Salmonella, Cargill, Yikes

6 08 2011

Concerned about the massive ground turkey recall by Cargill? Not sure we need to worry about this specific recall in Canada, but we should worry about salmonella. I spent a little bit of time this morning educating myself on what was going on and what I could learn about salmonella. Happy Saturday to me :). I have my opinions. If you have been trying to keep up with the story, I have posted a few things below that you might want to check out:

  • Short video summarizing the issue and how to protect yourself from salmonella by Democracy Now. I appreciate their short look at some of the root causes. Recommend.
  • Maryn McKenna’s Superbug blog post on the fact that distributing salmonella is not illegal. Very interesting read.
  • Short article from the law office Marler Clark, posted to their blog, they represent people who have been infected withfoodborne illnesses. Lots of other posts on the history of these infections and other lawsuits they have been involved in. They have a very clear message for Cargill, ‘Start Testing and We Won’t Sue You’.
  • Huffington Post article on the complexity of food safety in the 21st century and how government cutbacks will impact it.
  • Food Safety News blog post on how the USDA’s salmonella policy is failing.
  • A fantastic PowerPoint of the history, epidemiology and molecular biology of salmonella (downloaded PowerPoint). History of Salmonella
  • Article from ‘Meathead’ on Huffington Post. He does have points about veggies and certainly schools people on how to make the food safe. He misses the point on why we are in this mess in the first place though.

I went to Cargill’s American web site to read the recall for myself. It is a voluntary, so nice of them, to pull their products from the shelf because of the ‘possible contamination’ dating back to Feb. They make sure to remind us that Salmonella is very common, found in all food and that in general, bacteria is found everywhere. They point out that proper handling is key. Ah shucks, we’re so lucky to have producers like this, reminding us how it is our fault if we get sick.

Don’t get me wrong, I know salmonella is very common, there are many strains but not all cause illness. We do see increased outbreaks due to the MASSIVE PRODUCTION of food. So much of it is from our handling of animals and feed and how we dispose of the mass waste in these production lines, passing it on to veggies and fruit (salmonella is NOT naturally occurring in fruit and vegetables). Safe handling of food is key, but it certainly convinces me to continue thinking about how we produce our food and what food to consume. As well, we can’t ignore how systems like government and agriculture/farming are inter-related. There is great concern that the trillion-dollar spending cuts in the US are going to further impact policy keepers like the USDA. This is a real concern, although, where are the ethics of the people producing the food? Profits win the game between doing right and making money, unfortunately. How about our insatiable appetite for animal products?

For me these news stories are about looking beyond the headlines and asking questions that start to reveal the cause of the issue. This inquiry creates more questions, but it helps to connect the issue to better answers than ‘wash your hands’ and ‘cook meat well’.

Eat well, Be well,

Nat





A Foodie Read: Animal Vegetable Miracle

25 07 2011

If you are at all interested in living in a sustainable way, love local food and want to be apart of the growing slow food movement, read this book: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. You don’t have to try to attain 100% of what she does in the book, but reading it will inspire you to think differently about the food you put on your families table (and in your mouth). Kingsolver is a well known novelist (The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible), I haven’t read anything else of hers but having read this book, I am sure her fiction is a wonderful experience to read. Animal Vegetable Miracle is a non-fiction account of her family’s experience to grow their own food and source everything locally for one year. The book has three authors, Barbara is the main one, and she actually has a graduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her husband Steven is an environmental studies professor and her daughter Camille is one a very inspirational young adult.

The book tracks the growing season, from planning to seeding to growing to harvest to planning again. She deals with vegetables, chickens (in which her younger daughter creates an egg enterprise… I so want chickens), meat and cheese. For those of us that do not eat meat, I have to say her explanation of animals is incredibly respectful. She is anti processed food, supports farm raised everything and gives you lots to think about when eating raspberries in the dead of winter;

“We’re raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.”

The book is full of recipes, meal plans and has a wonderful website where you can also get them from, click here.

