Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Food Industry and Health Care Reform

I won't presume to speak more eloquently on this topic than Michael Pollan has in his recent op ed piece in The New York Times about the relationship between Health Care Reform and the Food Industry, but I do want to comment on it from my Locavore perspective.

I continue to be excited about Pollan's work because he hits the same vein I have been tapping for years about the backward way we think about food and nutrition in this country. Most health care providers (including many in my field of dietetics) have been rehashing the same tired "low fat/low calorie" mantra for 30 plus years now as the definitive answer to good health, without regard as to where those calories come from. They are currently coming, in large part, from a slew of engineered, processed foods filled with artificial flavors, articial sweeteners, fat replacers, colored dyes, stabilizers, texturizers, fillers and enriched lost nutrients. To what end?

We still continue to get heavier and sicker. Isn't the lay definition of insanity expecting to get a different result even though we continue to behave in the same manner? It seems a little insane that we actually think that inexpensive, fake foods will actually lead to our better health.

But even as the health argument should be enough to get people to change their behaviors - it is not working. From my thinking, taste should be the driving force. Of course this argument backfires when our palate has been programmed to actually enjoy the fake foods we believe are our only options. But when did we lose our taste for real food? What happened to us that we turned our backs on quality, real food in favor of fake foods in massive quantities? And when will we finally pay more attention to the fact that the food industry's primary incentive isn't really our good health, but digging deeper into our wallets to line their shareholder's pockets?

Why is the pushing of great tasting, but slightly more expensive, food such a hard sell? When will we see that eating real food will translate into better health? When will we understand that saving a few dollars now with cheap food will truly mean higher health costs later?

The most common defensive question I get about not eating locally or organically is the high cost. While I agree that we have little to no good cost benefit analysis research on eating organically and the subsequent impact on our health, look at why. It is because these studies would be time consuming and expensive and who's going to fund them - not the food industry because that would be counter to producing cheap food at a profit and not the farmers because they can't afford to and not the USDA because it doesn't fit with the current subsidy system for crops and agribusiness.

And while I am not a conspiracy theorist, I do see, as Pollan points out in his op ed piece, that the food industry and the health care industry are mutually reinforcing the status quo. All while we stand by and continue to line up like sheep headed to slaughter, buying inexpensive food because we feel we have no other choices.

Vote with your dollars...

I am here to say we don't have to. I am here to show you that you can learn other strategies and implement them slowly, over time, and make real changes in your life and the lives of the ones you love. With every small change we make, we are in effect voting for change by the food industry and supporting local farmers at the same time, a double benefit.

Each day of our lives includes at least 2 - 6 opportunities to make choices about what you buy and eat - start making one small different choice a week, then one a day and then before you know it you will start an eating revolution that truly is revolutionary - you'll be living on real food in a fake food world! A rebellion in favor of real tastes and real pleasures!

When was the last pleasurable meal you had - I can almost assure you that it wasn't frozen or microwaveable (unless it wasn't the meal you enjoyed but the company!) Let's bring pleasure back to the dinner table, let's bring real food back into our lives.

Let's eat well and be well, America!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The First Dinner....

Well, it's almost 11 pm and the dishes are done (thanks Steve) and Charlotte is asleep (thanks me) and maybe I can get a few thoughts down here before I sleep.

What a great night! We established some fast new friendships with both our families, lots of energy, great food and all the kids got along GREAT! There were a few spills, but no tears! Mike's Guiness Cake was just delicious! The salad from Tammy and Mike included lots of local garden veggies and overall we calculated that the meal was about 85% local - quite a coup!

Our Artisan Photographer and his wife, also came and brought their two kids. They brought some delicious rolls from Great Harvest - yum! So we had 6 children rollicking through the house and I think the adults were only interrupted a handful of times, so the grown-ups had time for our meet and greet.

Tina Firesheets, our official News and Record reporter tried to stay in a corner and not interrupt the flow, but she is such a ray of sunshine that she is hard to totally ignore. But I don't think her presence hindered any comments.

