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MONSANTO CRIES OVER SPURNED MILK

Monsanto’s in deep denial over consumer rejection of rbST, the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone that lets dairy farmers squeeze more milk out of their cows.

Wake up and smell the rbST-free latte! Companies from Starbucks to Safeway are responding to the demand for rbST-free milk by switching to dairies that don’t use rbST, which is known to cause disease in cows and may cause disease in humans, too. As I noted last August, there’s a severe, nationwide shortage of organic milk due to skyrocketing demand.

Monsanto’s public affairs manager, Andrew Burchett, claims the widespread rejection of rbST dairy products “is driven by deceptive marketing ploys and a few activists who oppose most aspects of modern dairy farming.”

Huh, looks like those “few activists” have pressured California’s largest dairy processor, California Dairies, Inc., to announce last Thursday that starting August 1st, it would no longer accept milk from dairy farmers who rely on rbST to boost their production.

Richard Cotta, CDI’s CEO, gave the reason for the switch as “strictly consumer demand…In the end, the customer is king. We felt we needed to do this from an economic point of view. Demand is greater now than we can provide.”

CDI processes nearly half the state’s milk, so the move is a big blow to Monsanto.

“It’s bad news for California dairy producers,” according to Burchett, “when activist pressure groups and shady marketing ploys take away their choice to use FDA-approved technology…what’s next? Reproductive hormones? Antibiotics? Pesticides?”

I love this kind of Alice-in-Astroturf-Land logic, in which a few rabid rabble rousers seek to deny Americans the freedom to eat foods tainted by toxic agricultural “advances.”

On Thursday, the same day that CDI announced their new rbST-free policy, Monsanto released a study that claims there’s no discernable difference between milk from hormone-injected cows and rbST-free cows.

But beyond the biotech blah blah blah, certain facts about rbST are undeniable:

Cows injected with rbST suffer a much greater incidence of mastitis, a painful udder infection that requires treatment with antibiotics.

Higher rates of mastitis lead, in turn, to a “higher somatic cell count,” jargon for “more pus in the milk,” according to Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety, and author of Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food.

Canada and the European Union have banned rbST out of concern for the harm it poses to animals as well as humans; the only countries that allow it are the U.S., Brazil, and Mexico.

“The suffering of animals alone is enough cause for consumers to avoid rbST-derived dairy and meat products,” notes Kimbrell, but there is also evidence that milk from rbST-treated cows contains higher levels of a hormone that’s been linked to breast, colon, lung, and bone cancer.

So consumers have soured on the whole idea of drinking pus-filled milk squeezed from painfully diseased udders, and who could blame them? Oh, I know--Monsanto.

SALON’S MAC ‘N’ CHEESE DEBATE GRATES

Contrarians rub me the wrong way, which, of course, is their whole raison d'être. People like John Stossel, who famously claimed that organic foods are hazardous to your health, or John Tierney, whose rant against recycling was endlessly recycled by landfill lovers everywhere.

And then there’s Ralph Nader, truly the nadir of the knee-jerk naysayers. No difference between the GOP and the Dems? Please. Compare James Inhofe, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, to his replacement, Barbara Boxer. They’re not even on the same planet, much less the same page: Inhofe is still fuming about climate change being a conspiracy-for-profit, while Boxer grapples with greenhouse gas emissions. Can you say sea change?

Nader’s decision to run as the alternative to two supposedly equally objectionable candidates seems nothing less than catastrophic, now. No difference between Bush and Gore? Hhmmm, let’s compare their respective achievements: Gore’s just been nominated for an Oscar, not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize. Bush? He’s a shoo-in for Worst President Ever. One guy’s out to save the world while the other one’s busy starting World War III. Nope, not much difference there.

Given this scary state of affairs, it’s hard to get worked up over something as cheesy as Salon’s macaroni smackdown, in which Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, self-described would-be “bad girl of American food writing” takes the bold, politically incorrect position that Annie’s mac ‘n’ cheese is no better than Kraft’s.

