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HALLOWEEN, HOMEGROWN & LOCAL

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Pumpkin

Halloween’s no time for virtuous victuals. Let’s face it, kids and grown-ups alike want treats, not tricks. As Michael Pollan told the New York Times:

“I well remember my disgust whenever someone offered me a homemade brownie or, worst of all, an apple. Halloween is the high holy day of high fructose corn syrup…”

Our Halloween menu doesn’t go quite that far, but we are using more butter, sugar and eggs on this one day than we’d normally use in three months. We’re even dusting off the deep fryer, so Matt can make his famous Cap’n Crunch chicken nuggets (free range, of course.)

We’re not abandoning our plant based diet altogether, though, because there were just too many Halloween-hued veggies at the Greenmarket today that we couldn’t pass up: the orange and purple cauliflowers, purple carrots, orange kabocha squash, and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene--so festive!

One thing we didn’t see at the Greenmarket was a pumpkin that could hold a candle to our own homegrown Rouge Vif d’Etampes, a twenty-four pound wonder that we carefully schlepped back from our upstate garden on the train, coddling it like the rare heirloom that it is. Legend has it that the original illustrations of Cinderella’s pumpkin-turned-coach depicted a Rouge Vif d’Etampes, and it was once the most popular pumpkin in Paris.

We kind of hated to remove it from our front yard, where our friends and neighbors had been admiring it. Our friend Sue e-mailed the other day:

Just wanted to tell you that your pumpkin is looking amazing. It's the strangest most vivid hue I've witnessed on a pumpkin.

But most farmers don’t bother to grow some of the more striking heirloom varieties because they’re not very productive. A typical Rouge Vif d’Etampes vine only yields an average of two pumpkins. In our case, we just got one. But what a one! We’ll keep it on our hearth and admire it till Thanksgiving, when it will do double duty as a soup tureen, and we’ll be twice as thankful—for the lovely soup we’ll make from its flesh, and the gorgeous red-orange shell that we’ll serve it up in.

A WILD BOAR HORROR STORY

Here’s a scary story that’s all the more terrifying ‘cause it’s true: ferocious feral pigs are wreaking havoc on Australia’s agriculture to the tune of about $100 million in damages annually. From rainforests to savannahs, monster razorbacks are ravaging crops, tearing down fences, wolfing down baby lambs, spreading disease and even choking coral reefs with the muddy runoff from their soil-shredding hooves.

And all because some European explorers decided not to bring home the bacon a few hundred years back. The wild boars who’ve colonized about 40 percent of Australia’s land are direct descendants of the domestic pigs that Captain James Cook and other 18th century explorers decided to leave behind as a kind of “living larder for future expeditions.”

A living larder, alas, with a hefty appetite and a remarkably rapid rate of reproduction; sows can produce two litters a year, with as many as 10 piglets per litter. And those little piglets are ready to start breeding at six months.

Add to this a climate that turned out to be the quintessential hog heaven, long on lush growth to nosh on and short on predators, and you can see why half the country’s overrun by something like 23 million wild boars, none of which, ironically, is fit to be eaten, because they’re infested with worms and disease.

Invasions by non-native species of plants and animals can be found all over the world, but few examples are more dramatic than the tale of how Australia’s been euro-trashed by these voracious and vicious boars.

Farmers trying to defend their crops and livestock shoot hundreds of the pigs each year, but beyond the boundaries of the farms, professional pig hunters have to rely on traps, because the forests where the pigs roam are so dense. Eliminating the pigs altogether would be impossible, but if they can’t be at least driven out of critical habitats, the very future of Australia’s rainforests may be in doubt.

By hogging the rainforests’ wild fruits, the pigs are endangering the survival of a rare flightless bird called the cassowary, on whom more than a hundred species of trees in Australia depend for propagation. The seeds of these trees will only germinate after they pass through the cassowary’s gut. But, thanks in part to the feral pigs, the wild cassowary population has dwindled to just 1,200.

You’re probably thinking, wow, tough luck for Australia. But we’ve got our own wild boar crisis here at home, it turns out. As the Toledo Blade reported last week:

It may be too late to slam the proverbial barn door on the spread of destructive wild boars in Ohio, but state wildlife and agriculture authorities are vowing to try.