Our main topic was what kind of experiences did we want to cover, as a group, over the next year and how do we figure out the schedules. Using Morgan Glover's new Agri-Tourism in the Triad Map we came up with a great handful of ideas for the field trips. Schedules will be a bit trickier and so I am going to have to work on that, in my spare time - ha ha! We want to see farms that raise animals, urban homesteads/gardens, dairys and visit markets. My excitement over our NC Shallowford Popcorn Farm wasn't met with the enthusiasm I have so I will visit this on my own. I think that, again this year, my holiday gifts will include more local food baskets.

Everyone wanted my brisket recipe and I will include that in another post after I grab it off my desk at school where I left it. I want to start a recipe sidebar, but I haven't figured out that feature yet. if anyone knows someone who needs volunteer time with a good organization - we'd be happy to accept blog expertise!

And speaking of sidebars I wanted to note that most of the kids did not like the grass-fed ground beef hamburgers that I made. Admittedly, pasture raised beef does taste different to our current American palate. Most of us are hooked on the corn (grain) fed beef systemic in our diet. Corn fed beef is all these kids have probably ever had and, as such, it was a difference they noticed. When you season the ground beef as in a meatloaf, pasta sauce or as fancier hamburger the difference disappears and the deliciousness of the beef really comes through, but when offered just plain it is noticeable. When we visit some farms and the older kids learn more about the beef industry it may be interesting to see if they come to accept the taste of pasture raised beef better with the idea that "happy cows" taste different. It means a lot to me!

Another interesting comment was made by Mike R. when he started talking about diet and moderation and we decided that moderation often is connotated with restriction and what we really are trying to achieve here is balance. My philosophies about food are somewhat radical in the world of dietetics and nutrition. I am not nutrient focused, which means I care about how the fat in our food got there and what type it is, but not so much about how many grams of fat there is. And I am so very opposed to eating processed and industrialized foods. Cheap industrialized foods are making us sick and we need to catch on to that and make a change in our diet. Lucky for us the solution in eating local, organic, seasonal and fresh foods is a delicious treatment. I believe food heals and enhances health but only if it also has been raised in a healthy manner and with respect to the planet. (See my next blog for extended comments on this topic.)

I bring this up because I have had a few comments about the fact that the families don't seem as "fast foody" or unhealthy as they thought I would start with. I want to clarify that I want this project to benefit not just these families, but everyone who is interested in taking steps down the path to eating a more local diet. By having families who already understand my philosophies about food, that are aware of the issues and that already have taken baby steps to making change, I have less resistance to work through. This way we can start right in on making the next small baby steps down the Locavore Path.

Saturday evening, 8pm - Right now I am fixing last night's bloopers and blips (nod to my friend Jay who picks on my dyslexia and poor typing skills ;-)) and I want to note that this morning I attended the annual Farmer's Market Appreciation Day down at the Curb Market and hugged at least 6 of my farmers (and Charlotte got to meet Mayor Johnson). It was a wonderful event. I also took the opportunity to talk with several of them about bringing the families out for "field" trips (pun intended) and everyone was up for it!

So, right now everyone is preparing their own comments about last night's events and the next step will be to go out and photograph the kitchen pantries of both the families. It will be a great way to look back next year and see if there are more local foods and less poptarts, pre-cooked bacon and chicken nuggets.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Steve here, builder of coops and faithful assistant on this project. I had a chance tonight to do something I don't normally do - attend a community government event. In this case it was the meeting of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commissioners Board. It just so happens that, among their many other duties involving parks, playgrounds and community centers in our fair city, they oversee the operation of the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market down there at 501 Yanceyville Street. It's the one closest to our house, and the one we most frequently, ah, frequent.

There's currently some controversy brewing at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market and it revolves around rules, specifically the one that states that the vendors there are supposed to actually be local. By that they mean that the food sold there (and the crafts too) should be produced locally. I'm not sure about the distances involved in defining "local" here as I don't know the rule by heart or anything, but it seems that a very tiny proportion of the 60+ vendors at the market sometimes breaks those rules, bringing in and selling non-local products that they mostly assuredly have not produced themselves and that definitely have not been produced locally. In the grand scheme of things it's probably a fairly small problem, but I got to see local farmers in action defending something they believe is important - locally produced foods - and also the political process in action. In the end, I don't know that the controversy was entirely put to rest, but in the process good, well-intentioned people said a lot of good things about the market, the community it creates and supports, and how it is considered an important "treasure" (yes, that was the word used) of this city. The dedication present impressed me and, along with many other arguments for it, reinforced my belief in the local food movement.

