Tag Archives: michael pollan

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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“Food, Inc.” & the Cornivore’s Dilemma

Movie theater employees at the Nuart in Santa Monica had a playful understanding of the irony concerning the sale of corn-based concessions to movie-goers of whom more would be expected. Also for sale was the companion book for the film, which includes essays by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Muhammad Yunus and others. Photo by Christopher.

Movie theater employees at the Nuart in Santa Monica had a playful understanding of the irony concerning the sale of corn-based concessions to movie-goers of whom more would be expected. Also for sale was the companion book for the film, which includes essays by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Muhammad Yunus and others. Photo by Christopher.

School is out! Friday was the last day, my grades are turned in and I am looking forward to a summer of relaxation and playing in my garden.  We started off our vacation with a trip to the movies today; a movie about food.

And when I say we took a trip, I mean it. “Food, Inc.” opened yesterday in select locations only, so we took a two hour car ride up to Los Angeles to see it.  The irony of watching a movie about food, including the ubiquity of corn, while eating popcorn, was not lost on the movie theater. They offered a special “Cornivore’s Dilemma” that included a large popcorn and a large soda. We thought this was funny, but did not take the bait.

On the whole, “Food, Inc.” further opens the discussion on what has happened to the food industry over the past fifty years. There are interviews with Michael Pollan, who wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”; Eric Schossler, who wrote “Fast Food Nation”; Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farms and several  other farmers and workers in the food industry.

The film takes a look at the way farms have moved from the storybook image of a red barn and happy animals wandering leisurely, to the factory model of  large-scale production.  The film also explores the conditions of workers in these operations, particularly the slaughterhouses, an issue that Human Rights Watch investigated in 2005 and presented in a 185 page report titled “Blood, Sweat, & Fear”.

Already there is a website offering rebuttals of the claims made in the film. A few of their answers offer links to videos on Youtube.com to support their claims, such as a video about where McDonald’s meat comes from that shows a production plant, but the only live animals we see are about five cows grazing in an open pasture at the start of the video; only underlining the film’s claim.

Of course this link led me to the distraction of Youtube where I watched several others videos, including one of a cheeseburger and french fries from McDonald’s that a person claimed to be almost three years old.

At the end of  “Food, Inc.” the filmmakers offer suggestions for the audience on how to address some of what is happening to the food industry. Among others, they ask viewers to shop for organic and local foods, remind people that everyone deserves healthy food, suggest talking to school boards about creating healthy lunches, and recommend planting your own garden. Even if it is a small one. However, these suggestions alone may not be enough to solve the problems created by the industrial food system.

The website for the film offers a list of when the movie is playing and in which cities. If you can find one near you, definitely check it out.

Happy viewing,

Kerri

P.S. Good luck to the South Central Farmers who are holding a press conference this evening to kick off their “Take Back the Farm” campaign.

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Urban Homesteaders Plant Ideas at Film Fest.

Jules Dervaes seeks his kid's input before answering a question from the audience after the film screening of "Homegrown Revolution", a short documentary of their urban homestead in Pasadena where they grow 6,000 pounds of produce on one tenth of an acre each year. Photo by Christopher.

Jules Dervaes seeks his kid's input before answering a question from the audience after the film screening of "Homegrown Revolution", a short documentary of their urban homestead in Pasadena where they grow 6,000 pounds of produce on one tenth of an acre each year. Photo by Christopher.

Watching Kerri gently raise her garden over the last few weeks has been quite a treat. The look she gets when something new has sprouted, and the sheer excitement that radiates from her as she checks in on the food landscape that is taking over our patio is inspiring. While I have borne witness to several new crops grown from seeds recently, what we saw today takes urban gardening to a whole new level.

Jules Dervaes and his three adult children have been growing their own food, and working to live off the grid for nearly a decade. Their urban homestead located in Pasadena is both a revolution in living and a model for self-sufficency. Their short film “Homegrown Revolution” was shown today as part of the Cottonwood Environmental Film Festival here in Encinitas, and the Dervaes family was present to answer questions and distribute information from a booth in the back of the room.

The short film documents how the Dervaes have transformed 1/10 of an acre, which used to include a driveway, into a 6,000 pound urban garden that offers up 350 types of useful and edible plants each year. They use every inch of space, which includes vertical gardening, and during the summer are able to provide up to 80 percent of their food needs. During the winter it’s about 50 percent. In contrast, their lawn growing neighbors have little to show for their own patches of earth just 130 feet from the freeway.

Overall, the Dervaes eat about 60 percent of what they grow, sell 30 percent to local chefs, and use the remaining 10 percent to feed to the small number of chickens, ducks and goats that help produce compost.

“The animals help complete the cycle,” Dervaes said as he answered a question from an audience member after the screening.

The few animals they have aren’t for eating, as the family maintains a near-vegetarian diet, but they do eat some of the eggs and milk produced by their furry and feathered friends. The youngest daughter, Jordanne, says they’re more like pets really and that each one has a name. She even takes the goats hiking.

Beyond the growing of food, the family also uses solar energy, human powered appliances (including a bike blender), a graywater system (including an outdoor shower) and would not dare using chemicals to keep away pests. Their nine different compost systems have put their land 18 inches above the plot next door.

This short film however was only a prologue to the feature length film “Fresh” that screened directly afterward.

For those of you who have read Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, this film could have very well been a companion to the section where Pollan is on the Salatin farm. While Pollan himself is interveiwed throughout, seeing Joel Salatin and the farm that Pollan works hard to describe in his book, is the best part of this film.

Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes has done a good job of weaving together a few different stories of where our food comes from, and in doing so allows viewers to see that another type of food system is possible, if we’re willing to get our hands dirty, or commit to supporting closed cycle farms that are looking to feed people instead of mono cropping corn and soy to process into other products.

Both films were inspiring, but I’m not convinced that the solutions proposed by either film are going to gain much traction with the majority of Americans who prize convenience above all else. My dad is not going to start a garden, and I’m pretty sure he’s not alone. However, a move in this direction is absolutely essential if we are going to survive as a species.

Unfortunately the one in nine Americans now receiving food stamps is less equipped to make such a radical transition, as many people are just trying to make it to the next paycheck (if they’re lucky enough to have a job – unemployment is now 9.4 percent). If you are paying attention, you know that the United States has reached a record level of federal assistance this week. More Americans than ever before are struggling to feed their families.

Over the last few days there were also several thought-provoking food tidbits to consider. Author Tom Standage was interviewed on National Public Radio about his book “An Edible History of Humanity”, and Jim Motavalli wrote a well reasoned opinion piece in Foreign Policy magazine predicting the oncoming vegetarian revolution; he writes that it will come by force rather than choice, and the comments are also worth sifting through.

Until next week,

Christopher

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