For the second consecutive autumn, the Ohio Division of Wildlife is publicly encouraging hunters to shoot all the wild boars they encounter, this in hopes of limiting the damage these "eating machines" inflict on other wildlife and wild plant communities. Agricultural interests further are concerned about the potential of spreading diseases to domestic stock.

…Federal wildlife and agriculture authorities, also trying to put a lid on the boar explosion countrywide, note that in 1988 the creatures were known in 18 states. Now they have spread to 39 states, with the heaviest concentrations in Texas, California, Hawaii, and Florida.

We do have one advantage over Australia; according to the Toledo Blade, our wild boars can be safely eaten:

Wild boar is considered excellent table fare if properly field-dressed and thoroughly cooked. A recommended finished cooking-temperature for wild pork is 155 to 165 degrees.

Ohio’s wildlife division would like to see the wild boars totally eradicated. One look at what’s happening in Australia, and you can see why; Captain Cook’s "living larder" has become a living nightmare.

I Second that Emotion: Bush Declares War on Anxiety

President Bush is so encouraged with the course of the ongoing War on Terror he has announced that he is declaring “War on Anxiety.” Asked if he is going to seek Congressional approval, the President responded, “Why start now?” In explaining his new policy, Bush said, “Terrorism is designed to inspire terror. That’s why we are taking the war to the terrorists, fighting them over there so we don’t have to feel terrorized over here. While there’s no doubt we are winning the War on Terror, there’s still a great deal of anxiety in our country, so I’m declaring war on that emotion too.” The President said the military, already stretched thin, could handle the new war, and that the civilian population should, “Keep shopping, smoke ’em if ya got ‘em, and in general try to feel less anxious.” Bush refused to rule out wars on melancholy and wistfulness.

AMERICAN EXCESS-TIONALISM

The United States remains the world’s heavyweight champion when it comes to obesity, but the British are closing in on us, and they’re not happy about it. Two just-released reports show that the number of obese adults in Britain has tripled since 1980, earning it the distinction of being the fattest country in Europe.

Government officials and health experts are suitably alarmed, and anxious to find ways to turn more Brits from fat to fit. Britain’s health secretary, Alan Johnson, calls the obesity epidemic a "potential crisis on the scale of climate change."

But the cultural forces that feed this crisis are so pervasive that it will take a massive effort to reduce the U.K.’s collective body mass. As a spokesman for the International Obesity Taskforce by the almost unbearably British name of Neville Rigby told the CS Monitor:

"You can't just say, 'Eat less and be more active,' in a world where it's impossible to be active because the roads are congested and you can't walk anywhere and the only food you can get cheaply is not very healthy and you're advertising it all the time to people."

Sound familiar? A sedentary lifestyle coupled with a surplus of cheap calories equals a nation facing catastrophic health care costs. One of the reports, a major review from 250 experts, noted that our current way of life essentially guarantees excess weight gain because our metabolisms haven’t adapted to all the labor-saving devices we’ve created. Professor Peter Kopelman, one of the contributors, noted:

"The undeniable fact is that the pace of the technological revolution has outstripped human evolution."

In other words, we have to go work out at the gym, now, to burn off all those calories our ancestors would have just naturally expended in the course of the day. No hunting and gathering, just grunting and panting.

None of this is news, really. What did shock me, though, was the list accompanying the article, drawn from the World Health Organization’s database. It shows the percentage of obese adults in a number of industrialized nations, and the difference in rates is dramatic:

ADULT OBESITY
Rates as a percentage of the total population:

US 30.6
Britain 23.0
Slovakia 22.4
Greece 21.9
Australia 21.7
Hungary 18.8
Czech Republic 14.8
Canada 14.3
Spain 13.1
Germany 12.9
Finland 12.8
Turkey 12.0
Belgium 11.7
Netherlands 10.0
Sweden 9.7
France 9.4
Switzerland 7.7
Japan 3.2

(Source: Health Profile of England 2007, with data from the World Health Organization's June 2007 Health For All Database.)

Why does Canada have only half the number of obese adults as the U.S.? And the French really don’t get fat, except by comparison to the Japanese, whose rate of obesity is astoundingly low.

