Eating Liberally

Eating Liberally Blog

AGRIBUSINESS SCAPEGOATS ORGANIC SPINACH

The bags of spinach that have been linked by DNA testing to the E. coli outbreak contained conventional spinach packaged by Natural Selections Foods and sold under the Dole label. Natural Selections is also the company behind the Earthbound line of organic produce, so there’s been some suspicion that organic farming practices might somehow be the cause of the outbreak.

And some agribusiness "biostitutes" are doing their best to encourage that misconception. They’re perpetuating the notion that organic farms are a likely culprit in the E. coli outbreak because they rely on cow manure instead of chemical fertilizers.

But why is there E. coli in the cow manure in the first place? We may never know how E. coli 0157:H7 found its way into the spinach crop, but there’s no mystery about the origins of this deadly strain of the bacteria: the factory farm cows in whose intestinal tracts this particular kind of E. coli flourishes.

As the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based progressive farm policy research group, observes:

This agricultural area of California, where this latest contamination crisis originated, produces the majority of the country’s spinach and many other fresh-market vegetables. It is contiguous to many CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) managing thousands of dairy cows each.

E. coli and other potent pathogens are known to migrate onto neighboring farms by contamination of surface water and groundwater and/or by becoming airborne through blowing dust from feedlots or farm fields where manure has been spread.

Yes, it’s possible for E. coli to spread through the use of manure, but the real root of the problem lies with the feedlots.

This fact has been largely ignored by the MSM, with a few exceptions. Nina Planck wrote an op-ed about it for the NY Times, and Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, and Joan Dye Gussow, Emeritus professor of Nutrition and Education at Teacher's College-Columbia University, discussed this issue with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer the other day. As Nestle pointed out:

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…

Gussow dubbed the E. coli outbreak a “singularly teachable moment,” and both women agreed that the incident underscored the wisdom of buying local produce and, ideally, pasture-raised meat and dairy, and the folly of relying on one region to provide the nation’s produce. Gussow added that “we absolutely need farm-to-table safety regulations.”

But “the FDA has been an agency under siege,” according to Nestle, “because Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen to try to ruin its regulatory capacity.”

Thanks to shoddy reporting and misinformed bloggers, consumers have been given the impression that the source of the contamination could be anything from organic fertilizers to poor hygiene on the part of workers, or even wild animal droppings in the field.

But agribusiness knows the truth, which is presumably why researchers at a University of Nebraska research feedlot are developing an E. coli vaccine that would be given to cattle to reduce the incidence of infection. The research is funded, in part, by the cattle industry.

And so, for that matter, is the MSM. I can’t turn on NPR, or watch PBS, or pick up the NY Times, without being subjected to ads from Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland. Just bear in mind, these are the corporations who are feeding the cows all that corn—and they’re feeding the rest of us what comes out the other end.

TWO PEAS IN A POD

Cardinal Bernard Law and Dennis Hastert: separated at birth? Hat tip to Jeffrey Feldman over at Dkos for posting these pictures and a righteously indignant diary about Dennis Hastert’s decision to protect a known predator rather than the Congressional pages he preyed on. Looks like the House has served up a heapin’ helpin’ of hypocrisy. Have we had our fill, yet?

SUNDAY CHURCH BLOGGING

Lettuce now take a day of rest from the subject of food, in order to discuss something equally fundamental…

We were strolling down Fifth Avenue the other evening, talking about how bizarre it is, to us, that anyone who claims to be a Christian could support this administration’s policies on torture and pre-emptive war.

Specifically, we were making fun of Mel Gibson’s fundie fans, who are reportedly fuming over anti-war comments Gibson made while screening his new film, “Apocalypto,” in Texas. Gibson’s supporters were by and large unperturbed by his recent anti-Semitic ranting, but Gibson’s observation that we’re “sending guys off to Iraq for no reason" is, evidently, heresy.

Lo and behold, as we were walking and talking, we stumbled upon a church whose railings were festooned with yellow ribbons bearing the names of our soldiers who’ve died for George & Dick (& Donald’s) Not-So-Excellent Military Misadventure. The ribbons were accompanied by the following sign:

“On Sunday, March 19th, the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, the congregation and friends of Marble Collegiate Church hung these ribbons on the fence.

Gold ribbons represent our prayers for the families and friends of the more than 2,300 service people who have lost their lives. We continue to add ribbons and names and to pray for the families and friends as more people die.

Blue ribbons represent our prayers for those in Iraq. For the families and friends of over 30,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives, and for all who have been wounded. The toll of human pain and suffering is impossible to measure.

Green ribbons represent our prayers for peace.

We continue to pray daily. We pray for the wounded. We pray for the day that war is no longer an option.

