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Activism Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food

Can You Afford Not To Eat Healthy?

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Many of the posts I write on this web site are devoted to the subject of eating real food and eating healthy. But I feel like the point of moving from supporting a conventional farming system that pumps out massed produced, nutritionally empty foods to a healthy, more sustainable one simply cannot be pressed enough.

Not everyone can afford to eat organic food all of the time. In fact, when the word organic is mentioned, the factor of expense almost always comes up. People have a perception that they can’t possibly change their lifestyle and buying habits because organic food is too expensive.

On the surface, organic, sustainable, or even truly “natural” food is more expensive than conventional. But consider the “hidden” costs of eating conventional, industrial food. The food grown and raised by conventional means is procured in the cheapest way possible – that is, to minimize operating expenses and maximize profits.

Then there are business people, merchants, and farmers who do things the right way, taking care to produce a quality product and something safe. Business may be slow at times and downright challenging, but these businesses are able to continue their activities because of dedicated and informed consumers who understand the big difference between conventional, mass-produced food and something that has been raised with care and thought for health and the environment.

According to Sustainable Table, consolidation of the food production system has concentrated farming into the hands of a few large food corporations.  The emphasis has moved to production and profit, pushing regard for the environment and human health to the back of the list. Because food is produced as cheaply as possible, quality ingredients and farming and production methods suffer greatly. When food is produced in such a way, it’s not only quality that goes down – so does nutritional content and integrity.

So the emphasis should be on real, organic foods because when you eat healthy, you are avoiding problems down the road – problems that will cost you more money than you realize. The idea should be that prevention up front will save you misery, disease, and cost later on.

Smaller, sustainable farming ventures and efforts don’t make the huge profits that the large corporations bring in. For that reason, they are very concerned with quality and maintaining a good customer base of people who are happy with their products. Sustainable farmers are more mindful of the quality of what they are producing and the environment, so the end result is a product you can feel good about eating and production practices you can have a good conscience about supporting.

Processed foods = no nutrition for the money you spend

One of the most heavily consumed items in developed countries is carbonated soda pop, which has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. Soda pop is the number one source of calories in the United States! When consumed in such amounts, there is no one who can deny this definitely affects anyone’s budget. So why not trade your dollars spent on soda pops, juices, Kool Aid, Crystal Light, Hawaiian Punch, Sunny Delight, or other processed sugary drinks for a wholesome, organic apple, pear, or banana, or a good water-filtration system.

Another example is pre-made, frozen dinners or meals in a can. Just look at the average ingredient label on one of these products and the list is a mile long. Can you pronounce these ingredients and do you know what they are? How about the effect they have on your health? If you buy the raw ingredients and prepare from scratch, both the taste and the health benefits you will receive from eating this meal are ten-fold what you get out of the processed one. It will probably make you feel full longer and provide more food for your money as well. Processed foods seem cheaper, but when you consider the damage to the environment to produce them, what’s in them, and how well they satisfy your hunger, are they really more economical?

The cost of health care

Just stop to consider the large amounts of money we pay in taxes and other fees to support industrial agriculture – massive government subsidies to agribusiness (which drive smaller, sustainable farmers out of business), environmental damage as a result of toxins being dumped into the air, water, and land due to the operation methods of factory farms, the continual increase of health care costs, and untold damage to our health.

Also consider the amount of money put into the healthcare system by the average person or family. In 2008 the average worker payed out over $3K into health coverage for a family of 4.

The $3K paid is just the beginning of money spent; that doesn’t even begin to cover co-pay amounts. As health insurance costs rise, it is becoming necessary to for individuals and employers to select plans with the lowest annual premiums, which can only result in higher co-pay amounts. Then comes prescription drug costs (many of them unnecessary and over-prescribed), and over-the-counter drugs used by millions and millions. Health care costs are one of the leading causes of incurred debt amongst the population. Also, the amount of money going into the system to pay for the health of the average senior citizen, welfare recipient, or wards of the state is impossible to gauge, but you can bet it’s astronomical. Someone’s got to pay for it.