Do our neighbors to the North live so differently from us? Don’t they have comparable geographical and cultural conditions that help pack on the pounds? Why the drastic differences between countries that would seem, on the surface, to have a similar lifestyle?

Maybe it’s because we live in the Land of Outlandish Proportions. I was still scratching my head over the piece in yesterday’s CS Monitor when I came across an article in today’s edition from their resident linguist, Ruth Walker, entitled Large is Back—In a Very Big Way. Walker explores how the simple classifications of small, medium and large have been, well, largely replaced by the jumbo-grande-collosal-giant-mega portions that give us such monstrosities as 7-Eleven’s 64-ounce Double Gulp soda. That’s right, a half-gallon soda served up in one sitting.

Walker was inspired—and appalled—by a recent report that nutritionist Lisa Young co-authored with Marion Nestle which reveals that abnormally large portions are still the norm in the fast food industry, despite the growing health crisis caused by all these excess calories. Young asks "Are we that much thirstier or hungrier than we used to be?"

I haven’t heard any of our presidential candidates really talk much about the obesity problem, except for the formerly fat Mike Huckabee. Global warming fares a little better, but deserves far greater attention than most of our politicians are giving it.

But what really needs to be made clear, and what no one on the national stage is saying, is that the obesity epidemic and climate change are simply two sides of the same coin—overconsumption. We are sacrificing our nation’s natural resources and polluting our air, soil and water on the altar of More: Big Gulps, Monster Thickburgers, and, from McDonald’s--which has retired the phrase “supersize” but not the concept--the Angus Third Pounder.

And our crazy-big carbon footprint is leaving its mark on the rest of the world; as more of us eat more meat and guzzle soda by the half-gallon, rain forests get depleted, greenhouse gas emissions rise, and corporations turn water to soda in countries where millions lack access to safe drinking water and drought depletes our water supplies here at home.

Consider this: a municipal water authority in India sells water to Coca-Cola for its bottling plants there at one quarter the rate it charges its own residents. Here in the U.S., as Coco-Cola’s home base, Atlanta, runs dry and Georgia’s governor declares October “Take a Shorter Shower Month,” Coca-Cola’s vice president of sustainability, Bruce A. Karas, tells the New York Times that:

…no one from the City of Atlanta or its water planning district had approached company officials to ask them to conserve water. Mr. Karas said the company had worked to reduce consumption on its own since 2004.

“We’re very concerned,” Mr. Karas said. “Water is our main ingredient. As a company, we look at areas where we expect water abundance and water scarcity, and we know water is scarce in the Southwest. It’s very surprising to us that the Southeast is in a water shortage.”

But as the article notes, Georgia’s officials should have been well-aware of—and far better prepared—for an impending water shortage:

“We have made it clear to the planners and executive management of this state for years that we may very well be on the verge of a systemwide emergency,” said Mark Crisp, a water expert in the Atlanta office of the engineering firm C. H. Guernsey.

Looks like the leaders we’re supposed to rely on have got their heads in the sand, presumably looking for untapped reservoirs of water and oil. They’re fiddling while the rest of us burn, just as the musicians on the deck of the Titanic played on till everyone drowned.

I’m just praying that Morgan Spurlock’s soon-to-be-released documentary What Would Jesus Buy? will do for overconsumption what SuperSize me did for junk food—that is, get people thinking and talking about it. We’ll have to look to the film’s stars, the Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping, to find out what Jesus would buy, but in the meantime, I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that he wouldn’t turn water into a Big Gulp.

LET’S ASK MARION: IS IT CHEESY FOR DORITOS TO SPONSOR COLBERT?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: You and I spend a lot of time documenting—and decrying—the undue influence of Big Food on our democracy. Politicians and potato chip pushers have been in bed for ages, leaving us with crumby agricultural policies and a food pyramid that’s pointless. Your own efforts to persuade the USDA to include those two little words, “eat less,” were vehemently vetoed by the “Crunch all you want, we’ll make more” contingent.

Frito-Lay’s foothold stretches from DC to Delhi, as you discovered on your recent trip to India, where Frito-Lay chips can now be found in even the most remote, rural outskirts. And let’s not forget that Frito-Lay’s parent company, PepsiCo, has become China's largest private potato grower in its bold bid to be the world's snack food superpower.

