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WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Call us jaded; the thrill of harvesting our rampantly ripening strawberries wears off awfully fast. All that stooping leaves us kvetching about our aching backs like an arthritic granny.

But we love to eat the fruits of our labor. So, we delegate the berry picking to the diminutive die-cast Gnome Chompsky, who’s just the right height to collect bushels of berries without bending over.

And, as a bonus, he’s too short to register on Lou Dobb’s radar. Thank goodness, too, because Gnome is an Asian immigrant, and I‘m not sure he’s documented. We’d rather employ an American gnome, of course, but, quite frankly, we’re on a pretty tight budget and we just couldn’t afford it.

Rising petroleum costs drove the plastic pink flamingo, that indigenous American icon, to extinction last year. So I guess we should be thankful that you can even buy an American-made garden gnome at any price.

Maybe we should save up for a Made-in-the-USA gnome; for $42.94 (including shipping) we could get a high quality ceramic Dubya Lumberjack Gnome cutting down a tree. But would he take time out from his clear-cutting to cut our Gnome some slack, or would he ship him back to China?

 

 

WALK A MILE IN MY HOOVES

Cows have passed the tipping point when it comes to all this agribiz abuse. The Udderites are uniting! The bovines are blogging! And you can read their moo-ving manifesto at CowsUnite.org, whose bovine Sisters bellow the following beefs:

“COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COWS.
Cows are not machines—we are equals in the interdependent circle of life. All our rights begin with this right.

COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO GRAZE.
Turn us loose to graze in pastures free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. We will take only what we need and we will refresh the soil. You will be happier for it, too. Our milk will be delicious and delightful. Promise.

COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO JUST SAY NO TO DRUGS.
The days of experimentation are over. Stop pushing the synthetic hormones and antibiotics! Organic is the right way for Sisters everywhere.

COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY AND JOY.
When we are free to move about outdoors, it’s our best opportunity for dignity, health and joy—and a chance at joy should be the right of all living things. Even dogs.

COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO DECENT HELP.
Sure, us cows are the all-stars, but the time has come to say thanks to the little guys—the organic family farmers. We can’t do this alone. Fair pay for an honest day’s nurturing and care. It’s all we ask. Viva la family farm!

COWS HAVE THE RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR.
Nothing makes us breathe easier than local customers. When you choose milk from pastures close by, you reduce trucking. It’s pretty nifty. Less air pollution, less fuel used, and support for your neighboring farmers, all from one little milk choice.”

I hope someday we’ll look back on the era of feedlots as a calamitous kink in our food chain, a disastrous detour guided by greed and hubris. But I’m not the only one calling for the fall of the feedlots. Peter Melchett, policy director for Britain’s foremost environmental charity, the Soil Association, gave a speech earlier this year, in which he declared:

“I am convinced that the era of industrial and intensive farming will be seen as a brief blip, a wrong turn, from which we hopefully recovered fairly quickly.”

Anti-agribiz activists and pro-pasture prophets have been warning us for years—decades, even—that industrial agriculture is an across-the-board disaster for us, the animals, and the environment. Wendell Berry sounded the agrarian alarm with The Unsettling of America back in 1977, and continued to hammer on the folly of factory farming in his 1990 collection of essays What Are People For? Berry noted that the food industry has a powerful incentive to keep Americans in the dark about the dark side of industrial agriculture:

“…it would not do for the consumer to know that the hamburger she is eating came from a steer who spent much of his life standing deep in his own excrement in a feedlot, helping to pollute the local streams, or that the calf that yielded the veal cutlet on her plate spent its life in a box in which it did not have room to turn around…

…the consumer…must be kept from discovering that in the food industry—as in any other industry—the overriding concerns are not quality and health but volume and price. For decades now, the entire industrial food economy, from the large farms and feedlots to the chains of supermarkets and fast food restaurants, has been obsessed with volume. It has relentlessly increased scale in order to increase volume in order (presumably) to reduce costs. But as scale increases, diversity declines; as diversity declines, so does health; as health declines, the dependence on drugs, and chemicals, necessarily increases. As capital replaces labor, it does so by substituting machines, drugs, and chemicals for human workers and for the natural health and fertility of the soil. The food is produced by any means or any shortcut that will increase profits.”

