As for this first week, I've got a few topics related to the environment, poverty, and food that I read about this week to share with you. Please do me the favor of checking them out (on the flip) and decide if you are interested.
This diary is for everyone - you don't have to be a vegetarian.
Another use for this diary can be as a vegetarian/vegan support forum. How do you stay healthy? How do you deal with social situations? How do you make a family dinner for 3 omnivores and a veggie?
So here goes...
Finger Lickin' Bad: How Poultry Producers Are Ravaging the Rural South
Grist magazine ran this article as a part of a series on the environment and poverty.
"These companies seek rural areas where unemployment, or underemployment, is high and people are desperate for ways to stay on the farm," says Aloma Dew, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky. "They assume that poor, country people will not organize or speak up, and that they will be ignorant of the impacts on their health and quality of life."
The companies provide local growers, who work under contract, with chicks, feed, medicine, and transportation. Growers take care of the rest, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction, maintenance, and labor costs. When the company requires upgrades, the costs fall to the growers. The massive amounts of manure, too, are their responsibility. (In Arkansas alone, chicken farms produce an amount of waste each day equal to that produced by 8 million people.) Payment is results-oriented, based on measures like total weight gain of the flock. It's a system, says the United Food and Commercial Workers, that leaves 71 percent of growers earning below poverty-level wages.
The long story short is that the major chicken producers, like Tyson, basically blackmail rural communities into producing their chicken for them. This isn't win-win. It's win-lose-lose. Tyson wins. The growers lose because they take on all of the costs and responsibilities and they are at the mercy of corporate giants like Tyson in order to keep from going under financially. The local population loses too, because the chicken farms smell and the chicken farms hurt the local environment and the local economy.
How to Take Action: Buy locally-produced free range organic chicken - or none at all if it suits you. Also, when you buy eggs,
look for free range vegetarian Omega-3 eggs. Look for sustainable animal products at http://www.eatwellguide.org.
Update (from the comments):
There's no standard for what makes a free range chicken or their eggs.
The only standards for eggs and chicken meat that aren't cruel to chickens are California Certified Organic and the Oregon Tilth.
By the way, chickens make fabulous pets for the backyard, and are very thrifty with our own leftovers. Chicken feed is very cheap, a 50 lb. bag sells for about $9.50 where I live and each of my two hens consumes about 50 lbs per year. Bog-standard chicken feed doesn't contain meat scraps! Chicken feed that contains meat scraps is simply too expensive (if you can even find it).
I'm Hatin' It: How the Feds Make Bad-For-You Food Cheaper Than Healthful Fare
Here is another good one from Grist magazine. While it doesn't address meat issues, it does address politics, poverty, the environment, and food - my topic du jour.
Corn receives mucho federal subsidies. So where does all that corn go?
50% goes to feed animals.
20% is exports.
10% is ethanol.
10% is excess.
And 5% goes for HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup).
Our food system is shot through with corn. It feeds the animals that feed us: more than 50 percent of the harvest goes into domestic animal operations. About 5 percent flows into high-fructose corn syrup, adding a sweet jolt to soft drinks, confections, and breakfast cereal. All told, it's a cheap source of calories and taste. Yet all this convenience comes with a price -- and not just an environmental one.
Cheap corn, underwritten by the subsidy program, has changed the diet of every American. It has allowed a few corporations -- including Archer Daniels Midland, the world's largest grain processor -- to create a booming market for high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of the caloric sweeteners added to processed food, and is the sole caloric sweetener for mass-market soft drinks. Between 1975 and 1997, per-capita consumption jumped from virtually nothing to 60.4 pounds per year -- equal to about 200 calories per person, per day. Consumption has generally hovered around that level since.
The article says that subsidies encourage overproduction - and then they translate that into real terms for someone who is out shopping for foods. Which do you choose - a Ding Dong (chock full of HFCS), or a three-ounce serving of salmon?
As a vegetarian/health nut, I choose neither - but that's not the point. Someone living from paycheck to paycheck, working three jobs (like that Mom who Bush thought was "uniquely American"), has limited money and time to commit to buying and preparing foods. I just read the book Nickel and Dimed about a journalist who tried to make ends meet while working minimum wage jobs - she and her coworkers ate lunch at convenience stores.
How to Take Action: Stop buying foods made with high fructose corn syrup. This is almost synonymous with "stop buying [most] processed foods." If that sounds too outrageous to you, try to reduce the amount you eat. Try to snack on fruit - it's already sweet and delicious, you don't have to cook it, and it's free of HCFS.