Juxtaposed with that was Anne-Marie's recent battle over an article for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) which appeared at first to be a simple 400 word assignment discussing the Hot Topic of organic foods. I won't go into the details of that two and a half month ordeal, but suffice it to say that not everyone at the ADA was on the same page regarding the subject of organic foods. And this controversy was national in scope.

Between these two issues it has became quite apparent to me that there are forces out there who, on both a small scale and a large one, don't really want to see a move to locally produced foods succeed. In fact, some of those people will go to considerable lengths to oppose it, not just fudging on farmers market rules. It also seems, however, that those who most fiercely oppose this movement almost universally have a financial stake in maintaining the status quo of processed, engineered and long-distance shipped foodstuffs. No matter where you might sit on this issue, I think that's something to keep in mind. I'm no "Socialist", not by a long shot, but when it comes to what's good for me, my family, my country, and, yes I'll say it, the planet, it's not dollars and cents that makes the most difference. It's pursuing the path I feel will truly benefit the most people. By supporting our local farmers, we are not just keeping them in business and ensuring a local food supply. We are also making it possible for others who wish to pursue this path to succeed. (Sound of me stepping down off my soapbox).

And the ball is getting rolling...

I haven't written much because I had to catch up with my academic and personal life after the rally to find the families. Now I am ready to roll again.

This Friday night we are having our first official meeting of the families. I am hosting a dinner and we will discuss the blogging process, our calendars and the events that I want to propose. This is where all you fabulous followers come in, especially those of you that are local to Guilford County and surrounding counties - give us suggestions!

First, the dinner menu - for the nine grown-ups (6 with the project and 3 with the media) we will have a beef brisket from Bobby Bradds Family Farm - I use a Sara Foster recipe (Chapel Hill chef) and it is delicious. I usually get a 5 - 10 pound first cut brisket from Bobby and cook it off and store leftovers in 4 pack servings in the freezer for instant delicious dinners later. We will also have corn on the cob from the farmers market - beatuiful bi-color ears - white and yellow! And local potatoes which I am going to roast along with some gorgeous local green beans. I am making hamburgers for the kids (6 of them!) from more of Bobby's pasture raised beef. Tammy is bringing a salad and Kim a dessert and our photographer is bringing some kind of bread. We have some local Natty Green's Buckshot Amber for those that may imbide and decaf iced tea for those that don't (decaf because that's all I drink - wouldn't sleep if I had caffeine, but I would probably blog more!) And of course Homeland Creamery Whole Milk for the kids!

Regarding the schedule, I am going to see about spending one weekend (or wherever it fits) of every four which each family alone working on what they need help with most. Then one of the other weeks we will plan on rotating around to each other's houses with the whole gang. In the fourth week we will all go on a field trip. This way each family gets some time off - we do have other lives and the goal here is to implement small steady changes and make them become habits we enjoy.

The field trips I will suggest include visits to family farms to see organic/sustainable farming practices and hear from the farmers about their perspectives on the food system and agriculture. I know we will see a variety of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and goats in addition to crops. I also want us to see cheese being made, sheep being sheared, lambs or kids (goat babies) being born, bread making, soap making (I know you can't eat it but it's still cool!), apiaries (the fancy word for bee keeping) and a winery or brewery (for the grown-up's field trip.) And I want to include the Children's Museum's Edible Schoolyard, many farmer's markets and some other artisanal food producers. Please send your suggestions our way!

So, look for more posts and photos early next week.
And so it begins...
Eat well and be well!

PS - the above pic is of Charlotte smashing NC oyster shells for the chickens, notice her sunglass safety goggles and the chicken who couldn't wait to snatch up the good salty bits! We get these shells when my brother-in-law and nephew, Addison, go oystering near Oak Island.