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

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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





Bread Project: Bannock

13 02 2011

This past Tuesday at The Bread Project we made Bannock, actually frybread, a bread associated with our First Nations people of Canada. What I didn’t know is that Bannock was originally made from oats and originates from Scotland. The Scots being the first to farm wheat in Canada. Charlotte shared her mom’s recipe for bannock and the techniques her mom passed on to her. Watching her, I imagined the technique and basic ingredients on the plains of Alberta. We learned that as the bison became less plentiful and the First Nation’s people were made to stay on reserves, instead of following the herds of animals in their traditional nomadic lifestyles, bannock became a staple. A survival food. Made from the rations provided to them by the government.

There is so much we don’t understand about our First Nations people. Many Canadians easily place judgement on them and never go beyond the surface to ask why so many of them struggle in our society. We have made many displacing decisions in regards to the First Nations people in Canada. The reserves,  residential schools and policies that undermine their success. Although with many hectares of land, wheat farming and ranching is not a leading economy for many of them. Government policies have made it difficult for them to establish farming practices, lack of access to equipment and technology in years past as well.

This Bread Project day was well timed, I had just finished reading the book Bad Medicine: A Judge’s Struggle in a First Nations Community. Judge John Reilly is a Calgary judge that saw first hand the results of our poor decisions over the previous centuries. He spoke out while a judge and continues to share his opinions and case work to shift our thinking about our native Canadians. I highly recommend this book. As a Canadian I think it is imperative that we understand our nations first settlers. I myself have been ignorant to their plight and through understanding have gained much respect. It will take generations to turn the tide and I’d like to be of the generation that begins this shift.

Making Bannock is so easy, it’s ridiculous. Give it a try. I can’t wait to make it this summer and toast it over an open fire like I did when I went to camp as a kid.

 

 

 

 

 

6 cups all purpose flour (makes about 8-12)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp baking powder
3¼ cups of water
1/3 lb melted lard or vegetable shortening for frying (Carrie, of Cree descent in our Bread group, said she makes frybread using olive oil instead, I like this healthier version)

  • Add the flour, baking powder and salt to a mixing bowl, mix well
  • Make a large shallow well in the middle of the flour
  • Add the water to the well
  • Mixing with your hands, gently fold the dough over, taking flour from the edges, incorporating it until the dough is not sticky. There might be flour around the edges left, leave this, you can add more water after you use the dough up and make more
  • Tear off small balls of dough, like the size of a large plum, and gently tuck or fold into rounds, place them down in the bowl, continue this with the rest of the dough so you are left with dough rounds in the bowl
  • Let the dough rounds sit a few minutes to rise while you heat a deep fry pan with lard or vegetable shortening over medium-high heat
  • Flatten out the dough rounds to about 10-12 cm wide and about 1-2 cm thick.
  • Place the flattened dough rounds into the hot oil, they will puff up a little, when the edges are browned, flip them over.
  • Serve with jam, as a side to soup or with breakfast

Eat Well, Be 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





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





Anthony ‘WTF’ Bourdain

19 02 2010

Tony and I went to see Anthony Bourdain speak in Calgary  back in January. I had to post about this event. Besides laughing (with and at all the profanity) there was a wine and cheese after. Good value. If you’re into this sort of thing, keep your eyes posted for more of these ‘foodie’ events at the Epcor Centre. If you don’t know who Mr. Bourdain is, he is a ‘say it like it is’ food-travel-writer-chef. He doesn’t go to the places tourists go, he seeks out the traditions and culinary pride of the countries and cities he travels too. You can find him on the Travel Channel or Discovery Channel, NOT the Food Network. He does roll his eyes at veggies and vegans, but once you get past that (and he has been known to swoon over an organic tomato or two) you’ll realize he is doing more than eating ‘weird stuff’. He is encouraging us to explore the world, through the heart and soul of others, respecting cultures and experiencing where food traditions came from. He poo-poo’s poor travellers that expect to get the hamburger and pizza they are familiar with at home, he is especially hard on his fellow American’s. “If you are fortunate enough to have a passport and travel why the f**k would you go to a Hard Rock Cafe?”

In answering the question of why food shows have become so popular, he compared it to porn. “Watching people on TV doing things you’re not going to do anytime soon”. He ranted about fast food and the quality of food in America. “As an American it is my right that ammonia shouldn’t ever be present in my hamburger”, referring to a recent New York Times article about this very thing. Still want that hamburger? As a new parent, he goes on to remind us the power of marketing and just who the marketers are after – kids, with million dollar brainwashing campaigns. Still want that hamburger?

We appreciated his ability to remind us of how fortunate we are, that we can travel the world and explore other places. That we have food from all nations represented in the major cities of North America while others in the world go hungry. With that he ends, “We only have so much time at the table” and “The history of the world is on your plate”. Bon Appetite

Be well, Natalie