We do okay in the arena of slow food, we’re not perfect, that’s for sure, but conscious of our choices and more so every day. I am very happy to pick fresh lettuce from the garden on my way into the house after work, but come winter, it is tough in Alberta. The farmers markets keep us going and it is amazing what they are growing in hot houses these days. I encourage you to pay closer attention to the seasonality of your food. Watermelon in the dead of winter, not so kind. The watermelon we had recently, very yummy and it didn’t travel that far to get to us (although, it certainly didn’t grow up on the prairies).

What are you reading this summer? Maybe this is the book for you.

Be well, Eat well,

Nat





Food Geopolitics, NFB and Piikani

21 05 2011

Finally a long weekend. The last few weeks have been so busy with work and extracurricular activities I have been hard pressed to stay connected. Now the sun is out and it’s time to get some stuff around the yard done. We have big plans today, starting with taking down a gazebo, trimming a very out of control pine tree, clearing the flower beds, tilling the garden, planting seeds and putting together our new patio furniture. When it is done, the yard will be a new oasis. Speaking of oasis, last night I got home late, it was dark, but when I walked into the yard the smell from the newly blooming plum-tree filled the air. I love this time of year and I {heart} that tree.

This morning I was able to get to some articles and surfing done I have missed. Found this very good article on the geopolitics of food (besides giggling my way through rapture articles, argh). This article goes beyond the symptoms of food prices but the building global scarcity of food, food production and secure sources of food. Linking political, agricultural and ecological systems. It reminded me how important understanding where our food comes from, how it is produced and the context of what we choose to put in our mouths requires more than a nanosecond of attention.

“The world now needs to focus not only on agricultural policy, but on a structure that integrates it with energy, population, and water policies, each of which directly affects food security. But that is not happening. Instead, as land and water become scarcer, as the Earth’s temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. Land grabbing, water grabbing, and buying grain directly from farmers in exporting countries are now integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.”

My extracurricular activities this past month have included a recording session for the National Film Board with grandma Anne. The Bread Project (see previous posts) has been proposed as a digital archive that could be shared online. My good friend Mariette is behind this. Anne was interviewed about her life experience, her family immigrating from Hungry, growing up in Canada, her baking, cooking and what she had learned about life. I listened from another room, sitting in grandpa’s chair learning, laughing and crying as she opened up about her life. I wish I had that opportunity with each of my grandparents. Hopefully I’ll be able to share a finished product with you all one day.

Anne, the Bread Project group and I also set out on a field trip to the Piikani Nation this past month, south of Calgary near Pitcher Creek. Visiting the Peigan Indian Reserve was a special honour, as it is not something that you can easily do as well as have a tour. Charlotte’s family, one of the group members, is from the Piikani Nation. This picture is of her childhood home, in which our government felt it appropriate for two adults and eleven children to live in growing up in the 50’s-70’s. The residential school some of her siblings attended was a kilometre way, in site of the house, but the children weren’t allowed to come home for the holidays. Her mother would hang red cloth on the fence at Christmas so the children could see Christmas at home from the school windows. How did we possibly think we were doing any good and how can we continue to judge when we are so culpable? We took the group to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump museum and park afterwards. A very important and moving day for all of us.

My time to recharge is not only about getting chores done and relaxing, but staying connected to what is happening in the world , in food and society. I appreciate the downtime to expand my horizons a little further as it is so easy to get caught up in our own narrow worlds.

Hope you enjoy the long weekend. What are your plans?

Eat well, Be Well,

Nat





The Bread Project

1 02 2011

I am so excited about my new friends and volunteer project I am involved with. A fellow Leadership Calgary alumnus and friend Mariette works at Calgary Family Services and started a new pilot project called Food for Thought: The Bread Project. The purpose of the project is to bring older adults from various cultures together to bake bread, examine food, culture and provide a community to each other. Many older adults can easily be isolated and I am learning the value that organizations like CFS bring to them. Mariette has a wonderful vision for this project, tackling other food skills like preserves and spreading the program to communities in the city and bridging the gap between generations. If The Bread Project is of interest to you or you have an older adult in your realm that would love to share their knowledge and a bread recipe, let me know, I’ll pass you along to Mariette.