And, by that standard, factory farming has been a smashing success, swelling the coffers of the corporate-financed CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) while We, the Sheeple, pay the toll this perverted form of food production takes on our bodies, our soil, our air, our waterways, and the animals forced to live short, dismal lives in utter squalor.

America’s had a hearty appetite for cheap meat and dairy products these last few decades, but writers like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Barbara Kingsolver have crashed the gates of the feedlots and invited us in to get a glimpse of the muck and misery. People are revolted. And revolting, in growing numbers.

Big Ag will fight this grassroots revolution with an army of Astroturf websites, morally bankrupt biostitutes and faux populist pundits, but it’s too late to bolt the doors and hide the horror. The cows are out of the barn. The future is in the pasture.

A RAY OF HOPE: RACHEL LAUGHS ALL THE WAY TO THE FOOD BANK

I used to read the National Enquirer because (a) it entertained me, and (b) it always made me feel so profoundly grateful that I wasn’t rich and famous. Who wants to live in that eternal purgatory of publicity?

My Macmeister husband Matt provides tech support to some pretty famous and wealthy people, so I’ve had the chance to observe this exotic species up close, and I can say one thing for sure: they are just as starved for approval and affection as the rest of the human race.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted that “the very rich are different from you and me,” to which Hemingway reportedly replied, “yes, they have more money.”

Ah, but--as the Beatles so astutely, and tunefully, observed--money can’t buy me love.

And it can’t buy you a thicker skin, either. Being in the public eye means being forever in the bull’s eye, a human dart board perpetually peppered by snark-tipped darts.

All of which brings me to Rachel Ray, whose recent appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulis caught me off guard. There she was on the Sunday wonkfest making a pitch for the Great American Bake Sale, a fundraiser to help the hungry:

“Imagine what it's really like to go hungry. And then imagine what that must be like for a small child, how that must make them feel, completely lesser-than in every way; they're not good enough to get food?"

Ray recently founded a non-profit named (what else?) Yum-O, to which some will no doubt say, Yuck-O! Her mission? To empower “kids and their families to improve their relationship with food and cooking.”

Well, I’m down with that. I saw Michael Pollan give a reading from the Omnivore’s Dilemma last year and after he read a thoroughly depressing excerpt about the awful American diet, someone asked him ”What can we do to change things?” His response? “People have to start cooking again.”

This is, of course, the message of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Movement, too, but Petrini will find it slow going indeed trying to make inroads in the back roads of America’s artery-clogged heartland. Ray’s thirty minute mantra, by contrast, reaches legions of people who’ve never heard of artisanal cheese and do not spend an inordinate amount of time weighing what brew to pair with their pork chops.

I’ve never been a fan of Ray’s, but I’m not a Ray hater, either; the Rachel Ray Sucks Community is, to me, the saddest kind of social network, a colossal waste of time when we have so many problems we’re not really tackling. Yes, she can be annoying, and I find her mannerisms grating, too, but I’m way more bothered by the fathead in the White House than the pleasantly plump, eternally sunny Ray.

I know foodies who insist Ray has set the cause of real food back decades with her reliance on short cut convenience foods. But I’ve seen the proverbial Joe six-pack types at my local farmstand upstate snatch up bunches of kale saying “Hey, isn’t this that stuff Rachel Ray is always cooking with?” Anyone who can boost kale sales gets whole grain/fair trade chocolate/agave-sweetened brownie points from me.

More importantly, someone who uses her fame to try to get Americans to focus on less fortunate folks deserves better than derision. And getting Americans back in the kitchen to cook is, as another much-mocked domestic diva would say, “a good thing,” even if Ray’s recipes rely on shortcuts that make food snobs cringe.

Is Rachel Ray someone I’d want to hang out with? I don’t know, but I’m glad she’s throwing her weight--which the Rachel Ray Sucks Community loves to fixate on—behind fighting hunger and getting Americans cooking again.

If I had to be stuck in a food desert with someone, I’d take Rachel Ray over the Rachel Ray Sucks Community any day. Because I’d rather talk about real food and real problems than ask whether so-and-so is too thin, or too fat. Why not ask yourselves instead why healthy foods are so expensive they’re perceived as a luxury item, and why taking the time to make a home-cooked meal is another luxury so many overworked, underpaid Americans feel they can’t afford?

