The Empire Strikes Back

I find it to be so interesting that local control and individual freedom are upheld as patriotic, core American values by talking heads in our country until issues like gay marriage, the USA PATIOT act and local control of the food supply come into focus.

Then, suddenly, we have Constitutional amendments, pleas to keep the Patriot Act up and running, and laws that favor corporate farming interests over local governments’ rights to ensure the safety of the food supply start flying.

Here is a report on efforts by the Big Food industry to wrest control from local governments on issues of food and farm safety, biodiversity and public health.

And for all those who don’t read Parke Wilde’s excellent blog, US Food Policy, (and you should read it daily; it is a great roundup of news) here is a link to a story about a likely case of BSE (Mad Cow Disease) in a downer beef cow in the US.

“Downers,”when referring to cattle are not depressant drugs, they are cows who are unable to walk when they get to the slaughterhouse. Currently, many downer cows are killed and put into the food supply; this goes against all rational and sane policy. Cows that are too sick to walk are not, in my opinion, safe to be eaten.

And before someone tells me I am talking out of my bum, here are a few facts about my background: I grew up with grandparents who raised beef cattle, I am the great granddaughter of a butcher who owned a local slaughterhouse and managed it very well, I have a degree in culinary arts which includes extensive training in food safety issues, and I once was a zoology major with an eye towards veterinary science. I have studied the issues of food, health, animal husbandry, and animal disease my entire life. You want to think I am a wild-eyed left-wing freak, go right ahead.

But don’t bother to tell me I don’t know what I am talking about.

Because I do.

These two news stories once again tell me that we need to be concerned about our local food supplies. We need to be active in the politics that determine where our food comes from, how it is grown, how it is treated at harvest and how it is distributed. We need to be concerned because if we are not–who will be? Our government seems content to deregulate the food industry and give free reign to corporate interests.

My answer for all of this?

One–arm yourself with knowledge. Inform yourself on the issue. Read about the issue, not just in the local paper, but online. Read any one or all of these books, in order to get an idea of what I am talking about when I blather on about a sustainable local food supply: This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle, The Eco-Foods Guide by Cynthia Barstow, Bitter Harvest, by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes, Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyers Guide to Farm Friendly Food by Joel Salatin, and Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods by Gary Paul Nabhan.

Check out Eating Well Magazine, which includes information on these issues as well as a good round up of the latest nutritional research. They also feature some really creative, flavorful recipes for healthy food that doesn’t look or taste like low-fat glop.

Two–once you have some grounding in this issue, start getting involved in the poltiical process. Write to your elected officials on the local, state and federal level. Let them know what you think, and how you feel, and keep at it. Make a hobby of them. Eventually, you may find that you get correspondance in return, and if enough people do this, they may start changing the way they cast their votes.

Three–try and buy as much locally produced food as you can, and urge others to do the same. Start a food co-op. Meet local farmers and try to help them start a CSA program. Support restaurants that rely on local food producers with your food dollars. Shop at a farmer’s market in your town or city.

Four–educate others. Talk to your family and friends, neighbors and kids. Do workshops or presentations in schools, in churches and on campuses. Try not to stand on a corner and yell your message out to the passing crowd while holding a badly spelled placard–that generally gets you classified as a loon and means your message, no matter how noble or logical, will fall on deaf ears. But get the word out in email, on message boards, and in person, in whatever sensible way you can.

Five–Learn to grow some portion of your own food. Even if it is just a pot of herbs on your doorstep or in your windowsill, do it. Take some small measure of responsibility for the growth of your own food and learn how it is done. There is nothing better than the sense of accomplishment that growing your own food brings.

Six–watch out for Mad Cows. (I hear tell they run in packs.)

Okay, I was being silly on number six, but really–there are practical things we can do to take responsibility for our own food, and I would like to see more people becoming aware of these issues and doing something about them. If nothing else comes from my writing here at Tigers and Strawberries, I will be satisfied if more people start questioning the status quo of our huge, unwielding and oil-dependant food system.

So, that is your assignment for the day.

Get to work.


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  1. You tell ’em, Barbara! This is exactly whe, if we ever get the bakery open, we’ll use as many local suppliers as possible, and why we keep track of food legislation and laws that effect it (like our own state’s desire to impose a 5ยข a gallon sales tax on gasoline).

    We’ve already encountered problems with small chicken ranchers and the large chicken farms like Tyson’s and Pilgrim’s Pride.

    Comment by Noddy — June 13, 2005 #

  2. I agree Barbara. We grow organically what we can in our space and try to buy local and organic for the rest. Organic is hard in our area though unless you have Trump as an uncle. You are totally spot on about the food industry, current slaughter house policy, and downers. I grew up on a farm with beef cattle. I remember touring various “high tech” cattle and chicken operations with 4-H and being disgusted by the new directions. So were my 4-H leaders who were all wonderful people. Thanks to a Dad who was organic before it was a popular word, I never bought into the big business way of doing things. My brothers who are chiropracters are deeply involved in educating others about these issues because in the end it effects all of us, no? Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by Laurel — June 16, 2005 #

  3. When faced with the decision between locally grown not certified as organic, or certified organic shipped in from other places, I will choose locally grown every time. It is fresher, more full of nutrients and better for the local economy.

    Also note that there are a lot of local farmers who use organic methods who have not bothered to undergo the process of getting officially labelled as “organic” by the standards of our government. There are a lot of expensive hoops to jump through for organic certification that leave a lot of smaller farmers with a hard choice.

    In situations like that, I will choose them over big-corporate “certified organic” every time.

    It comes from my background as a farmer’s granddaughter–I know how much work and energy and time and love smaller farmers put into growing and producing great food for everyone, so I want to support that in every way.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 17, 2005 #

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