The food we eat from the industrial food system actually increases our dependence upon conventional medicine, drugs, and surgery. Still think conventional (reactive medicine) is cheaper than eating healthy and prevention? Read this post and see if you aren’t convinced!

The cost of factory farming on the environment and health

Most of our meat and dairy products come from conventional farming sources – also known as “factory farms” or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). The expense and damage of operating these facilities to human health, the environment, and economy are well-documented facts.  Factory farming uses management of what animals eat to promote growth and keep costs down. So the goal is to increase yield while decreasing production costs (Food Matters).

Here’s what you are supporting with your food dollars when you buy conventionally-raised meat and meat products:

  • The use of antibiotics – which increasingly creates resistant-bacteria
  • Hormones – to create a faster growth margin in animals for higher profits
  • Genetically-modified substances in the feed the animals eat
  • Pesticide spraying on crops to feed animals
  • Use of massive amounts of fossil fuels to transport feed, animals, and chemicals to ensure success of operation
  • Environmental contamination of soil, groundwater (and runoff goes into neighboring crops), and air from pathogenic waste that cannot be used for re-fertilization of healthy soil

So what’s going on here is that the health care companies are getting rich, the food industry is getting rich…but what’s to become of the consumer? Are we destined to remain in the stranglehold of these corporations who have absolutely no concern for our health or well-being, or are we going to do something about it?

We must take a stand, get proactive, support local and sustainable farming and food production, and stamp out these bloated, multi-billion dollar corporations who have taken for themselves all the power and profit – and all the while they are stealing our health and well-being.

Put the power, money, well-being, and health back in the hands of the people who can make a huge effect on our habits and future – the consumers! Do something ethical and moral, and healthy for yourself, your family, and the planet. Go organic and sustainable. Read labels. Be aware and educate yourself. Trade your junk food and industrial dollars for something more worthwhile and healthy – good, real, organic, sustainable food. Remember, each time you put food in your mouth, you are casting a vote for organic or not…and the consequences could be more serious than you think!

What you can do:

  • Learn about our food system and what goes into our food – be conscious of what you eat! Get to know the people who produce your food and ask about farming practices. There are many responsible farmers who want to produce clean, sustainable products for their community, and all you have to do is ask!
  • Grow your own vegetables and fruits – plant a garden! It doesn’t have to be large, start small and go from there.
  • Support local farming, CSAs, and your farmer’s market
  • Get involved on a local level to help educate those you know – talk about your experiences with people, start a blog, write a book, or become a chair on your children’s school lunch committee (I did!)

For more information about how the industrial food system affects our health and the environment, see these important films – Food, Inc., Fresh, and Food Matters

Want to protect family farms and our freedom to have access to safe, clean food? Join the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund effort

Read more about the high price of cheap food – TIME article

For some ideas about how to eat healthy on a budget, read:

Food Budgets – Using Creativity and Prioritizing for Healthy Eating

Proof That Real Food Doesn’t Have to Cost A Bundle, Is Nourishing, And Satisfies!

Want to know more about eating healthy to help improve health and lose weight? It’s not all about exercise!

Are You Nutritionally Fit?

Learn about the different kinds of foods; the kind of food you eat really does matter!

How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!

Activism Green Living Healthy Living Real Food

Can The Government Be Trusted To Fix The Safety Of Our Food?

www.mypicshares.com

The safety infrastructure for food in this country is failing. It’s regulated by about a dozen federal agencies implementing about 35 laws. You would think that with that much oversight and checking, something would be working right.

The public is most certainly aware of the problem, as is evident by regular media coverage of the food safety shortcomings in our system. Weekly or daily we are notified of yet more food recalls or outbreaks of foodborne illnesses:

Are these problems occurring because in general, foods are dangerous to consume – or is it perhaps the type of foods we are eating that are causing the problem? The answer is yes to both.