De Salcedo’s glib, gratuitously snarky screed sparked a debate in the foodie blogosphere. Meg Hourihan, a fellow New Yorker who blogs at Megnut, sprang to Annie’s defense, picking apart de Salcedo’s half-baked cant. John Foraker, Annie’s CEO, posted his own defense to Salon and Megnut, and a chorus of food bloggers chimed in. A typical comment:

I'm really glad you responded to Salon. Aren't there plenty of obvious bad guys in the food world for the writer to take to task instead of picking on a company that's trying to do something good? Write an article about Tyson or Perdue for God's sake! Or look what RS (Rolling Stone) did with Smithfield pork recently.

The notion that “natural is better” also got a boost in the premier episode of Living Fresh, a new Discovery Home channel show hosted by Sara Snow, in which Snow instructs too-busy-to-make-mac-from-scratch parents to whip up a batch of organic mac ‘n’cheese as a healthier alternative to the usual Krapft.

Snow, daughter of Eden Foods’ co-founder Tim Redmond, had a truly crunchy granola-coated childhood, according to her bio on Discovery’s website:

“…surrounded by farms and compost heaps…Sarah played in organic cotton T-shirts and washed her hair with natural jojoba shampoos. And when Sara got sick, her mom gave her echinacea or goldenseal in the powder form (yuck!) with a little bit of honey to help the medicine go down.”

This kind of eco-treacle leaves an artificial aftertaste (ick!) and it saddened me, watching her show, to think that our diet is so degraded that a box of chemical and pesticide-free pasta represents a step up for most households.

But baby step up though it may be, Annie’s offers more wholesome and organic ingredients, and a socially conscious company. Yes, their signature product is a convenience food, but they plow a portion of their profits into environmental science scholarships, and give grants for funny, far-reaching agriprop like the Mouth Revolution.

Kraft, by contrast, is owned by Altria, aka Philip Morris, although Philip Morris is currently seeking to dump Kraft because processed foods are evidently less lucrative than tobacco. Has Annie’s mascot, Bernie the Bunny, been gnawing at Kraft’s profits?

After reading De Salcedo’s attack on Annie’s, I had the same feeling I get halfway through a David Brooks op ed, i.e., “life is short; why am I reading this?” I was annoyed with the article, but more annoyed at the time I wasted on it. So I certainly wasn’t about to bother rebutting it.

But I’m glad Meg took the time to do it, because, as Annie’s CEO e-mailed her, (in haste, judging from the spelling,) “When you have been spending years trying to do the right thing, to help people eat better, and to do so with an honest committment to sustainability, it stinks to get hit by what amounts to a cheap shot full of innaccurate information.”

Evidently, bunny boiling is a great ploy to get attention. Who could forget Glenn Close’s vindictive “pot au feh!” in Fatal Attraction? I just hope that Bernie the Bunny emerges unscathed.

WEEKEND COOKBOOK BLOGGING

The chef teddies have been saving up for months for the James Beard Foundation’s biannual cookbook sale, which took place today a block away from us over on West 12th street. So they bundled up (it was 25° this morning), grabbed their cash and toddled over to the lovely old town house where Beard lived and his legend lives on, thanks to the
Foundation, which is dedicated to “celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence.”

The cookbook sale invariably generates a frenzy on a par with those Filene’s Basement wedding dress free-for-alls, with frantic foodies jostling one another in their haste to get the best bargains. The chef teddies foraged through the piles and found all kinds of wonderful books, eighteen in all, for a mere $31.

The chef teddies resolved this year to switch to a mostly plant-based diet to reduce their carbon pawprint for the sake of their climate-challenged cousins in the Arctic and Yellowstone Park, so they stocked up on vegetarian cookbooks. They were especially excited about finding the Slow Food Guide to New York City, until we explained that most New York restaurants don’t even permit dogs, much less bears. Oh well. The other seventeen books will keep them busy testing recipes in the kitchen while we borrow the Slow Food guide and go off on an eco-gastronomic adventure.

HI-RISE HORTICULTURE

One of my all-time favorite children’s books, Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House, tells the saga of a building superintendent who gets bit by the gardening bug and goes on an edible landscaping spree. As tenants move out, vegetables move in. The building becomes a four-story farm, to the landlord’s consternation:

“…When he saw that his tenants had been replaced by vegetables, fruit trees, cows, and chickens, he got upset. Very upset.

“Look here, Old MacDonald, what have you done?” he shouted. “Where are the families? All that’s here now are bushels of fruits and vegetables, herds of cows, and flocks of chickens. And they can’t pay me rent.”