Will you too, pray with us?”

When Marble Church was built back in 1851, Fifth Avenue was a dirt road and the cast iron fence now adorned with ribbons was constructed to keep cows out of the churchyard.

How times have changed. There are no more cows loitering on Fifth Avenue, and a church that championed peace is coming under fire from the IRS. Supposedly spiritual people are speaking up in support of bigotry, war and torture, and turning their tots into “religious warriors” at American-style madrassahs (see “Jesus Camp,” if you dare).

So we found some crumbs of comfort in the sight of a prominent church that dares to pray for peace.

Imagine.

WEEKEND GREENMARKET BLOGGING

What the cat dragged back from the farmers’ market: fresh lima and cranberry beans, beautiful burgundy okra, tender young collard greens, an assortment of baby lettuces, the deepest green tatsoi, and a handful of hot peppers.

TRANS-FATS: OUT OF THE FRYER, INTO THE FIRE?

Trans-fats have no redeeming nutritional value and they’re toxic. New York City’s health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, compared the food industry’s reliance on trans-fats to the once-ubiquitous use of lead in paint, calling it “invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced…No one will miss it when it is gone.”

Does anybody pine for lead paint? New York City banned it back in 1960. But it took the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission another eighteen years to ban lead paint nationally, in 1978. Maybe we’re just ahead of our time, again.

But New York wouldn’t be the first American city to ban trans-fats; the town of Tiburon in—where else?—Marin County, California, beat us to it in 2004. With the help of a California non-profit, BanTransFats.com, Tiburon eliminated trans-fats from all eighteen of its restaurants.

Emboldened by that success, BanTransFats.com decided to tackle the nation’s largest restaurant industry here in New York City. In 2005, BanTransFats.com launched an initiative in conjunction with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), asking city restaurateurs and food suppliers to voluntarily take trans-fats off the menu.

The food industry got hooked on partially hydrogenated oil because it’s cheap and it prolongs the shelf life of baked goods, among other things. A few establishments switched to healthier alternatives, but far too many didn’t, and so the city is moving forward with its proposal to ban trans-fats.

The city’s proposal quotes Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health: "If New Yorkers replace all sources of artificial trans fat, by even the most conservative estimates, at least 500 deaths from heart disease would be prevented each year in New York City – more than the number of people killed annually in motor vehicle crashes.”

Sounds like time for an oil change.To those complaining that people should be free to consume trans-fatty foods if they so desire, I have one question: do you really want to foot the bill for all those diabetics who’ll have to have their feet amputated because their arteries are so clogged there’s no blood circulating to their feet?

More than 60% of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. There are healthier alternatives to trans-fats that work just as well and don’t cost an arm and a leg.

THIS IS A TEST

TEST

MORE WINDOW DRESSING FROM WHOLE FOODS?

Outside my local Whole Foods, a new sign’s gone up, proclaiming its support for local agriculture.

Inside Whole Foods? The usual suspects from South America: Costa Rican pineapples, bananas from Ecuador, asparagus from Peru.

Closer to home, they’ve got California grapes, and apples from the Pacific Northwest.

But if you’re looking for locally grown, your choices are limited to tomatoes from New Jersey and Connecticut, and some apples from New York. Going a bit further afield, you could find squash and apples from other northeastern states.

Directly across the street at the Union Square Greenmarket, produce is at its peak ; the farmers’ stalls are overflowing with all kinds of greens, beans, melons, squash, root vegetables, and stone fruits.

What’s wrong with this picture?

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL: WHO’S THE GREENEST OF US ALL?

Portland, Oregon is the greenest city in the U.S., according to Sustainlane, a website dedicated to all things sustainable. Sustainlane’s formula for determining the 50 greenest American cities weighs such quality of life factors as: air and water quality, length of commute and congestion, availability of affordable housing and mass transit, land and planning use, local food and agriculture, and so on.

Predictably, the five most, and least, sustainable cities fall into the usual blue state/red state camps, but a growing number of environmentally conscious hunters, ranchers and evangelicals are trying to put the “conservation” back into conservatism. And while the climate-change deniers cling to their fossil-fueled fight for the right to pollute, more and more Americans are seeking out environmentally enlightened communities.

Portland’s progressive policies are enough to turn the rest of us green with envy: it has one of the highest recycling rates in the country, at 55%; it was the first U.S. city to adopt a global warming policy, back in 1993; Bicycling magazine has named Portland the nation’s best bicycling city five years in a row; it plans to rely on wind power for all government buildings, starting next year; and, amazingly, it’s managed to reduce per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% since 1990, while national per-capita emissions increased 13%.