WHITE HOUSE GAS EMISSIONS


I give President Bush an “A” for his new global warming initiative—an “A” for apathy. Admittedly, this is progress over the “A” he earned in his first term for being Adversarial-with-a-capital “A” when it comes to climate change. He’s a chip off the old blockhead; remember how Bush Sr. derisively nicknamed Al Gore “Ozone Man”? Junior picked up where Poppy left off on the campaign trail in 2000, gleefully mocking Gore’s proposed tax breaks for solar panels, or, as he drawled out contemptuously in his faux-hayseed twang, “Foe-toe-vole-TAY-ICK panels.”

As students go, Duh-bya’s not what you’d call a quick study; in fact, he’s fond of boasting about being a “C” student in college, and as Commander in Chief he’s up to his neck in “C’s”: a “C” for cronyism, a “C” for corruption, a “C” for craven indifference to the Constitution, Katrina victims, and all us ink-stained wretches whose names don’t end in “Inc.” To be fair, the Blunderkind-in-a-Bubble has earned a “B” or two as well, most notably for belligerence and blind faith.

And yet, over the weekend, the beltway pundits gave Bush a pass on his bald, I mean, bold new proposal to meet with the rest of the world’s greatest greenhouse gas emitters to advance his agenda of establishing voluntary, or “aspirational,” goals to tackle the problems of greenhouse gas emissions, without imposing the stifling constraints of actual commitments.

Give me a “B” for baffled. The bar gets set ever lower while the sea levels rise. This administration’s moved at a glacial pace when it comes to coping with climate change, to employ a slightly anachronistic adjective that now suggests rapidly melting ice caps more than slow moving bureaucrats.

"The world is on the verge of great breakthroughs that will help us become better stewards of the environment," President Bush announced as he unveiled his proposal-to-hold-meetings-to-craft-a-plan-to-formulate-an-agenda-to-set-goals-to…hey! It’s getting really hot in here, could we, like, open a window or crank up the AC, or something?

Actually, we already have the tools we need to tackle this urgent problem NOW, according to Bill McKibben, who must be hoarse after hollering about our ever hotter planet for nearly twenty years, from his chilling, prophetic 1989 warning about global warming, The End of Nature, to his newest shout-out to sustainability, Deep Economy (note to Oprah—how about a plug for this book and a plug-in hybrid giveaway?)

What we haven’t got, as McKibben noted in an article earlier this year for the Sierra Club, is a leader willing to call for serious conservation and a radical rethinking of our willfully wasteful way of life. Because that would require asking Americans to sacrifice, and that’s just such a buzzkill. Much better to hitch our Hummers to a star in the far-off galaxy of Mañana:

“…Much of what passes for discussion about our energy woes is spent imagining some magic fuel that will save us. Solar power! Fusion power! Hydrogen power!

…The United States' current energy plan, assembled by Vice President Dick Cheney with the help of leading fossil-fuel executives, calls for postponing the future: more drilling, more refining, more combusting, more carbon. It's the policy equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, "I can't hear you!" over and over again…

…In fact, it's pretty clear that what we need most at this point is not just some new technology…We need new attitudes and behaviors, not new lightbulbs and reactors.”

How many Bushies does it take to change to fluorescent light bulbs, anyway? No one knows, because they’re hellbent on wringing every last dirty drop of oil out of the soil before they’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into a greener, cleaner future.

I share McKibben’s conviction that we’ve got to tap into people power to curb our collective carbon footprint. Bush’s free market free-for-all is just a way to stall, a perfect display of White house window dressing. Sunday’s Independent offered a helpful translation of Bush’s transparent attempt to head critics off at the impasse that’s sure to come at this week’s G8 summit in Germany:

“'In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it.'

Translation: In recent years, my refusal to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of global warming has turned me into a laughing-stock and contributed to my record low poll ratings. So now I have to look interested.

'The United States takes this issue seriously.'

Translation: Al Gore takes this issue seriously, his movie was a hit, and it's causing me no end of grief.

'By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term goal for reducing greenhouse gases.'

Translation: By the end of next year, I'll be weeks away from the end of my presidency and this can be someone else's problem.