We have spent some time talking about the mass production of bread, how it’s processed, what’s been lost and what more is at risk of being lost with their generation. An important aspect of this program is to examine the importance of food, culture and food security. In rants on this blog I have shared information on very serious risks to our food supply, production and population. There is a crisis in North America we see in the headlines – obesity. There is a much deeper story to this, mass production, genetically modified foods, over processing and kids that don’t know what a cooking pot is (see my Bottom Line post, you can listen to the podcasts that speak to this) are all increasing our disconnection from our food and survivability. One symptom of this is obesity, malnourishment of our aboriginal people, earlier pubescence and environmental sensitivities are some others. This past week the USDA approved the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa, putting organic meat producers and farms at risk, it is slippery slope. We don’t know all of the health implications of GMO foods, there are no labelling laws in Canada or the US and moves like this have made seed health and species extinction a real risk. A story to pay attention to and speak out about.

Here are some articles on the recent USDA changes:

Food Democracy Now

Common Dreams

Cornucopia

Today at the Bread Project we talked about Dr. Vandana Shiva a well known sustainable food and seed researcher and activist. She is the chair of a program that supports various seed keepers and organic farmers in India. This was fitting since the bread we made today was roti. The history of wheat in India is lengthy and their consumption of wheat is the greatest in the world, something we all learned today! The roti is a flat, unleavened bread made in many parts of India, both north and south. I learned to make roti in Mysore, India in cooking classes I took. Vidya, in our bread group, was a natural teacher and I loved learning this bread technique again – because I hadn’t made them myself since learning the first time! She made it even more accessible, probably because we were using North American utensils and stove. She spread ghee and home made wild blueberry jam on them, folded them up and doled them out, they were SO good. I took dough home to make two fresh rotis for Tony and I for lunch. mmmmm

Eat well, Be well,

Nat





The Majestic Plastic Bag

26 08 2010

Some of you may remember my post on the Midway Journey and the impact plastic has had on our oceans. The other day a friend of mine sent me a mockumentary about the journey of the plastic bag, it is short and worth a watch. 19 BILLION plastic bags are used in California a year. That’s three times the population of human beings on EARTH!!! If you don’t already take your own bags to grocery shop, maybe this will help you consider that (and if you didn’t see the Midway Journey blog, the link is above).

Watch The Majestic Plastic Bag here.

Be well, Eat well,

Nat





Sustainability

17 08 2010

I received two comments from a recent post about the David Suzuki show The Bottom Line. The comments weren’t about the content for that post but the two posts I linked to, about Food Inc, and other rants about agriculture and our factory farm practices. You can check out the comments and my reply’s by following these links to Seriously Now and A Way Forward.

I think comments are great, I really appreciate them. These ones had  me thinking about how and what we think ‘sustainable’ is. The commentor says “What is sustainable? Are they what actually works, or only ‘sustainable’ if they fit into someone’s preconceived ideas. If the current form of agriculture in the U.S. will feed the most people why is it not sustainable?” Great question! This is the essence of Michael Pollan’s, Joe Salatin’s and others argument, and what David Suzuki is exploring in his series on Soil (have you listened to the podcasts?).

I am reading the book The End of the Long Summer by Dianne Dumanoski. If you are interested in the environment, our species and what the future requires to survive our misguided choices, read this book. If you are interested in thinking of the greater systems at play that need to interact in order to prepare us and our future generations for the world we can no longer predict, read this book. If you want to understand how we got here, to this day in 2010 and have the problems we are facing like global warming, increased populations of starving people and increasing violence and discontent, read this book. If you want to learn how we can face it and prepare and succeed, read this book. Here is an excerpt on how we can think differently about ‘sustainable’.

“Without the torrent of energy, for example, the world’s population could never have expanded fourfold in the twentieth century. The amount of land devoted to agriculture grew by only one third during this period, yet the global harvest multiplied sixfold, mainly because of a breathtaking eightyfold increase in the use of energy to produce food. New crop varieties that fuelled the Green Revolution required more synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation to deliver their impressive yields, and all of this demanded far more energy. ‘Industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy,’ as the celebrated ecologist Howard T. Odum put it. ‘Now he eats potatoes partly made of oil.’ Today the U.S. food system uses ten kilocalories of fossil energy to deliver a single kilocalorie of food energy to the supermarket. American farmers who produce this food expend three kilocalories of fossil energy for every kilocalorie of harvest.”

