’s cut those ties ourselves as we develop, build, and connect the localized food communities that are forming all over the country. We can create an alternative food infrastructure. It’s time for the “food movement” in its myriad and infinite permutations, to coalesce into a force to be reckoned with. This didn’t happen with Prop 37 or a legislative battle but it can be done. What are we waiting for?

Written by Kristin Wartman and Erika Lade, also published on The Huffington Post

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The Truth about Turkey

We have created a petition to tell Butterball—the number one producer of turkeys in America—that Americans are no longer going to purchase turkeys that are inhumanely treated, or support a factory-farm system that creates dire environmental and health consequences. Please sign the petition here.


How much do you know about your Thanksgiving turkey? If you buy your turkey from a typical grocery store–and most Americans do–you might not realize that the approximately 46 million turkeys consumed every year come from a factory farm.

But if Thanksgiving is truly about offering gratitude for what we have, it seems fitting to also be grateful to the turkey that many of us will eat for dinner. We ought to think about how that turkey lived before ending up on our tables. With that in mind, let’s first take a look at the life of a turkey in an industrial farm.

Turkeys on factory farms are hatched in incubators mostly on large farms in the Midwest or the South. A few days after hatching, turkeys have their upper beaks snipped off. Once the beak is removed, the turkey can no longer pick and choose what it wants to eat. In their natural environment, turkeys are omnivores. But in a factory farm, turkeys are fed a steady diet of corn-based grain feed laced with antibiotics.

Industrially produced turkeys spend their first three weeks of life crammed into a brooder with hundreds of other birds. In the fourth week, turkey chicks are moved from the brooder to a giant window-less room with 10,000 other turkeys where bright lights shine 24 hours a day. With the lights constantly blaring, natural sleeping, eating, and fertility patterns are completely disrupted and the turkeys are, for the most part, kept awake and eating non-stop. Turkeys have an instinct to roost, or to clutch something when they sleep, but on the floor of a crowded room there is no such opportunity. If this is starting to sound like torture to you, you’re on the mark.

As a result of these unhealthy and crowded living conditions, farmers must feed the turkeys a constant supply of antibiotics. Pesticides are also widely used to inhibit the spread of disease. Antibiotics are also known to promote weight gain in farm animals and this connection is being made in humans now as well. In an effort to maximize the more profitable white breast meat, farmers have genetically selected and bred the white broad breasted turkey, which become so top heavy that they can no longer stand or reproduce and as a result, all industrial turkeys are created by artificial insemination. Turkeys are then brought to slaughter, often in a brutal way.

If that wasn’t enough to make you reconsider your Butterball, there’s more. Thanksgiving is also a time when we honor the abundance of the harvest represented by the bounty on our tables. But supporting a Big Turkey farm (or any factory farm) contributes to the devastation of our natural environment and imperils the safety of our food supply.

According to the USDA, factory-farmed animals in the U.S. produce 61 million tons of waste each year–130 times the volume of human waste. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that hog, chicken, and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. Polluted runoff from factory farms and other industrial farms is the biggest water pollution problem in the U.S., according to the EPA.

Human health is impacted in other ways by factory farming. Just this past August, Cargill announced a recall of 185,000 pounds of ground turkey due to Salmonella contamination. With recalls and food-borne illnesses on the rise as a result of conditions in factory farms, it seems wise to avoid these foods for that reason alone.

Factory farmed meat is also implicated in long-term health consequences. Resistance to antibiotics is now a growing concern among many in the medical field and it is largely due to the 29 million pounds administered to factory-raised animals every year. As it stands today, one out of six cases of Campylobacter infection, the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning, is resistant to the antibiotic most used to treat it. And nearly all strains of Staphylococcal infections have become resistant to penicillin, while many are developing resistance to newer drugs as well. Indeed, 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country are used on factory-farmed animals according to an FDA report.

And finally, there is the nitty-gritty of nutritional value in these factory-farmed foods. Studies show that pastured-based meat and dairy are far more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. They are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C and contain far more Omega-3 fatty acids. Turkeys that are raised on grass and allowed to roam around and practice normal turkey behavior are healthier, safer to eat, good for the environment, and get to live a happy life. Our best option is to eat high quality meat and a lot less of it.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful to the turkey that we’re eating and opt out of supporting a system of abuse and environmental destruction. Eat a pasture-raised turkey or make a vegetarian alternative for this year’s Thanksgiving feast.

Eat Wild is a valuable resource for pasture-raised meat and animal products. Brooklyn Based also lists pasture-raised turkeys available for sale in New York City. Slow Food USA has information and resources for heritage breed turkeys. Meatless Monday offers 10 tips for cooking a meatless Thanksgiving.

We have created a petition to tell Butterball—the number one producer of turkeys in America—that Americans are no longer going to purchase turkeys that are inhumanely treated, or support a factory-farm system that creates dire environmental and health consequences. Please sign the petition here.

“Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

Joel Salatin was in Union Square yesterday talking about his new book, appropriately titled, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and passionately spoke about the state of industrial agriculture and its effects on our soil, our health, and our culture.

When I asked him what we could do as activists to align ourselves with the Occupy movements and combat Big Food he said, “The beauty of that is you don’t have to wait for a government regulation, you don’t have to wait for a program, you don’t have to wait for an agency.” Rather, Salatin said that all cultural movements are started from the bottom-up with real grass-roots activism. He went on to say that we all need to get into our kitchens and get cooking. He said, “Get in your kitchens, buy unprocessed foods, turn off the TV, and prepare your own foods. This is liberating.”

Salatin also advised us all to start growing something — anything, even on a small patio or windowsill. If we can’t grow anything, he said, then we should come to the farmers markets and buy from our local farmers. “Know you food, know your farmers, and know your kitchen. Start building up your larder! We don’t even use that term any more,” he said. “It used to be, 100 years ago, if I came into a town and said, Where’s the food? People would take me to their houses and show me their larders. Today if I ask, Where’s the food? The food is 1000 miles away in a Costco warehouse. It’s very vulnerable, very insecure. And at a time when many people feel insecure and feel like the culture is heading off a precarious precipice, we will absolutely return to some of these normal practices that our forbearers did but we will continue…to take the best of our technology into these normal structures.”

I really like Salatin’s use of the term “normal” when discussing local and sustainable food and food production. At a time when industrial agriculture has taken over what is perceived as “normal” and has largely succeeded in making Americans believe that packaged, processed foods are indeed normal, Salatin suggests a real normal — one that humans have been practicing for thousands of years — not the 60 years or so years of industrial practices. Salatin is talking about a real shift in our understanding about food and agriculture. And this shift is indeed going to come from the bottom-up; we need to address these issues in new and innovative ways. Join us in Occupying Big Food.

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