'To develop this goal, the United States will convene a series of meetings of nations that produce the most greenhouse gasses, including nations with rapidly growing economies such as India and China.'

Translation: We will look as busy as we can without doing anything.

'The new initiative I am outlining today will contribute to the important dialogue that will take place in Germany.'

Translation: The new initiative will put the brakes on the much more robust proposal the Germans are putting forward. As long as dialogue continues, we won't have to abide by any decisions.

Well, that’s the Decider for you, taking decisive inaction.

MAHER & MOORE CHEW (OUT) THE FAT


Finally, fruits and vegetables have a heavyweight in their corner! OK, so it’s Michael Moore, the famously unfit filmmaker from Flint. And why not? Who better to go to bat for carrot sticks and veggie dips than a working class hero who’s had a few too many heroes himself?

Our revered and reviled roly-poly rabble rouser revealed his new appreciation for produce--the least loved link in our meat-centric food chain—in his first interview in two and a half years on last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Moore told Maher how the process of filming “Sicko,” his latest Woe-is-Us opus, compelled him to reassess his own lousy habits. After all, what could be more galvanizing (and galling) than finding you’re too flabby to even gaze at your own navel? Let’s face it, getting exercised about unjust wars and uncaring corporations doesn’t raise your heart rate enough to qualify as aerobic. And then there are those powdered sugar pushers on the film production’s payroll whose sole job is to dole out donuts all day.

So Moore’s on a mission to put the “Active” back in activist, and he’s asking Americans to bypass those high fructose, transfatty highways that lead to a bypass. Bill Maher, eternally disgusted with Yoo-hoo-drinking yahoos and coddled kids who can’t eat a piece of fruit unless it’s been pre-sliced and packaged like a potato chip, was only too happy to pile on about the crap we pile on our plates:

MAHER: …The human body is pretty amazing; it doesn’t get sick, usually, for no reason. I mean, there’s some genetic stuff that can get to you, but, basically, people are sick in this country because they’re poisoned.

The environment is a poisoning factor, but also, we gotta say, they poison themselves. They eat shit. People eat shit, and that’s, to my way of thinking, about 90% of why people are sick, is because they eat shit. Would you agree?

MOORE: Well, that’s right…not 90%, but I would say that people, who are certainly young, or young adults, or even middle-aged people, if they took better care of themselves…I mean, you’re looking at somebody right now that, while I was making this film, actually, I said to myself, you know, this is kinda hypocritical. You’re making a movie about health care, and you’re not even taking care of your own health…

MAHER: You look a lot thinner! I thought that was Ben Affleck…

MOORE: (laughing) Ah, man, poor Ben…no, but what I did, was, I said, you know, I’m gonna participate. This isn’t in the movie, but I guess you see it in the movie, because I’m a little different because I decided one way to beat the system is, take care of yourself, and I found that just by going for a walk thirty minutes a day, and I discovered these things called fruits and vegetables, which are amazing. But you don’t have to do a lot, and I would say, to guys like me from the Midwest, you know, we’re never gonna go on a diet, or join an aerobics class, or whatever. But if you just moved around a little bit, turned the tv off, ate a few things differently, you would avoid the nightmare that awaits so many people who enter the healthcare system in this country. As you pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we’re behind Costa Rica in health care, we’re just ahead of Slovenia, and that should be an embarrassment to most Americans.

Actually, it should be an embarrassment to all Americans, but maybe Moore was making an exception for the vultures who feather their nests by telling us chickens to pluck off--the Big Pharma Frankensteins and their health insurance industry Igors. Oh, and don’t forget Big Food, whose bottom line can only grow by growing our bottoms bigger. As NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle notes in What to Eat:

The deep dark secret of American agriculture (revealed only by agricultural economists behind closed doors) is that there is far too much food available—3,900 calories per day for every man, woman, and child in the country, whereas the average adult needs only a bit more than half that amount, and children much less.

So Big Food plies us with Paul Bunyan-sized portions of poisonous processed foods while Big Pharma stands by, silent and salivating, waiting for our cholesterol to go through the roof so it can rush to the rescue and lower it with Lipitor, the biggest selling drug ever.