And now Doritos has insinuated its crunchy, salty, cheesy agenda snack-in-the-middle of the battle for our nation’s highest office by sponsoring Stephen Colbert’s presidential candidacy.

We know Hillary’s been hobnobbing with Monsanto lobbyists, and Obama’s said to be chummy with Illinois-based agribiz giant ADM, but we’ve come to expect better from our fake pundits than our politicians. Does having Doritos as a sponsor compromise Stephen Colbert’s integrity?

Dr. Nestle
: Doritos in the context of Colbert running for President sounds like a typical Colbert oxymoron, but never mind. Let’s take this at face value. For starters, Doritos aren’t the worst junk food in the world (they meet my “no more than five ingredients” criterion for processed foods) but have lots of calories relative to their nutrient values. Hence: junk food.

PepsiCo has much to gain from this alliance. Either PepsiCo is giving up on Doritos or looking for unconventional ways to promote them, as the company has pulled back on the usual ways of advertising them. PepsiCo spent $29,763,000 on media advertising for Doritos in 2005 but a mere $12,856,000 in 2006 (source: Advertising Age). That leaves about $17 million for other ways of marketing Doritos. Hence: the Colbert campaign.

At that price, or even a lot less, no politician—even one from Comedy Central--is likely to say anything critical about Doritos, let alone any other PepsiCo product. You can bet that Colbert’s platform could not possibly be strong on public health. With Doritos sponsorship, Colbert won’t be saying anything critical about the role of junk food in childhood obesity; the marketing of salty snacks and sugary soft drinks in low income areas in the United States or anywhere else; billions of dollars spent on federal subsidies of corn and high fructose corn syrup; or the favorable water rights granted to soft drink companies. If he did get into such issues in any meaningful way, it would be bye-bye Doritos.

Whether or not the sponsorship is meant satirically, Colbert has already given PepsiCo more free advertising for Doritos than the company could ever buy any other way. The principal beneficiary of this kind of sponsorship is always the sponsor, even when it’s meant as a joke. I’d say PepsiCo owes Colbert, big time.

THE BOTTOM LINE ON WHAT TOPPLED TOPPS

waterThere are so many appalling details in today’s New York Times account of the Topps Meat factory flame-out that it’s hard to know where to begin. Flagrant disregard for safety standards, failure to test batches of ground beef for contamination, repeated citations for “persistent cleanliness problems,” woefully inadequate record-keeping--the list is long, and nauseating. Where, one wonders, were the USDA safety inspectors?

Funny you should ask. They were, in fact, in the Topps processing plant “for an hour or two each day,” as the USDA told the New York Times (emphasis mine.)

Yet, despite their daily presence at the Topps factory, the USDA inspectors never cited Topps for any of these egregious violations of what are, in some cases, only self-imposed safety standards, anyway.

When the story broke earlier this month that the massive recall of E. coli-tainted beef patties had forced Topps to fold, my friend Andrew sent me an e-mail that read, “I bet this company lobbied against regulations and testing practices that would have kept it in biz.”

Maybe they did, but it sounds as if they needn’t have bothered, because the only thing more half-assed than Topp’s sloppy chopping of beef scraps cobbled together from the four corners of Tom Friedman’s flat earth was the USDA’s lackadaisical approach to inspecting this ungodly hodge podge.

Topps issued a statement proclaiming that the company “prided itself on providing quality and safety, which is one reason the company was in business for 67 years…the health and safety of consumers was a top priority at Topps.”

The operative word here is “was.” Topps, which began in 1940 as a small, family run business, was bought out in 2003 by a private equity firm called Strategic Investments and Holdings. As the New York Times reports, the new owners immediately ramped up production:

“The whole time, the whole year, there was a lot more pressure,” Alberto Narvaelzi, a supervisor who worked at Topps for 23 years, said referring to this year.

Late last August, after numerous E. coli cases around the country were linked to Topps ground beef, federal investigators decided to take a closer look, and were shocked, shocked to discover that:

…three different lots of hamburger meat were tainted with E. coli. Moreover, they said, the company’s record keeping was so poor they could not rule out contamination of other lots.

