Tag Archives: food safety

Stephanie Smith, Differences in Aid, and Paul Farmer.

The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”

While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.

Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).

However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that this could be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?

– Christopher

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Food Safety, Healthcare, and TeaBagger Experiment?

 talk of "big government" is cliche. The government has to be "big" in order to serve 300 million people. Both sides are guilty of big spending. Image courtesy of McClatchy News Services.

All this talk of "big government" is cliche. The government has to be "big" in order to serve 300 million people. Both sides are guilty of big spending. It's our country, we have to pay for it somehow, even when the economy is in the toilet. Image courtesy of McClatchy News Services.

Last week when Kerri went to collect our produce from our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up point, it simply wasn’t there. Our name was on the list, but our box was missing. I put a call into Be Wise Ranch (our farm) and left a pleasant, but uncertain message wondering where our food had gone. It’s been a week and we still haven’t heard back from them, and our vegetable drawer remains empty. However, with school starting, and plenty to witness in the public arena, we’ve been more relaxed about (or at least distracted from) the disappearance of our lettuce.

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website for the public to learn more about food safety issues, and while we’d like to see some type of new agency dedicated specifically to these issues, for now an online resource was the least they could do. We’re not complaining, in fact, we’re very pleased by this new site, but it doesn’t suffice in the face of our fractured food safety system. Yet, while food safety is one of the most important concerns of our day, the launch of this site was easily overshadowed by the on-going healthcare debate, the centerpiece of President Obama’s domestic agenda.

While the “teabaggers” (or mostly right-wing anti-Obamaphytes posing as “real” Americans) marched on Washington today with a grab bag of conservative talking points (I saw signs proclaiming “Jesus Saves”, “Say No to Socialism”, and even a few confederate flags), the most important thing that Americans can do to take a stand on issues of healthcare is to start eating well, and to get involved in the struggle for food justice.

Regardless of where you stand politically, what you eat plays a larger role in your overall health than who provides your healthcare, or how much it costs. Healthcare is important. That being said, Michael Pollan also had an interesting piece in the New York Times a few days ago further strengthening the link between these two issues.

This march on Washington, while cathartic for the folks involved, will do little to shape the national debate on healthcare. Obama’s speech in Minneapolis had a more focused and memorable ring to it with his “Fire it Up!” and “Ready to Go!” What I’m waiting for is for one of these “teabaggers” to ante up and stop paying taxes altogether. I secretly hope that they document it in a blog, and write a book, as that seems like a great way for others to connect with what the issues are for those involved.

I wonder if this hypothetical experiment would include not using any government services paid for by taxes (that would only seem fair), which would mean: no mail, no driving (your license, and your streets are managed by the government!), no flying (darn that FAA!), no t.v. or radio (down with the FCC!), no sending the kids to get a free public education (no more liberal indoctrination!), no federal student aid, no medicare or medicaid, no eating food that comes from a place that is safety checked by the government (hunger strike!), no calling the police or fire department in an emergency, no use of national parks or monuments, no food for the needy (let them starve!) and of course, no supporting the troops. DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT! I think a blog and book of this nature would be far better than ours. At the very least, it would be more interesting than hearing about our missing produce…

Any takers?

– Christopher

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Vegan Cupcakes Take Over My Brain.

Mostly vegan cupcakes sat waiting on the table at the family cabin in Shingletown, Calif. Of course, the vegan tray made room for one outcast. Cupcakes by Kimberly. Photo by Christohper (iPhone).

Mostly vegan cupcakes sat waiting on the table at the family cabin in Shingletown, Calif. Of course, the vegan tray made room for one outcast. Cupcakes by Kimberly. Photo by Christopher (iPhone).

I’m not sure what it is about road trips that make me feel like whether we are traveling for five hours or five days we need to stock the car full of provisions for the trip. Maybe it is some sort of evolutionary survival instinct that has been passed down from our ancestors that whispers into our consciousness, “bring food, and lots of it!”

But as Kerri and I packed the cooler for our drive to Redding, Calif. for father’s day with her family, the food we put in was quite different than what we would have brought last summer. Beyond a few leftover slices of pizza, we packed apples, strawberries and almonds. No chips, cookies, or other prepackaged foods would make the 10-hour journey with us to northern California. It isn’t that those foods are inherently bad, but since the “dollar diet” our eating patterns have changed.

As we work on our latest project in the economics of eating well, which we’ll fully recount in the book (due out in early 2010), the process of experimenting with our dietary patterns is starting to pay off. In general we tended to overeat before, now we know when to stop. We used to eat far more processed foods, now we cook from “raw” ingredients. The biggest challenge that remains however is eating in social settings with others.