If you are still reading this, that’s great, this is important. Now I am sure putting food on the tables of American, Canadian and others (growing) population is sustainable to most people. I’d argue that we are currently tipping the scales into a great period of duress with our current practices. I am not an expert but the evidence is mounting. Dianne Dumanoski, James Lovelock, Paul Hawken and others like them are making this point very clear.

On CBC today there was an interesting episode of In the Field that explored a ‘slow money’ movement. Similar and supportive of the ‘slow food’ movement, it is a way that economists and agriculture are integrating their thinking to solve current issues created by factory and big agriculture. The small, sustainable farms (aka the Joe Salatin’s of the world) can not raise capital without hitting up regular venture capitalists. The venture capitalists want 20% returns on their investment. We have come to ‘expect’ these returns as one broker says on the show. If we slow down, fit with the times and except a 5-6% return, we can shift our investments to companies that are not large public corporations but small operations attempting to build sustainable practices. Frankly, these are the people who will help us figure out what to do in the future as we split at the seams. However, the ‘market’ doesn’t make these investments easy to do, the market system at play doesn’t support a new way of investing.

Doomsday, no, a realistic rant. I offer a different view. We have been partying it up, taking the earth for granted and building more wealth and and even more poverty (the largest irony going, how did we get so technologically advanced and rich and starve millions of people?). Something is out of balance, i’d rather be on the team that is thinking about this then believing it is ‘sustainable’.

Be well, eat well,

Nat





The Bottom Line

8 08 2010

David Suzuki has a radio program on CBC called The Bottom Line. I listen occasionally, it airs on Sunday’s. If you miss it you can download the podcast from iTunes or go to the CBC podcast site and get them there. He has done a great group of episodes on agriculture, farming, soil, organics, etc called Soil and Life in the Dirt. He interviewed Joel Salatin, our favourite farmer from the movie Food Inc. in Episode 3 on July 18 (see my rants from previous blog entries Seriously Now and  A Way Forward).

If you have the time, get filled in on The Bottom Line.

Be well, Eat well,

Nat





What’s in Your Food?

20 06 2010

I tweeted a List of Calgary Farmers Markets the other day. The Calgary Herald had an article previewing the markets around the city. There are more than ever, one close to us in Kingsland that is opening on June 30. I have to admit, I don’t get to the markets that regularly, with Planet Organic so close to the house, it’s convenience. I use to have organic food delivered by Spud as well, something I would recommend for busy householders. Come this summer, we will be heading to the market more regularly with it being so close. I use to go to a market near the old, old Blackfoot farmers market, called DJ’s. She has produce we can’t normally find, e.g. hungarian peppers for lecho (a pepper stew i’ll be sure to share one of these days) and stuffed peppers. I have spoken to her about her produce a few times over the years. Her crops come mostly from B.C. She goes out each January and plans the crops with the farmers, buying directly from them. Not organic though, she said they usually spoil faster, says something about how non-organics are grown.

I have always been a bit challenged on buying the B.C. farmers apples, which have the best selection in the world, versus an organic one from New Zealand. Argh. How much better are we doing when we are crating in apples from across the globe. No matter what I buy, I soak it in veggie wash, even with organics. It is a balance. Genetically Modified Foods are another concern that we frankly don’t know enough about. Here’s an article on Common Dreams today about GM foods. We think because we are in Canada we don’t have the same issues, we are mistaken. We have Monsanto in Canada and GM foods in Canada with no regulation…we don’t have bovine growth hormone at least.

With so many markets opening up for the summer and our ability to grow some of our own food, we can do our best so easily. What we put into our bodies each day is a choice, the more times you make a healthful choice the better off you are. We are unsure of the consequences of scientifically modified and processed foods in our bodies, but what we do know is our health over the past generation has declined, period, full stop. There is no question there is a connection. We all can’t eat perfectly (see my bio, I love cupcakes and wine like the next person). Anyhow, give it some thought and do your own inquiry.

Be Well, Eat Well,

Nat





Meat Free Mondays

25 05 2010

CBC Radio has a program called Ideas, it airs daily and is hosted by Paul Kennedy. Last week they started a three part series called Have Your Meat and Eat it Too! The first episode focused on providing an overview of the meat industry and th factory farm. The differences over the years on how we farm and our disconnection from the farm and where our food comes from. The second series explores, amongst other things, the argument for and against eating meat.