Batches that had been tested by suppliers were mixed with those that were not, officials said. Untested boxes from the freezer were tossed in with the daily grind, as were untested scraps from the plant’s steak line.

All of which leads the New York Times to wonder:

Perhaps the biggest question is why government inspectors did not catch the Topps problems as they were occurring, and whether inspectors in other plants around the country have missed similar problems.

I have a slightly more obvious question: What the hell were the USDA inspectors doing at the Topps plant every day for one or two hours? The New York Times crossword puzzle? Where’s the oversight for an agency that routinely turns a blind eye to the corrosion of our food chain?

NOT SO FLUSH

waterMore and more of my friends are flushing their toilets less and less. In fact, some of us are even flushing each other’s toilets less and less. That may sound like a ghastly breach of etiquette to the vast majority of Americans, but when you’re as immersed in water issues as some of my friends are, you start to feel foolish about flushing away gallons of water just to disperse, say, a pint of pee.

Most of us have barely begun to size up our carbon footprint, and the concept of “peak oil” is just starting to seep into the MSM. But Jon Gertner’s chilling story on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, The Perfect Drought, adds two new phrases to the lexicon of looming limitations: “peak water,” and “water footprint.”

The West is dry as a bone, as Malibu’s transformation from hot spot to inferno so vividly illustrates, and the fires are spreading from San Diego to Santa Barbara. The drought is so severe in North Georgia that Governor Sonny Perdue has called on President Bush to declare 85 counties federal disaster areas.

All of which lends credence to Gertner’s claim that a severe water crisis is already in the pipeline. An extended drought compounded by climate change has left reservoirs at an all-time low just when more and more people are relocating to the increasingly arid West. There’s not enough water to meet the growing demands of agriculture and development, and the situation is only going to get worse—much, much worse, according to the experts Gertner interviewed.

Pat Mulroy, head of Southern Nevada’s Water Authority, told Gertner:

“We have an exploding human population, and we have a shrinking clean-water supply. Those are on colliding paths…the people who move to the West today need to realize they’re moving in to a desert…if they want to live in a desert, they have to adapt to a desert lifestyle.”

Those of us who hail from the irrigated deserts of California are familiar with the water-wise mantra “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” or what Treehugger has dubbed “the selective flush.” But, as Treehugger noted, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, caused a furor when he suggested that Londoners might want to think twice before flushing.

On this side of the Atlantic, the squandering of water is not only accepted, but expected. Ann Coulter decries the low-flush toilet as the epitome of liberal lunacy. Coulter once told Slate:

…everything that is unpleasant in life has been brought to us by liberals. One of them is the fact that we can only have two tablespoons of water in our toilet bowls because of some idiotic conservation of water. It's wacky enough for liberals to think about global warming, but that we would run out of natural resources? It rains. The water doesn't go away. Because of liberal government bureaucrats, they decided that we can only have two tablespoons of water in the toilet. You throw half a tissue in the toilet and you have to flush it 16 times.

Coulter presumably showers religiously, too, unlike those filthy French who sometimes go a day or two without bathing.

And then there’s the ubiquitous American lawn, utterly unsuited to much of the country’s climate, yet mandated by local ordinances. How much water do lawn lemmings waste maintaining their eternally thirsty turf? I was delighted by a Daily Kos diary the other day devoted to a Boulder, Colorado CSA (community supported agriculture) run by a farmer, Kipp Nash, who works with suburban homeowners to convert useless lawns into productive vegetable patches.

Lettuce in lieu of lawns? If our nation’s salad bowl turns into a dust bowl, we’re going to need a nation of Kipp Nashes to keep us in greens. The impending water crisis threatens the very foundation of our current agricultural system, which not only sucks up a huge percentage of the West’s water, but also spews copious amounts of chemicals back into our water supply, as Elizabeth Royte documents in her thorough--and thoroughly distressing--recent Grist feature, From Bad to Thirst.

Water’s been on the verge of becoming the new oil for awhile, now, but with the evidence mounting fast that we’re on the verge of being tapped out, maybe the need to conserve will finally sink in. Or, we could just keep flushing away. I’m sure Ann Coulter will.