NPR’s Morning Edition reported last week that diet and exercise can be just as effective as drugs—or, in some cases, even more so--for people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. But you won’t see any multi-million dollar ad campaigns advertising this fact. As I pointed out a few months back, “if Americans actually stopped overeating and started working out it would be a disaster for Big Food and Big Pharma.”

Of course, such a shift might save ourselves, and the planet, but corporate profits would plummet. The very notion of a fit nation must give the corporations conniption fits.

I know some people quibble about Michael Moore’s methodology, and there will always be wingnuts who call him an America-hater for having the audacity to suggest that We the People have the right to reject the fossil-fueled, faith-based, Fuhrer Knows Best kind of government the Decider’s decreed that we need.

Moore takes on the tough topics every time, and gets grief from both sides for it. With “Sicko,” though, he’s turned his lens on a problem so pervasive that it touches the lives of most Americans and transcends partisan rancor. Fox news reportedly called it “brilliant” and “uplifting,” and Moore told Maher about attending a screening at which some teary-eyed Republicans actually thanked him for making this film. And you thought compassionate conservatism was just some hokey, jokey Rovian trope!

As Moore noted at the top of the interview, “Illness and sickness doesn’t know any kind of political stripe, this affects Democrats and Republicans, and we’ve got a huge, greedy industry in this country, and there should be no room for greed when we’re talking about people’s health, and that has to be removed, we’ve got to get rid of these profits…”

Tell that to Wall Street, whose message to Main Street is “drop dead.” But not till you’ve spent your life savings paying for health insurance coverage that picks your pocket but won’t pick up the tab for the procedures and prescriptions that could save your life.

GONE FISHIN’? NOT EXACTLY…

Farmer Kitty and the rest of us at Eating Liberally have been so busy planting our vegetables and immersing ourselves in the minutiae of the Farm bill that blogging has taken a backseat lately. Please bear with us while we get our greens in the ground, we’ll have plenty more posts--and maybe even a podcast or two--after this weekend. We thank you for your patience!

JUST LIKE HONEY

Thanks to the Union Square Greenmarket being only a hop, skip and a jump away, Kanga’s discovered a variety of Japanese turnip named Hakurei that’s so sweet and tasty that it’s got Roo--and even Pooh--rooting for a root vegetable.

Kanga, motherly marsupial that she is, has been bugging Pooh to shape up and set a better example for Roo for, like, a century, now, to no avail.

The eternally tubby teddy with the honey habit made his debut in 1924 in an A. A. Milne poem titled, simply, “Teddy Bear.” The last stanza sums up the unapologetically pudgy plush icon’s bad attitude about his bad habits:

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our teddy bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about–
He’s proud of being short and stout.

But now that manufacturers have been obliged to supersize child safety seats to accommodate our ever tubbier toddlers, Kanga worries that Roo might go from stuffed to overstuffed and burst both their seams.

So she’s on a mission to change the way Pooh and Roo eat, and her latest ploy relies on finding the freshest, sweetest-tasting vegetables and telling Pooh, “Try them, they taste just like candy!” She’s also discovered that Pooh will happily consume Del Cabo’s honey bunch grape tomatoes by the handful because, being the Bear of Little Brain that he is, he thinks they actually contain honey.

OK, so Del Cabo, the organic Mexican farming cooperative, is admittedly not local, but before you report Kanga to the food mile cops, I would like to note, in her defense, that, as Peter Singer and Jim Mason note in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, “The Del Cabo cooperative stands as an ethical alternative to the idea that we should only buy locally produced food.”

According to Singer and Mason, “Today Del Cabo cooperative has about 300 small farms and earns $7 millon dollars a year from sales of organic vegetables. The farmers can send their children to school and feed their families more adequately than they could before.”

Plus, the cherry tomatoes currently at the Greenmarket have been grown in fossil fuel-heated greenhouses, which is a perfect example of why it’s too simplistic to say that local is always low-impact.

But Pooh and Roo really don’t give a toss about all that. They just want to stuff themselves with sweet grape tomatoes and tasty turnips. Mission accomplished!

LET THEM EAT COWPIES

E. coli sticks to spinach leaves the way our Commander in Chief clings to his cadre of corrupt and incompetent cronies. You can wash them till the cows come home but they’re still gonna be tainted.