If you read labels, you can find many foods made without HCFS - usually they are more abundant at a natural foods coop or a Whole Foods or in the natural foods aisle at your regular grocery. When reading labels, alternative sweeteners include brown rice syrup, stevia, sucanat, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, molasses, and date sugar or dates.
Mother Jones Takes on School Lunches
I came across an older Mother Jones article this week. They explored school lunches nationwide and found the vast majority served artery-clogging fare.
At a time when weight-related illnesses in children are escalating, schools are serving kids the very foods that lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. That's because the National School Lunch Program, which gives schools more than $6 billion each year to offer low-cost meals to students, has conflicting missions. Enacted in 1946, the program is supposed to provide healthy meals to children, regardless of income. At the same time, however, it's designed to subsidize agribusiness, shoring up demand for beef and milk even as the public's taste for these foods declines.
In addition to already spending more than double on beef and cheese what it spends on veggies (mostly canned or frozen), our government also makes special purchases in response to lobbying.
In response to lobbying?!!! The health of our children is left up to the lobbyists? Healthcare costs make up 16% of the GDP and they are going up as a percent. The very people who are least able to afford healthcare are the ones who receive school lunches. These are the children who most need a healthy diet and healthy lifelong eating habits.
Additionally, the article goes on to describe how schools integrate their lunch programs into their budgets. The subsidized commodities are cheap, whereas healthier foods are more expensive. How much do you want to bet that the richer districts are able to afford healthier food than the poor districts?
How to Take Action: If you are a parent, you can get involved. At a minimum, you can pack your child's lunch - but you can also contact the school and find out more about their school lunch program, and organize parents in your community to take action.
The high fructose corn syrup article points out that obesity occurs at the highest frequencies among the lower income population and among disadvantaged minorities. I personally do not consume chicken, beef, high fructose corn syrup... and usually dairy too (although I'm not vegan yet AND I live in Wisconsin). My own personal dietary restrictions do not ameliorate the problem facing our nation. The solution needs to come on a grander scale.
To start, we can write LTEs or write our representatives. Real change won't come nationally until the Repugs are out of power - but there is hope on a local level. In my city, Madison, liberals are trying to mandate a certain amount of paid sick leave for the low wage jobs in town. That doesn't have to do with food - but it shows that change is possible on a local level.
As promised, here are a few vegetarian recipes. More are available on my site.
Prep time: 10 min; Total time: 10 min
- 1 lb tofu
- 1 c. broccoli
- 1 c. carrots
- 1/2 c. bean sprouts
- 1 hardboiled egg (optional)
- 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
- 1-2 tbsp. soy sauce (to taste)
- 2 tsp. grade B maple syrup (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
- 1 tsp. rice vinegar (optional)
- 1/4 c. water
Slice tofu into bitesized pieces. Steam tofu and vegetables (I just microwave them in a bowl with an inch of water in the bottom for about 5 min). On a plate, arrange all vegetables. Slice the egg and add it on top of the vegetables.
Combine peanut butter and all remaining ingredients and microwave for 2 min. Stir your peanut butter mixture until it is blended. Add water to reach your desired consistency (it should be thinner than normal peanut butter, but not liquidy).
Pour sauce over vegetables and enjoy with brown rice.
Prep time: 10 min; Total time: 10 min
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 c. diced tomatoes with juice (or 1 can)
- 4 c. vegetable broth (or 2 cans)
- 1 c. kidney beans (or 1 can, rinsed and drained)
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- Large handful fresh basil
- Large handful fresh baby spinach (optional)
- 3 tbsp. parmesan, grated (optional)
- Pasta, cooked (optional)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Fart-free beans: If you are using dried beans, boil them in water for 5 minutes the night before. Discard the water and then soak your beans (in new water) overnight. Change the soak water once while beans are soaking and discard soak water before beginning to make your soup. Cook beans in a pressure cooker for about 10-12 minutes or boil them on the stove for 40 minutes before beginning to make your soup (you can get your beans started first and then begin working on the rest of the soup while they cook).
If you plan to serve your soup with pasta, begin cooking the pasta in a separate pot before beginning to make the rest of your soup.
Heat onion and olive oil over medium high heat. Add minced garlic and continue to saute until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, and beans. Cover and bring to a boil.
Once the soup is boiling (and pasta, if you are including it, is al dente), remove the lid and add basil, spinach, parmesan cheese, and pasta. Stir the greens in until they wilt. Taste and add salt or fresh ground pepper if necessary.