Monday, March 31, 2008

Little Green Bubble

I just arrived back in my little green bubble after being out in the vast open space of this great country of ours. When I say "little green bubble" I am referring to the forward thinking, greeny, Sonoma County that I live in. The very place where recycling everything is the norm, local farmer's markets happen at least twice a week, organic CSA's are plentiful, and even a couple of big chain type grocery stores advertise about "buying local" and "fair trade." Not to mention that a great majority of folks here bring their own cloth bags to the grocery store--and some of the grocers even offer prizes and incentives for those of us who do.

So it is just wayyy too easy living here to get my head full of ideas that we can somehow make a difference with this giant and scary food problem that plagues our nation--and our world. It is easy, because a large number of citizens here actually understand terms such as biodynamic and Permaculture, grow their own food, and participate actively in "greening" our community. Heck, even our city dump has a Recycle Town and creates mega amounts of fresh, organic compost from all of the yard materials they pick up along the way. What's more, is the fact that we are often on the cutting edge with our intelligent and inventive pioneers who hail from such esteemed places as Berkeley and San Francisco. We actually lead the country in forward thinking on many fronts!

Anyhow, while soaring through the night, I saw millions of lights twinkling way down below my plane.. and I got to thinking that each one of those lights represented the millions of human beings living on the planet...and that obviously, each and every human being needs ample food to exist.

I do believe that everyone is entitled to their fair share of tasty grub. However, I still don't understand where we are headed with our humongous agri-farms that create genetically modified products, and food chock full of items such as corn syrup and preservatives so they can be packaged and stored for all of eternity—or shipped to any place on the planet.

Now I, myself, am certainly not perfect in this area (as it is impossible to really know about packaged foods when you are dealing with a system that hides information from the public at large) but I am slowly learning and making changes every day. Therefore, I do hope that when more Americans begin to discover where their food really comes from and develop a closer relationship with the process, they may actually start to comprehend the value in choosing the healthy benefits of real, whole foods over convenience, and a change for the good of all will be seen. But for now, at least my "little green bubble" makes me feel hopeful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is Your Food REALLY Organic??

I recently purchased a bag of organic brown sugar at a local market. Then, for some reason, I happened to look real close at the product's label. Sure, it was certified organic by all the "right" organizations. However, below that, was printed "Product of Paraguay." This lead me to look a bit further into the product's distributor--Woodstock Farms. At first glance Woodstock Farms appeared to be a kind, responsible company supporting local farmers and only supplying consumers with the highest quality organic goods. On further investigation, I found that this was false advertising at its finest.

Unfortunately, health food chains like Whole Foods and many others appear to just sell "names" with warm fuzzy images to make us believe our purchases are so humane and good for the planet, but the real scoop is that these products get around most real certification and labeling laws because there are so many loopholes. Therefore, the advertising and packaging labels can be very misleading and we, as consumers, have a right to know what we are really spending our money on...

As the Slow Food movement grows, many people are becoming aware of the increasing alienation we Americans have from our food sources. Even ostensibly organic food is more and more a product of the industrial complex so much so that what we think of as organic is reduced to a mere shadow of its former ideal.

Woodstock Farms Baby French Beans. Organic even. Cool, huh?
What's even cooler is this:

A little food philosophy for you: it reads "Picked at the height of ripeness, bringing them straight to market and shortening the distance from the farm to you". I love this idea of shortening the distance between where the food is grown and my house. It makes me feel like there are still farmers out there who might be working the land their parents did. Like this Woodstock Farms. That we could also buy a bag of this from the market is very appealing come February, eh? But wait! Look at the back of the bag:

See all that warm and fuzzy organic certification? Everyone who hands out these little honour badges seems to have jumped at the chance to slap their seal of approval on these baby green beans. Makes you feel kind of superior, doesn't it?
But then you see this . . .

Product of China? Huh? Whatever happened to all that talk about "shortening the distance"? You mean, it's just marketing? You mean it's a lie? Right there on the package? I guess that concept of "distance" is some kind of metaphor. One that stands for something other than mega-gallons of petroleum and half and earth's worth of highway and ocean miles.

I attempted to contact Woodstock Farms on several occasions. As one might think, I was never given a direct answer. Basically, when asked where their products come from and what local farmers they were really supporting, here is the reply that I received.

"Dear Lisa,

Unfortunately we are unable to provide the exact location of the farms or their names as it is our policy to keep our suppliers confidential. However I am more than happy to provide any details about our certification process for you.

In regards to your questions about our products that are grown outside the U.S., we employ only the highest quality growers overseas. At Woodstock Farms we source product form local farms whenever possible. Our dedication to organic and natural farming, as well as our implementation of environmentally responsible business practices are examples of our dedication to Earth Friendly and sustainable business practices. Woodstock Farms is aware of its impact on our environment and we are working everyday to lessen that impact.

We do source product overseas due to varying factors including product availability, supply and demand, growing seasons and quality. With the growing demand for organic and natural products coupled with the fact that it takes three years for a farm to become certified organic, there is just not enough supply to meet the demand in many cases and in other cases the product is simply unavailable in the U.S."