Meat Free Monday’s is a real program that encourages to remove meat from your diet one day a week and experiment with other alternatives. Although based in the UK, it has received some recognition here. I haven’t eaten pork or beef for a couple of decades and choose chicken least often, but this isn’t for everyone. Making changes slowly, for various reasons (health, animal cruelty, environment) is encouraged and more achievable if it is made realistic, like taking meat out of your diet one day a week. Give it a go.

I’m not blogging about becoming a vegetarian, but this CBC program does a really good job of exploring different sides of the argument, and I appreciate that. Follow the link above and you have access to the podcasts.

Eat Well, Be Well,

Nat





A Way Forward

2 05 2010

Last night I took up the screening of Fresh, the movie, at the Yoga Shala. Dana, those movie nights are great, thanks for hosting (and the popcorn) and thanks to the Sunnyside Natural Market for providing the beverages.

Like Food Inc., Fresh does a good job showing the result of the factory and industrialized farm. More so than Food Inc., it focuses on opportunities for change. We meet our friend Joel Salatin again, but there is more of his operations, his thoughts and how his practices are more than sustainable, they are economical!

“Americans fear one thing, inconvenience.” (Fresh, the movie)

We meet John Ikerd, and agricultural economist who reminds us that building efficiency in production is a good thing, but when we “apply it to everything it doesn’t work”. He reflects on the fact that the goal of productivity is the same for all types of industry and systems. “We need to shift our paradigm (in agriculture to look at productivity differently)”. I’d add that to move adaptively, we need to first understand what got us to where we are today. Shifts in paradigm are good, but what if they are in the wrong direction? We could end up with the same result by a different path.

“Monoculture is a lot of the same species grown together and it needs a lot of antibiotics and pesticides to keep it healthy” (Michael Pollan). As one of the inherent issues of the factory farm, lack of diversity in our species is putting us at great risk. “The more species you have in the field the less shock you are venerable to” (Michael Pollan). Consider this. The threat of super strain bacteria and viruses is real. When there is a concentration of viruses and bacteria, the drugs we use to kill them kill the weakest, leaving the strongest to multiply. This applies to both animals and vegetables. Industrialized farming is teaming with disease, we know this to be true. In the movie, Ross Kremer experienced this first hand, almost dying from an infected wound he got from a hog. Drug resistant bacteria riddled his body. When it became obvious to him that “when you concentrate biological organisms…you are going to have problems” he exterminated his herd and started over, with free range, sustainable farming with no disease in 15 years. Huh.

We also meet Will Allen, a passionate farmer who not only farms vegetation, hens and hogs but tilapia in which he has engineered a river system, using the waste water as fertilizer. He runs a program called Growing Power helping other people learn to farm their own food referring to composted soil as ‘black gold. He does great work.

Favorite Joel Salatin quotes:

On how he decided to feed his cow herd: “A herbivore doesn’t eat dead cow. As stewards of the earth we need to respect the design of nature.” “If you treat the herbivores like herbivores things will fall into place.” (Why is this so badly misunderstood in our food industry, argh.)

“There are no boundaries to creativity.” (When speaking about how maladaptive our creativity can be, like serving dead cows to cows. We need to think deeply about this and engineer our creativity to meet the threats and opportunities we face, not create more!)

“We’re not farming animals we’re farming grass. If we take care of the grass, it’ll take care of the animals.”

“…marrying technology of today with indigenous and heritage knowledge.” (Describing what sustainable agriculture needs to be.)

If you know people that farm share this movie with them. If you don’t have your own garden, do what my friend Mariette does, ‘borrow’ your neighbours yards or what Joann did, start a community garden. Make the choices to support family farms and sustainable agriculture. Most importantly, learn about where your food comes from and understand how we got here, it is not enough to just make ‘better choices’. Draw the parallel of ‘bigger, better, cheaper’ to other parts of your life as this is part of the story. With that I leave you with what John Ikerd said about shifting our ways of farming, “It’s not an impossible dream.”

Be well,

Nat