Everyone’s leery of leafy greens these days, particularly those plucked from central California’s fecund but fatally fecal farmlands. Thanks to repeated E. coli outbreaks, the Region-Formerly-Known-as-the-Nation’s-Salad-Bowl has been rebranded America’s Petri dish.

And that’s bad for business. Because a product that has the potential to give you bloody diarrhea or even kill you has--let’s be honest--a somewhat limited shelf appeal.

Which is why it was so wonderful to see Paul Krugman taint the anti-regulatory right with that same bacteria-laden brush in his New York Times op-ed column yesterday, calling them “E. coli Conservatives.”

Credit for this Rove-worthy, Luntzlike bit of re-branding goes to historian Rick Perlstein, who’s been flogging the FDA's follies on his blog, Campaign for America’s Future.

We liberals are perpetually puzzled by the way that conservatives assess every threat to our health and safety and the future of our planet through corporate-colored glasses. After all, as Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (and pal to Bonny Prince Charles, who’s a royal eco-geek,) noted in another fine New York Times op ed, “Has Politics Contaminated the Food Supply?”:

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you still have to eat.

To which I would only add, crunchy granola greenmarket goers may consume more spinach per capita than chickenwing-chomping wingnuts, but E. coli is a non partisan poison. Consider the case of 83-year-old Betty Howard of Richland, Wash., who succumbed to E. coli-induced heart failure this February after battling the deadly bacteria in a rehab facility for five months.

Howard’s grieving family sent a letter to State Senator Dean Flores, the Central California Democrat who’s introduced legislation to toughen standards for his state’s greens growers, which read (somewhat ungrammatically) in part:

Betty Howard and most of the Howard family are Republican's. She would have, and we do also, wholeheartedly support your efforts here today. Because if my mother were here today she would tell you this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It a not a government verses grower issue. The issue is very simple: It is in the best interest of the 300 million Americans and making the nation's food supply safer.

It would also be in our best interests for the MSM to stop their pseudo-sleuthing in the Salinas spinach fields and set foot in the feedlots--the actual source of this especially virulent strain of E. coli. Guess they just don’t want to step in it.

But as Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, Marion Nestle, and all us grass-fed grassroots activists are telling anyone who’ll listen, E. coli 0157:H7 is an unintended by-product of industrial agriculture’s dubious practice of feeding cows grain instead of grass. As Nestle told WYNC’s Brian Lehrer:

“E. coli is a normal inhabitant of every animal’s digestive tract, including ours, but this is a special form of E. coli that picked up a toxin from a different form of bacteria called shigella, and it’s a normal inhabitant of the animal intestinal tract if, and only if, animals are fed corn rather than grass, which changes the acidity of their digestive tracts…

…it may have been around forever, but it only started causing problems in the early 1980’s when we started having these big confinement animal facilities…it’s one of these newly emergent pathogenic bacterial species that we have to worry about and in this case it’s a result of the kind of farming practices that we do…”

The USDA does recognize the hazard that E. coli-contaminated CAFO manure lagoons pose to our food chain, and that’s why they—i.e., we the people—pay 75% of the costs feedlot farmers incur in order to make their manure lagoons watertight.

Meanwhile, Kansas State University researchers are testing a vaccine that could reduce the presence of E. coli O157 in feedlot cattle, according to Agriculture Online.

But the solution to this manmade problem lies not in lining the feedlot lagoons with concrete, or creating new vaccines, according to Planck:

“There remains only one long-term remedy, and it’s still the simplest one: stop feeding grain to cattle.”

Maybe if more Americans understood that the feedlots are breeding grounds for deadly disease, they’d be willing to cut back on the burgers and—for those who can afford it, not to mention find it--even pay a premium for pasture-raised meats, whose availability is growing as more and more folks realize that grass-fed’s the way to go.

But it’s hard to get the word out when the media beyond the blogosphere is doing such a lousy job of covering this story. How many people know, for instance, that Central California farmers irrigate their fields with treated sewage effluent? Frank Pecarich, a retired USDA soil scientist who writes for California Progress Report has been trying to spread the word about sewage-sprayed-spinach for months. Pecarich cites the testimony provided at last week’s FDA hearing in Oakland by Dr. Michael Lynch, a doctor for the Foodborne and Diarrheal Disease Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

There is a definite time correlation between the initiation of Monterey County’s use of treated sewage water as an irrigation source and the huge increase in pathogen outbreaks with Salinas Valley vegetables. About 384 outbreaks linked to produce occurred in the six years between 1998 and 2004, which is about twice the 190 that happened in the 24 years from 1973 to 1997.