LET’S ASK MARION: A MICKEY MOUSE LINE OF FRUITS & VEGGIES: DO YOU SMELL A RAT?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: The AP reported last week that Mickey Mouse and his pals are teaming up to flog fruits and veggies to tots with a new line of snacks called “Disney Garden.” Starting this fall, supermarkets will carry Disney Garden Foodles—Mickey Mouse-shaped snack trays filled with combinations of fruits and vegetables accompanied by dips, peanut butter or cheese.

They’re “oodles of fun and easily transportable” according to Disney’s own press release, and come with instructions on how to “Build a FoodleDoodle” so kids can play with their food before they eat it.

The line also includes Veggies & Sauce, which offers “kid-sized cut vegetables with a pouch of sauce specially formulated, tested and approved by children.” There are five choices, among them Threezy Cheezy Broccoli Bites, Sunny Honey Orange Carrot Coins, and Pizzalicious Broccoli Bites.

You are famously opposed to the very notion of “kid cuisine” and the relentless marketing of processed foods created specifically for children (and packaged to pump up the “pester factor.”) At the same time, you—and every other foot soldier in the real food revolution—are eternally exhorting us to eat more fruits and vegetables.

So, if wrapping fresh produce in Mickey’s mantle and giving it icky-cutesy names and a cheesy veneer gets kids to actually up their consumption of fruits and vegetables, do Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy get any brownie points, or is their shameless shilling unforgivable even if they’re selling celery and carrots?

Dr. Nestle: As always, you ask good questions and this one gets us into yet another deep philosophical matter: Is it OK to use evil methods to achieve good goals? Or, to put it in practical terms, should we put SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek, and now Mickey Mouse on the labels of carrots and spinach? Those in favor say doing anything to encourage kids to eat veggies is a Good Thing and let's go for it. Those opposed and yes, I am one of them, say whoa. Let's think about this for a minute. Do the ends really justify the means? Aren't cartoon characters on all those packages of sugary cereals, candy, cookies, and salty snacks so kids will think those foods are made just for them? Those products and cartoon characters are backed up by millions of dollars in TV and other advertising so kids think they are supposed to eat junk food.

Will putting cartoons on veggies make kids think they are supposed to eat veggies? I would love to see some research on that point and I'm going to remain skeptical until I do see it. Here's what else makes me skeptical: Will the companies stop putting cartoon characters on junk foods for kids? Will they stop advertising those foods? And, will they put the same amount of money into advertising veggies as they do into marketing junk foods. After all, Kellogg spent $24 million in 2006 just to advertise Cheez-Its. Yes, that much money just on that one product. Vegetables don't make nearly the kind of profits that companies get from breakfast cereals and snackfoods.

How much money will the vegetable marketers be spending to promote their branded vegetables? Until some of these issues get resolved, I think parents are better off with a system that does not allow any cartoons on food products. How about returning food to food, and stop trying to convince kids that foods are supposed to be toys or entertainment.

A CORN-FED CONGRESSMAN SLAMS ORGANICS

I’m fond of dogs, but there’s one breed that makes me gag: the Bush Dog Democrat. Bush Dogs evolved from the sadly not-yet-extinct DINO (Democrat in Name Only) and you’ll find them dutifully toddling along at the heels of our Heel-in-Command, taking the Decider’s side, and generally pooping on their party’s principles.

Take Collin Peterson, the Minnesota Democrat who’s chairman of the House of Representatives agricultural committee. This week, Peterson pooh-poohed the notion that the farm bill should offer more support for organic farmers, telling the Financial Times that organic farming’s share of the market is doing just fine and dandy without any assistance:

"It is growing, and it has nothing to do with the government, and that is good…for whatever reason, people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says 'organic' or 'local'. Far be it from me to understand what that's about, but that's reality. And if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah."

Well, he’s only head of the ag committee, and he did grow up on a farm, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Peterson might be conversant with the issues that compel so many consumers to seek out—and pay more for—organic and local foods.

Yet Peterson pretends to be puzzled by the boom in organic food sales, and can only conclude that those of us who frequent the farmers’ markets and pay a premium for organic foods must be morons.