So unless you are buying from the local farmer's market or supporting a CSA, do you really know where your food comes from, and who is watching out for you?? It certainly isn't the distributors, package labels or even the government.
So, it is really up to you! Read the fine print, read the labels--and even then it may not be the truth you are seeking.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Open Your Eyes; Know Your Food

Sometimes I feel terribly overwhelmed when I try to grasp the whole earth, giant agribusiness picture....
At times, it appears virtually impossible for any one person to even think about going against the way this mega-business, feeding frenzy is really set up all around the world... Major corporations and gigantic mono-crop farms seem to have a hold on a great majority of the land on which we grow our food, and scientists are continuously proving that this is not the great concept we once thought. Afterall, where in untamed nature does just one kind of plant grow?

There is no real relationship between elements on a mono-crop farm.... But then again, we actually have several major corporations wanting to own and control the worlds entire seed supply!! They are patenting seeds and creating new plants that do not reproduce on their own..This means there is no way to save seeds and it creates our dependence on purchasing modified seeds from only one or two major companies, which seems really scary to me..... Just try reading about Monsanto and their Suicide Gene plants.....

However, it is my hope that each person who learns what is going on "behind the scenes" in relation to our food system, will simply become a catalyst for change..... Sure, it is easier to turn a blind eye and just go about our daily lives, but in the end, we are only hurting ourselves....
The way I see it is, just because we DO IT in AMERICA, doesn't always make it right..

It is true that actions speak louder than words... And your consumer dollars speak volumes. The more you go into a grocery store seeking the PERFECT looking piece of waxed and painted fruit, the more you will be supplied with this.

Instead, how about supporting your local farms and organic farmers? Be willing to pay a little more money for the quality of food and life this supports....Cheap, processed food does not pay off in the end--not in health benefits to yourself nor to the planet as a whole. So take care of yourself and each other... learn to really know your food and put your dollars where they really deserve to go. As Joni Mitchell sings, "Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees. Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got 'till its gone."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Food For Thought

Have you ever just simply observed a group of teenage boys eating? Well if so, then you most definitely can identify with what I am about to say. However, if you are not privy to such a delight, let me forewarn you--Teenage boys have a tendency to eat everything in sight! Amazingly, even though they are in the process of simply transitioning from boy to man, they are able to devour twice or three times the amount of food as you and I—and in only about half the amount of time. They want their food and they want it now--Instant gratification, Instant satiation….and “Mom, are you going to finish that?”

“Without Food I wouldn’t be here,” exclaimed one of my teenage son’s buddies as he and a group of others bounded into our kitchen to devour three large take-out pizzas, including a hefty order of garlic cheese sticks plus a two-liter bottle of sugary sweet soda. “Duh” replied another while piling numerous slices upon his plate.

As I silently observed the boys toss down their pizza, I delighted in my own sacred serving of freshly sautéed, green, leafy kale, and giggled to myself as I considered how these young men were so enamored with this slab of baked, yeasty dough, topped with red tomato sauce and bubbling, oozing cheese. I thought about what their reactions might have been instead if a huge serving of my garden greens were waiting on their plates in place of the standard American fare they were gobbling down at top speed.

But then as I really payed attention to them, it became quite apparent that they were not actually even chewing the food—not savoring each bite and flavor of the pizza as I was. They were munching through it with huge chomps and washing it down with soda while they engaged in a variety of teen centered conversations—none, of course, about the food at hand.

Well, for some reason, the pizza scene really got me thinking. How has my very own family become so used to such great American conveniences? We aren’t supposed to be like everybody else because I know better! Is it just because I was busy and it was faster and easier to order take-out than to hand bake three pizzas? Did I really even think about this in the first place? So, I wondered how I could spread the message to these teens about food and healthy eating habits without sounding preachy or uncool?

Not only that, but I also began to question just how many of these boys might even have an inkling of where the pizza ingredients themselves come from--Just who are the cows that produce milk for the cheese and where are the grains cultivated that are converted into the flour for the crust? And what about those tomatoes--Are they even grown this time of year? Or better yet, just how much energy and resources actually go into producing not one, but all three of these very pizzas that were quickly vanishing before my very eyes?

Believe me, it was hard for a lover of healthy, fresh cuisine like myself to admit that my very own teenager is a part of this scene. My son, the one who has never eaten a jar of factory produced baby food nor any piece of chicken, pork or beef in his 16 years of life--the one who was raised crawling around in the rich, dark soil picking sweet ears of organic corn off the plant and eating them right there on the spot--the one whose name is Grover, which literally means “gardener, or dweller in the grove.” So where does a parent go wrong?

Food is life and life is food: This is really how it has been since the beginning of time. It is a simple fact that without food, most, if not all, living entities on this planet would not exist. Now, each breathing creature obtains their food in a multitude of ways, but it is we humans, who are the ones that have “messed” with Mother Nature in our desire to produce so much food. And there really is an abundance of food on this planet, why are there still so many starving people all over the world?