Kerri’s family eats a fairly typical American diet. At gatherings the guys grill up burgers and dogs, and the women cover the tables with bowls of chips, Ritz crackers with dips, some assorted fruits, soda, tea, bottled water, and some type of dessert. This year it was cupcakes, compliments of Kerri’s younger sister.

I struggle during these trips because the chips, cookies, soda, cupcakes, and other high-calorie foods are difficult to resist. I was raised to overeat, and this habit, in combination with calorie dense junk foods, is a disaster for my health.

Today I did my best. When we arrived before lunch I resisted the barbecue chips and the crackers when they came out. But as everyone around me started munching away, the crunching of chips came in like surround sound. Resisting the snack table amidst the crowd of consensus eating made me feel like that lone man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square 20 years ago.

I stayed strong for a couple hours, but soon the rationalizations clouded my will to defy. Kerri said it was o.k. to snack on carrots. Then we took a long calorie-burning walk, which made it fine to have two veggie burgers instead of one (besides, who wants to bring frozen food home on long drive?).

Then Kim came out with the cupcakes and it was game over.

Rationalizations grew into philosophical platforms: eating is an act of communion – if I don’t take part I’m rejecting a shared experience, therefore rejecting her family; Kerri’s sister went out of her way to make elegant vegan cupcakes – abstaining this accommodation would be blasphemous and just plain rude.  And of course the all time favorite way to indulge “bad” behavior: “Everything is o.k. in moderation.”

As the food was put away things got easier, but each day we are here is a challenge. Eating well is hard work, and although possible, there are moments when resistance is futile.

Trying to stay strong,
Christopher

P.S. If you didn’t hear about it, Nestle has recalled all of their cookie dough as 66 people in 28 states have contracted E.coli 0157 from it. If you have some in your fridge, THROW IT AWAY. Cooking it won’t help, because the minute you open it you will have contaminated your kitchen.

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Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

take-me-out-to-the-ball-game-791233

Christopher has lived in the San Diego area for most of his life. During that time he has been to countless Padres games and swears he has never seen them win.  Yesterday, which happened to be the day after we ended our second project, we headed down to the park once again to root for the Padres. They won.  I think I was more excited than Christopher was.

The tickets were free, so we saved some money there, but we had an emergency with our kitty (that led to a trip to the vet and now the joy of tackling her twice a day to give her oral and topical antibiotics), and ran out of time to eat before we had to leave the house.  Leaving when we did, we still missed the the top of the first.

We decided to eat at the park, knowing that it would be an expensive meal. We were right.  I went to get us food during the top of the 3rd. Christopher handed me $15 and I laughed. He forked over another $20. I figured I would be bringing back change.

As I approached the counter I debated what to get. Due to the economy and the Padres low attendance, the stadium has a meal deal: 5 for $5. With that you can get a hot dog or veggie dog, peanuts, popcorn, a cookie and a small soda (16 oz). For $10 you can substitute a draft beer for the soda.

I knew I wanted a beer, which is always overpriced at games, and we both wanted two veggie dogs, because they are so small. Neither of us would eat the cookies and Christopher had told me twice that he wanted a pretzel, so I figured that was an important item. I felt silly as I agonized over what to do. How much would it cost to get two extra veggie dogs? Would Christopher still want a pretzel if  I came back with all the rest? What if I brought back the goods and he didn’t want popcorn and peanuts? Did I want peanuts?

We were both pretty hungry and I didn’t want to mess it up.  I left my phone in my purse which Christopher was watching, so I couldn’t phone a friend (Christopher) for help. Despite the low attendance (which was still over 27,000 people), the line was long and I was almost up to the front. Did I really want to trek back to the seats and get in line all over again?

In the end, I made the choice that I thought would be best. I stuck to our original plan. As soon as the cashier finished ringing me up I wished I had gone with the deal. I am pretty sure that when I handed Christopher his $1.50 in change he felt the same way.

Despite the fact that the stadium is offering reduced prices, an article in Friday’s New York times claims that  wholesale food costs went up in April, while a second article by the same reporter discussed the fact that consumer costs have held steady.  Another article in the business section, also from Friday,  points out that even though prices to the consumer are steady, there are several large food manufacturers which, “concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items -from frozen vegetables to pizzas- and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer.”  It is unclear which ingredients may be responsible, and several items have been recalled this year including six tons of frozen egg rolls.

This made us consider the food from the game.  These companies probably played a role in most, if not all of what we ate, which is probably the case at most ball parks.  It  hit home that  price shouldn’t be our only concern when buying  food.

Kerri

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