This would be merely galling if Peterson were just some agribiz flunky. Coming from the head of the House ag committee, though, it’s appalling. Here’s the guy who has the power to rewrite our agricultural policies to encourage more sustainable farming practices, healthier school lunches, revitalized rural communities, better land stewardship—you know, all that crunchy granola stuff that forms the mainstay of the liberal elite diet—and he turns out to be, well, an agribiz flunky.

Peterson’s really steamed that we urban types even have the temerity to take an interest in the agricultural policies that our tax dollars pay for. Back in September, Peterson told the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Us guys in farm country, we don't know a thing about the big cities and we're not about to tell them what to do…and these big city editorial writers and others don't have a clue about what's going on in agriculture, and they ought to keep out of our business."

Actually, Congressman Peterson, it’s our business, and when it comes to what’s going on in agriculture, we apparently know more than you do, because you claim total ignorance of the many reasons why consumers are increasingly opting to go organic.

You could get up to speed pretty quickly by reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma—just out in paperback!—but I guess a “big city” professor of journalism (even worse, a west coast big city—Berkeley!) couldn’t possibly have anything to say that would be relevant to a rural regular Joe like yourself.

Well, OK, then, how about borrowing a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle from your local library? Kingsolver’s book offers a terrific crash course in this whole “eat local” phenomenon by which you profess to be baffled.

But then you strike me as the kinda politician who, like our latest presidential candidate, Stephen Colbert, doesn’t really like books (unless they’re by him.)

Maybe you’re more of a movie guy? If that’s the case, I can recommend a really great documentary about American agriculture. It’s called “King Corn,” and it opens in that big city where you sometimes work, DC, tomorrow night. Check it out!

King Corn will give you a much better grasp of how our misguided agricultural policies are feeding the obesity epidemic and polluting our air, land and water.

Haven’t got the time to sit through an 88-minute movie about industrial agriculture? No problem. You can learn about the dark side of factory farming from a fun little animated short called The Meatrix.

I know that you find our big city ways strange and foreign, but we urban types do have one thing in common with you simple country folks—we all eat. It’s just that some of us don’t want to eat produce that’s permeated with pesticides, and meats from CAFOs that require more and more manure lagoons, subsidized by our tax dollars.

We want clean food, clean air, and clean water. What’s dumb about that?

HARDEE’S ONE-HANDED HARA-KARI

On the one hand, I’d like to applaud Hardee’s for doing the right thing with its recent decision to cut back on caged eggs and crated pork. On the other hand—or, rather, in the other hand—is their new Country Breakfast Burrito, a stomach-splitting concoction that the Onion couldn’t top: two omelettes filled with bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, hash browns, and sausage gravy, wrapped in a flour tortilla.

And all for only $2.69. Plus, it’s portable! It’s a veritable one-handed wonder! With 920 calories and 60 grams of fat, the Country Breakfast Burrito provides half the daily recommended calories and all the saturated fat we’re supposed to get, and all before lunchtime!

Hardee’s created the Country Breakfast Burrito as a public service, a humanitarian gesture, if you will, to hungry Americans. As Brad Haley, Hardee’s marketing chief, told the AP:

"When consumers go to other fast-food places they feel like they've got to buy two of their breakfast sandwiches or burritos to fill up. This is really designed to fill you up."

And, further enhancing your quality of life, you can eat it in your car, where we reportedly eat about 20% of our meals these days.

Can you blame fast food chains for giving people what they want? Well, actually, yes, if you’re Jane Hurley, senior nutritionist for The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Hurley calls Hardee’s latest fat-laden fiasco the “Country Breakfast Bomb,” and “another lousy invention by a fast-food company.”

I won’t waste your time decrying how horribly unhealthy the Country Breakfast Burrito is. What I would ask you to consider, instead, is this: what kind of food system makes it possible to turn a profit on a product that contains eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, and potatoes, yet sells for only $2.69? What corners—or beaks and tails--are being cut?

If Hardee’s really wants to make the transition away from inhumane factory farm practices, it could start by weaning its customers off the notion that humongous portions of food filled with multiple kinds of meats should cost less than, say, a bag of carrots or a quart of milk.

That’s a move I’d applaud. With both hands.

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