So, as Pecarich points out, the number of pathogen outbreaks jumped 200% over the previous 24 years when Monterey County launched its sewage treated water irrigation program on 12,000 acres of vegetables.

Another outbreak is all but inevitable, according to experts. What a great way to organically grow the anti-agribiz grassroots! So, thanks, all you E. coli Conservatives. You’ve dug yourselves into a hole on this one, and it looks like you’re determined to keep digging all the way to China.

ACTION ALERT: DON’T LET CONSERVATION BUY THE FARM

I have a not-very-taxing question for all you tax payers out there:

Would you like to see your hard-earned dollars used to conserve precious wetlands and vital habitats, or would you prefer to see that money used to build football field-sized pools of pigshit generated by industrial pork producers?

The "manure lagoons" that surround Smithfield slaughterhouses like methane-filled moats emit a deadly and brain-damaging gas called hydrogen sulfide, so for the people who live downwind from them the question is, presumably, a no-brainer.

But what about the 90% of Americans who don't live on or near a farm? Would we rather see our agricultural policies promote conservation, or help fund factory farm cesspools that spew lethal levels of contaminants into air, soil and water with that legendary agribiz efficiency?

Congressman Collin Peterson, Democrat from Minnesota and Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee, thinks we'd rather put our money into pollution than preservation.

So he's submitted a 2007 Farm Bill Proposal that would take funds away from the conservation programs that provide, among other things, aid to sustainable and organic farms, and use it instead to help corporate owned CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) offset the cost of creating more manure lagoons.

I know, I know, you're thinking, sheesh, like Smithfield needs a handout?

But, actually, it turns out that they do, because, as Jeff Teitz noted in a scathing expose for Rolling Stone about Smithfield's execrable handling of its excrement, "There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company."

And that's the largest, most profitable pork producer in the world we're talking about. You would think they could afford to deal responsibly with the vast pits of toxic waste that are a by-product of industrial pork production methods. But you'd be wrong, according to Tietz:

Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money.

So obviously Smithfield needs a hand from Uncle Sam.

But what about all those forward-thinking farmers looking to be better stewards of the land? Don't they need assistance, too?

"In 2004, three out of every four farmers and ranchers applying to participate in Farm Bill conservation programs were rejected due to lack of funds," as Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Dan Imhoff, author of Food Fight, the delightfully digestible, if disturbing, guide to the Farm Bill that's chock full of shocking charts and statistics. Read it or you'll get no dessert. Or should I say, if you don't read it, and don't lobby your legislators to better this bill, you'll get your just desserts.

Notes Imhoff, "In dollar terms, eight and a half out of every ten dollars requested were denied due to the funding shortfall. In fact, the 2004 backlog for conservation dollars exceeds the total funding available in 2005 by a three-to-one margin."

Despite being chronically underfunded, the Farm Bill's conservation programs have managed to restore nearly two million acres of wetlands and reverse the decline of waterfowl whose habitat gets destroyed when farmers drain wetlands to plant commodity crops.

More farmers clamor every year to board the sustainability bandwagon, but Congressman Peterson's decided we can't give them a lift. His proposal guts the Conservation Security Program and shifts those funds to the already amply funded Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which goes in part to help defray the costs incurred by CAFOs.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee's set to vote on Congressman Peterson's proposal tomorrow, Tuesday, May 22nd.

So if you'd like to see your tax dollars help underwrite the costs of more disease and death caused by CAFO-contaminated waterways, air, and soil; antibiotics rendered less effective in people by their overuse in chronically sick livestock made ill by horrendous living conditions; the millions of fish killed every time the manure lagoons burst and spill tons of toxic manure into our rivers (which they do regularly, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council); and millions more fish who die because of oxygen-gobbling "dead zones" that spread algae blooms thousands of miles along our coasts, fed by nutrients in animal waste, well, then, just sit back and let congress take its course.

If, like me, you think it makes more sense to encourage sustainable farming and conservation instead of funding more factory farms, you have only one day--today, May 21st--to ask your representative to, you know, represent you.

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