Oh, yes, they can. When the landlord realizes there’s a profit to be made from produce, he constructs a farm stand in front of the building, and sells Old MacDonald’s ultra-local, super-fresh fruits and vegetables four seasons round:

And even in winter, when the earth outside was frozen and covered with snow, things were still growing on the steam-heated farm.

Old MacDonald was quite the visionary, it turns out; first published in 1969, the book not only pre-dates the guerilla gardening movement by several decades, it provides a kind of cartoon blueprint for a futuristic form of food production called “vertical farming.

I say “futuristic” because it doesn’t exactly exist yet, except in the mind of Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist at Columbia University and founder of the Vertical Farm Project, “Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond…”

Despommier proposes a new kind of urban agriculture: 30-story buildings that each take up a city block and grow enough food for 50,000 people per year.

If that sounds preposterous to you, you must have missed that piece in the NY Times last Wednesday about Moscow’s vast greenhouse complex, covering some 300 acres and providing an abundance of fresh produce all year round.

The greenhouses were constructed by the Communist Party in 1969, the same year that Old MacDonald was pioneering the concept of vertical farming. “The sprawling complex once fed the party elite, keeping the Kremlin stocked with mushrooms and greens no matter the winters swirling outside.”

Now, the soccer field-sized buildings keep the shelves of Moscow’s supermarkets perpetually stocked with fresh, pesticide-free produce:

As many as 1,700 people work in the business, from delivery truck drivers to those who breed and raise the predacious insects that are released, instead of pesticides, to keep the plant-eating insect population in check.

“Warmed by gas and lighted by almost uncountable electric lights,” the greenhouses undoubtedly generate plenty of (sigh) greenhouse gas emissions, so they’re not exactly a model of energy efficiency.

But they do demonstrate the viability of urban farming as a way to feed our most densely populated communities.

Despommier’s design calls for a fish pound on the ground floor stocked with tilapia, trout, and striped bass, with the upper floors devoted to hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables, eliminating the need for soil. Wastewater from the fish tanks would be treated and then recycled, while water containing human wastes and other organic material would be converted to methane to power the building.

Whether this kind of self-contained, sustainable urban food system could really work remains to be seen; Despommier’s concept has generated more curiosity than capital. As Despommier told Plenty magazine:

“The problem is that nobody wants to be first…I think this will arise when someone realizes that they can make a lot of money.”

Or, perhaps, when the drought, water shortages, ice storms, insect infestations and other manifestations of global warming render the future of traditional farming doubtful. Which, judging from the dire warnings in the just-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, could be sooner than you think.

Either way, you’ve got to give Despommier credit for thinking inside the box.

CARROTS AND STICKS ON THE COMPANY MENU

Expanding waistlines = shrinking bottom lines. This simple equation has complex consequences for American companies. From the CS Monitor:

US industry loses $13 billion and 39.3 million workdays every year through obesity-related lost productivity, absenteeism, higher health-insurance premiums, and medical expenses, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates.

Never has the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” seemed more apt. You don’t have to be an expert in cost-benefit ratio analyses to see that we could save a bundle if we could stop people from packing on the pounds in the first place.

Innovative “wellness initiatives” are flourishing, with companies offering their employees all kinds of incentives to eat better and get more exercise. Physicians Plus, a health insurance corporation in Madison, Wisconsin, gets my vote for “most progressive program” with their Eat Healthy Rebate, which subsidizes the cost of buying a CSA share from farms participating in the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition.

How’s that for a win-win-win solution? Members who sign up for the rebate receive a weekly, or bi-weekly, box of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables; the money goes to support small sustainable family farms; and the company reaps the benefits of a better-fed workforce.

This ingenious initiative is the brainchild of Kathryne Auerback, Physicians Plus’s director of marketing. Auerback was inspired by her own four-year membership in a CSA, which helped her cultivate a fondness for fennel, dandelion greens, kohlrabi, and other produce she’d never thought to try.

The response to the Eat Healthy Rebate has been so overwhelming that Physicians Plus is pleading for patience as it processes the backlog of rebates. Clearly, the carrot approach has motivated the health insurer’s members.