Of course, by providing such an attractive way of life, Portland has drawn droves eager to avail themselves of its many amenities. Can Portland sustain its sustainability? Environmental Tipping Points, an ecological research group, offers this analysis:

"Population pressures are overwhelming the Portland region's ability to absorb the influx of new people, fueling congestion and rises in land and housing prices…Portland's growth rate is twice the national average. With these challenges ahead, it remains to be seen whether this growth will threaten the very assets that Portland's progressive land-use planning policies have managed to protect so far."

It seems that our portion control problems extend well beyond the boundaries of our plates; reportedly, the average American’s eco-footprint—how much land and water it takes to support each of us and absorb our wastes-- is about 24 acres. And the cost of our outsized appetites is adding up, according to the Center for Environment and Population:

• Land is being converted for development at about twice the rate of population growth. When housing, shopping, schools, roads, and other uses are added up, each American effectively occupies 20 percent more developed land than he or she did 20 years ago.

• Nearly 3,000 acres of farmland are converted to nonagricultural uses daily.

• Each American produces about five pounds of trash daily, up from less than three pounds in 1960.

Researchers at Yale and Columbia have constructed an “environmental performance index” to compare 133 countries on the basis of environmental health, air quality, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources, and sustainable energy.

How did we rank? The U.S. came in 28th. Maybe that’s because when it comes to consumption, we’re still Number One.

LIKE A CROCK


Patriotism is the last refuge of an embattled American auto manufacturer, judging by Chevy’s new ad campaign for its Silverado pickup truck. I was taken aback to read in today’s NY Times that Chevy’s new commercials would use images of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina to sell its signature truck.

But a blogger for Jalopnik, Gawker’s car-centric website, who was present at the unveiling of Chevy’s new campaign yesterday, reports that the ads he saw contained something really incendiary—a mushroom cloud:

The campaign's called "Our Country, Our Truck" and it's designed around images of rural America intending to appeal to what Chevy's targeting as the key demographic for truck product, white, married males -- with specific attention paid to the ever-truck-lovin' Lone Star State. In the ads, which will begin airing during NBC's new "Sunday Night Football," Chevy's got a new John Mellencamp song as the soundtrack behind images of dads holding babies, old Chevy trucks, baseball and farms. Oh, and nuclear explosions. That's right, in one of the spec ads journalists previewed, there's the scene of a mushroom cloud -- what we're assuming was a test of some sort -- then an image of duck n' coverin' kids doing just that under their desks.

The commercial in which the image appears is called "Anthem" and it's meant to, as Chevy claims, showcase the good and bad of the past half century and show how America's made it through the difficult times. The imagery corresponds with that message, including shots of Vietnam, the twin towers of light emitting from the World Trade towers site in the months after 9/11 and (of course), hippies in the 60's. Then there's the mushroom cloud. A subconscious reference to a certain rival from the land of the rising sun, which just happens to be launching its own new pickup at the beginning of next year, perhaps?

This sounds like a joke, and maybe it is; I couldn’t verify Jalopnik’s account anywhere, and Jalopnik provides an update with an entirely different version of “Anthem” with no mushroom cloud, no Vietnam and no 9/11. Maybe Chevy got cold feet about using such inflammatory imagery. Anyway, they left in the shot of Rosa Parks and some apparent Katrina survivors. They threw in some firefighters, and puppies, too, for good measure. Whatever it takes to sell a truck, I guess.

A FOOD BANK THAT’S RICH IN SPIRIT

This happy tale of tilling brightens an otherwise dreary news cycle; from today’s NY Times, a profile of a community garden in Sonoma County where volunteers tend patches of Chez Panisse-caliber produce to nourish people battling H.I.V and AIDS.

Founded in 1999 by the non-profit food bank Food For Thought, the garden offers an array of herbs, edible flowers, and more exotic produce such as amaranth, pea shoots, and sorrel in addition to the obligatory organic heirloom tomatoes and beans.

Food For Thought’s volunteer gardeners, some of them H.I.V. patients themselves, get horticultural help from the nearby Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, while a former chef from San Francisco shows the garden’s beneficiaries what to do with all those beans and basil.

The food bank is solar-powered, too. Since installing solar panels on its roof, Food For Thought’s yearly electric bill plummeted from $10,000 to $200; less money spent on energy means more funds to feed clients.

It’s not your garden-variety food bank, and the fresh, tasty produce is just what the doctor ordered for a clientele with weakened immune systems, and appetites often dulled by medications.

But the community garden not only boosts its participants’ immune systems, it raises their spirits, as well.

“You can’t give away food without an emotional and spiritual component,” one volunteer told the Times. “We’re friends and neighbors taking care of each other.”