But what about well-intentioned supervisors who wave a stick at their corpulent work corps? Consider the case of Florida Police Chief Paul Goward, who got fed up with all the fatties on his force. Goward issued a plea for his officers to shape up:

In his memo, titled "Are You a Jelly Belly," the chief never singled anyone out, and apart from the title, didn't call anyone names.

Instead, he provided a list of 10 reasons police officers should be in shape. He said overweight police poorly represent the profession, poop out when chasing suspects and might have to resort to "a higher level of force" if a criminal got the upper hand in a fight. He said out-of-shape cops are a liability to the city and their families.

"Take a good look at yourself," he wrote. "If you are unfit, do yourself and everyone else a favor. See a professional about a proper diet and a fitness training program, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake and start thinking self-pride, confidence and respectability. And stop making excuses for delaying what you know you should have been doing years ago. We didn't hire you unfit and we don't want you working unfit. Don't mean to offend, this is just straight talk. I owe it to you."

Goward’s “straight talk” was, apparently, too direct:

The Oct. 11 memo bruised feelings on the 80-member force, drew at least one anonymous letter of complaint from officers about the chief's management style and made his department the butt of jokes about fat cops and doughnuts.

So Goward got ousted. But was he really out of line? Being physically fit is a prerequisite in order to become a police officer, presumably because it’s considered necessary in order to be an effective cop. Is it wrong to ask officers to maintain a reasonable level of fitness?

Florida’s new Secretary of Corrections, James McDonough, doesn’t think so. McDonough has proposed mandatory fitness levels for 19,000 prison and probation officers, even those with desk jobs. The controversial proposal would, according to the CS Monitor, “mark one of the first times in the US that public-service employees, other than firefighters and police officers, would be ordered to exercise as a condition of their employment.”

Our schools are trying to legislate leanness, too: CNN reported yesterday that the University of Baltimore’s Obesity Initiative has awarded an “A” to six states: California, Illinois, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee, “…for their legislative and public-policy work to control obesity in children.”

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to healthy habits, America gets a big, fat “F.” Can we handle the truth? Ask Paul Goward, jettisoned by the “jelly bellies.” Is there a way to get people to exercise without getting them exercised?

CRISPY CON JOB

Call it Kentucky Fried Chutzpah. KFC’s at it again, dipping their deep-fried chicken in a batter of benevolence.

Back in 2003, KFC launched an ad campaign promoting fried chicken “as the cornerstone of a healthy diet,” to quote Slate. My favorite ad had a regular joe running into an old buddy and saying something like, “Hey, you look great! What’s your secret?”

The other guy waves a bucket of KFC, revealing a weight loss strategy that evidently revolves around the consumption of fried chicken.

The ads sparked so much indignation that KFC had to deep six them, but now they’ve cooked up a new batch of deep-fried duplicity, the “Bring Back Dinner” campaign. This time, in KFC’s Wonderland World, fast food is Slow Food:

(Scene: a suburban tween hanging out in his friend’s kitchen, talking to Mom on the phone:)

“I’m at Jimmy’s house, can I stay for dinner?...Yes, his parents are home…yeah, dinner…(sighs) Hold on—she doesn’t believe me!

(hands phone to perky pony-tailed soccer mom)

“Carol?...Yeah, we’re all having dinner—together!”

Cue triumphant chorus of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” and oily voice-over:

“A real meal on a weeknight? What a shocker! Pick up a nine-piece bucket of original recipe drumsticks and thighs for just $6.99! Bring back dinner at KFC! Now all KFC original recipe and extra crispy chicken has zero grams of trans fat with the same great taste you love!”

KFC’s promoting the campaign on its website with a bunch of adorably retro cartoon character moms and moppets, along with a dad or two and a dog. One mom lovingly nestles a bucket of KFC in her arm, a thought bubble floating by her head with the mantra “Who's got time to pre-heat?”

There are some not-so-adorably retro touches, too, such as the little boy who says “You’re way prettier than the other moms!” when you roll the cursor over his head, or the feature that lets you “build your family’s very own dinner shopping list and e-mail it to the hubby to pick up after work”—the “shopping list” being, of course, the KFC menu.

The Bring Back Dinner website depicts a harried homemaker for whom the grocery store is a minefield of misadventures best circumvented by leaving the cooking to the Colonel.

The Colonel can help keep you keep your kids on the straight and narrow, too; KFC’s website cites Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: “The more often children and teens eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs.”

Fear is used to flog everything, these days; now, fried chicken is the secret weapon in the war on drugs. Message: your kids will turn into delinquents if you don’t sit down to dinner with them, but grocery shopping is too scary and meals take too long to make. Better call on the Colonel, and outsource the cooking to Yum Brands Corporation.

THE UNBEARABLE COST OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Looks like Stephen Colbert’s not the only one putting grizzly bears “on notice.”

Global warming, not content with destroying the polar bear’s natural habitat, has apparently got it in for the grizzlies, too. Thanks to climate change, pine beetles are ravaging Yellowstone National Park’s whitebark pinetrees, on whose seeds the grizzlies depend to get through the winter.

Colbert’s fond of saying that these “godless killing machines” are one of the greatest threats facing America, but according to today’s NY Times, it’s the other way around; our failure to seriously address global warming threatens the grizzlies’ survival.

Bears have been eating seasonally since way before the locavores came along and made it trendy, and in the late summer and fall, the pine seeds are “arguably the most important fattening food available to grizzly bears,” according to the federally funded Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. The Yellowstone grizzlies don’t have the berries or salmon that bears in other regions rely on; they need the seeds to make it through the winter.

But rising temperatures are “revving up the beetles’ metabolisms,” reports the Times, speeding up their rate of reproduction. This “adaptive seasonality” enables them to infest areas that were previously out of their range. Tactics such as quarantines or burning infested trees have proved ineffective.

The beetles have already had a catastrophic impact in British Columbia, which they invaded in the 1990’s. The infestation has yet to peak, but it already appears to be the largest forest insect blight ever seen in North America. New computer projections show most Western whitebark pine forest ranges being wiped out by global warming, the one exception being the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which is expected to remain cold till around 2100.

The grizzlies will have to relocate or find other sources for food, i.e., adapt or die.

So what kind of bear is next on the climate change hit list? I hate to tell you, because it’s a breed whose habitat we share--the teddy bear.

Teddies, a relatively new species, have been around for just over a century, dating back to 1902 when a political cartoon depicting Teddy Roosevelt refusing to kill a bear cub on a hunting trip inspired toymakers to replicate the cute lil’ cub. Teddy bears began to proliferate, and their population shows no sign of declining, for now.

Their Republican namesake was our first environmental president, committed to conserving natural resources and preserving wilderness. According to Wikipedia, Roosevelt "set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres.”

President Bush, by contrast, gave lip service in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday to the notion of becoming "better stewards of the environment," but his administration’s track record on environmental issues is literally criminal.

Congress will hear evidence today from two private advocacy groups that the Bush administration pressured government climate scientists at seven federal agencies to downplay the threat of global warming. And over in the Senate, Barbara Boxer’s holding a meeting to discuss mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, a strategy Bush rejects on the grounds that it threatens economic growth.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush mocked Gore’s proposed tax breaks for solar energy, spitting out the words “photovoltaic panels” with a contempt that would have been more appropriate for, oh, I don’t know, child molesters, or corrupt corporations that overcharge the Pentagon.

Now he touts the wonders of technologies like clean coal and cellulosic ethanol, which is all well and good except that clean coal is prohibitively expensive, and cellulosic ethanol is still in development, so neither technology is about to be employed on any significant scale.

To say that Bush and his oily cronies have failed to be proactive on climate change is to grossly understate the problem; they have, in fact, aggressively fought every attempt to make our country less dependent on fossil fuels, going so far as to alter the research provided by their own agencies when the answers didn’t suit them (sound familiar?)

Of course, simply deleting those pesky passages containing inconvenient truths only exacerbated the problem, delaying the day of reckoning that much longer.

On Friday the United Nations will issue a report from 500 of the world’s top scientists which, according to ABC news, paints “a grim outlook on the effects of global warming and emphasizes that scientists are more convinced than ever that humans are causing it.”

The report “raises new fears that the earth's climate is changing faster than anyone thought possible… significant changes in the climate could start happening within the next 10 years.”

The grizzlies might survive by heading for the hills, but what about the rest of us? Stephen Colbert may be terrified of teddies, but I’m siding with the bears on this one. As Pogo the possum said, “we have met the enemy and he is us." It’s high time we put ourselves on notice.

THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH ABOUT CONVENIENCE

I’ve finally figured out what’s really fueling the obesity epidemic: energy conservation.

A little light bulb—fluorescent, of course—went on over my head the other day while I was mulling over the ever-expanding girth of our nation. Our climate controlled, carbon-based consumer culture squanders prodigious amounts of energy, but there’s one form of energy we are truly stellar at conserving: our own.

A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy, after all. And it’s the one form of energy we hoard. We’ve come to believe that exertion is an evil to be avoided at all costs.

All you You Tube young ‘uns can’t conceive of the hardships we once endured in this country: rotary telephones that forced our fingers to dial; televisions whose channels had to be manually changed; long-playing records we had to flip over to get to the B side; garage doors we got out of our cars to open; lawn mowers we pushed across the grass without benefit of gas.

We’re long since liberated from that Luddite era, and we’re saving calories left and right. In fact, we’ve made ourselves stocky by stockpiling them. Add our ever-increasing caloric intake to the equation and you’ve got an unprecedented energy surplus.

Our bodies, alas, are still stuck in “hunter-gatherer” mode. Our reptilian brain assumes that all this sitting around and stuffing our faces means we’re preparing for a famine, or maybe hibernation. So our metabolism shuts down and our body braces for starvation.

“In twenty years, failure to exercise six days a week will seem as self-destructive as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” according to Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Lodge, an internist, is the co-author of Younger Next Year, a guide to avoiding the decrepitude we’ve come to accept as a natural part of aging:

Unique among all the generations of living creatures that have wandered this earth for three billion years, we have stepped out of the crucible of evolution. We simply stood up and walked out of nature…

…For the first time ever, there is enough to eat and no one capable of eating us. It is impossible to overstate the importance of that development or the depth of the change. Almost incomprehensively, the great problem of our time is surfeit. And idleness. Our ancestors ran for their lives for hundreds of millions of years, desperately searching for food, storing it up in their bodies against the certainty of drought, ice and starvation. And then, in a twinkling, all that was gone and a fundamental law of creation ceased to apply. This is arguably the most profound shift, ever, in the way the world works.

Michael Pollan tackled this topic in Sunday’s NY Times:

It might be argued that, at this point in history, we should simply accept that fast food is our food culture. Over time, people will get used to eating this way and our health will improve. But for natural selection to help populations adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die. That’s not what we’re doing. Rather, we’re turning to the health-care industry to help us “adapt.” Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But while fast food may be good business for the health-care industry, surely the cost to society — estimated at more than $200 billion a year in diet-related health-care costs — is unsustainable.

Pollan’s prescription for what ails America: don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food; skip the supermarkets and processed food products; buy fresh produce at the farmers’ market if possible; eat less meat, more leafy greens; be willing to spend more money for less food; eat a diverse diet based on the traditional food cultures of other countries; and my favorite:

…Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of Americans regard chopping vegetables and digging in the dirt as dreary, demeaning tasks that should be delegated to poorly paid immigrants. And then there are those who’d love to putter around in the kitchen or the yard, but they’re too busy working two jobs to pay the bills or keep their health insurance.

The “blessed” American way of life, as Ari Fleischer famously termed it, sometimes seems like more of a curse. Our soldiers are getting slaughtered and innocent civilians are dying in the Middle East for the sake of a fossil fueled culture that causes its own kind of collateral damage. How do we convince people that the path of least resistance is leading us into an abyss of illness and inertia, not to mention an international morass?

WEEKEND HOG BLOGGING

The Year of the Pig’s off to a great start, considering that it doesn’t officially begin till February 18th. Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork supplier, announced on Thursday that it would phase out gestation crates for sows, a particularly cruel form of confinement favored by factory farms.

The writing was on the stall for Smithfield after voters in Florida and Arizona voted to ban the crates and McDonald’s announced its intention to steer clear of pork from producers who use the crates.

"I can't think of anything more important in terms of humane treatment of animals that has occurred in the agribusiness sector," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told the Washington Post. "They are the market leader, and this decision changes the dynamic of the industry. It's going to be very hard for other companies to not follow Smithfield."

Smithfield denies that its decision was a response to pressure from activists or voters and insists that the crates are not inhumane. It’s simply a business decision:

"Working with our customers, who have made their views known on the issue of gestation stalls, we are pleased to be taking this precedent-setting step," said C. Larry Pope, chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods. He said all 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, and contract growers will be eventually expected to move in that direction.

Hhmm. Sounds like a game of Two Degrees of Cave-in Bacon to me. What made McDonald’s go from sweet to sour on crated pork? A combination of two things: turned-off consumers, and consultations with Temple Grandin, the animal welfare expert who advises agribiz on how to make industrial livestock production more humane.

Bob Langert, McDonald’s VP for Corporate Social Responsibility, claimed that improving animal welfare is a priority for the corporation when he spoke at the Princeton conference on food, ethics, and the environment last November. I thought he must be a McMasochist, sharing the stage with Michael Pollan and fielding questions from a skeptical audience.

But I’m glad he was willing to venture onto hostile turf, because he got an earful from the grassroots, and McDonald’s is obviously listening. As the Washington Post noted:

The decision follows a pattern that has become increasingly common in the food industry. Groups concerned about issues such as animal welfare or the use of antibiotics or biotechnology in agriculture no longer look to government regulators to produce change, but rather take their concerns to the public, to producers, and to the restaurants and grocery chains that sell the products.

Well, duh. Why waste time lobbying our government when they’re only doing the bidding of the corporations who occupy the top rung of the federal food chain? Better to bypass the lackeys and bombard the behemoths directly.

Pigs may never fly, but at least more of them will soon have room to move. Baby steps for agribiz. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll put the factory farms out to pasture.

BIG FOOD TAKES IT ON THE CHIN

Forget about terrorist attacks. You are way, way more likely to die from a heart attack. Sure, Al-Qaeda is out to get us, but American agribusiness is doing a far more efficient job of killing us, as both Jon Stewart and Nicholas Kristof have already noted.

Now there’s a new weapon in the anti-agribiz arsenal; Free Range Studios’ The Mouth Revolution. The activist animators who brought us the marvelous Meatrix are mouthing off about our toxic food chain again, this time literally. Their latest opus is a live-action short featuring “mouth puppets,” i.e. faces drawn on upside-down chins.

Says Free Range's co-founder, Louis Fox, "We're quite confident that the Mouth Revolution is the best upside-down mouth movie in cinema history!"

Fed up with the steady diet of trans-fatty, genetically modified, chemically altered, pesticide-tainted foods mindlessly shoved down their throats, the Mouths mutiny en masse, holding a press conference in which a militant Mouth with a vaguely Latin accent declares:

“Ears of the World, hear me! We, the Mouths, are demanding real food, real ingredients. As gateways to the human body, we recognize our solemn duty to keep the garbage out. For too long, we have ceded this power to the Brains, who have done a lousy job.

So we, the Mouths, are staging an international “shut up” until our demands are met. Today, the Mouth-olución begins!”

With a rallying cry of “Real Food Now!” the Mouths bite the bullet and close their gullets, causing deep-fried consternation for junk food addicts who wind up schmushing all that badness-on-a-bun into their faces when the Mouths refuse to open.

The Mouths spell out their “Mouthifesto” in a Declaration of Indigestion:

No Trans-Fats: “…they extend shelf life, but they shorten your life, contributing to 30,000 deaths a year. If it isn’t real, spit out your meal!”

No GMO’s: “Genetically modified ingredients are lab experiments, not food! We are Mouths, not guinea pigs!...

No Pesticides: “Chemical pesticides that soak our fruits, grains and vegetables will NOT be swallowed; they are poisons to our bodies…”

No Artificial Colors or Flavors: “These chemicals are NOT food; six artificial colors have already been linked to cancer…Americans are eating their weight in food additives every year--BLEECH!”

The Mouth Revolution is the war we should be waging; finally, a battle I can get behind! We’re pouring blood and treasure down a Middle Eastern sinkhole when it’s our artery-clogging Western diet that helps kill more than half a million Americans each year.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 696,947 people in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that heart disease will end up having cost us more than $258 billion in 2006, including health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

Then there’s the environmental degradation that industrial agriculture inflicts on us, and the inhumane treatment of animals. We’ve been in a collective coma about our dreadful diet, but movies like the Meatrix and the Mouth Revolution are waking more and more of us up to reality, and, boy, does it bite.

Here’s to the Mouth Revolution going viral, and making the campaign for real food contagious. Viva la Mouth-olución!

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