Will new legislation being proposed bring an end to pathogenic bacteria that are making people sick, or will it effectively hinder smaller, more sustainable farms and food operations from staying in business?

Our government has a powerful, federally regulated body called the FDA whose job is to regulate food safety. Despite the existence of this entity and thick layers of affiliate government and laws, regulators fail time and time again to prevent the repeated occurrence of food contamination problems we continue to face on an almost daily basis.

The pending bill FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, which would give the FDA yet more more authority and control of funding for this issue was expected to come to the floor in Congress this week, but has been stalled yet again due to “more pressing issues” such as health-care reform. Multi-billion dollar conglomerate giants Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill have shown unwavering support in their lobbying for this bill, which has also received backing by the pharmaceutical industry.

History of food regulation

Starting in the late 1800s, advancements in technology allowed the pace of food production to be stepped up beyond anything ever seen before. Never before had corporations been able to produce so many food products in so little time.

An 1886 report by the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics claimed that “New machinery has displaced fully 50 percent of the muscular labor formerly required to do a given amount of work”.  With the advent of these mechanisms and improvements to the agricultural industry, processed and packaged cereals and canned foods became more prevalent.  Synthetic substances which replaced both natural medicines and foods began to fill the shelves of warehouses and stores, all created to make life more convenient.

In the late 1800s and into the 1900s, the appearance of systems designed to put a stop to the insidious behavior of food manufacturers who were beginning to cut corners for the sake of steam-lining their processes and to increase profit made their debut.

For awhile, those regulations halted the incidence of food safety issues, and all was well. By the 1950s, positions in meat packing plants were coveted. They were relatively safe, protected by unions, and the workers were well-compensated for their efforts. But over time as the food industry expanded even more, the food regulatory divisions of government and food industries began to develop relationships which were a conflict of interest of regulation and compliance. It became common for people in positions of authority in food industry corporations to occupy slots in government agencies as well.

When a large regulatory agency falls into bed with an industry, it becomes difficult to maintain the level of necessary transparency that allows for the public to know what’s going on – and in particular, accountability is compromised.

In 1906, Upton Sinclair published his novel, The Jungle. Although this was a work of fiction, its emergence was noted by many as a serious commentary on the state of the food manufacturing industry. The publication of this work was a primary impetus in the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act, which occurred the same year.

More government regulations are not going to fix these problems. Small family farms not only are unable to afford all the mandatory regulation and inspection fees that large, commercial businesses pay without a backward glance, but the recalls and issues we are seeing in the food supply simply don’t originate from these sources where food is produced. Every single instance of recalling can be traced back to some large arm of the food industry.

How will the legislation serve the people?

Some people believe the Senate Committee has made some useful changes to satisfy those in support of local food. However, I am of the opinion that this bill still contains some provisions that would be detrimental for local and small family farm producers, or at the very least, will have individuals overseeing it which may not have the best interests of citizens at heart – such as Michael Taylor, Vice President of Monsanto (and the head of food safety during the Clinton Administration).

Also, according to Wikipedia, Rosa DeLauro (whose husband, Stanley Greenburg, is a political consultant who has a business relationship with Monsanto) introduced HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, on February 4th 2009. The purpose of this bill was to create a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to regulate food production. The problem was this measure would possibly place restrictive regulatory encumbrances on backyard gardening and small-scale organic agriculture.

While many people and sources have been labeled “paranoid” and “fanatical” for their warnings and trepidations about this legislation, this may just be one of the first of many steps in a larger process to limit our freedoms and abilities to be able to procure safe, real food.

The big player

Monsanto is the world’s biggest producer of herbicides and genetically-engineered seeds. They were responsible for the creation of Agent Orange, DDT, and the chemical Roundup – the most commonly used herbicide in the United States. Monsanto also created the genetically-engineered growth hormone rbGH under the direction of VP Michael Taylor, now administered to many cattle who are slaughtered for food and provide milk to drink.

Monsanto views themselves as environmental stewards and preservers of humanity. Their acknowledgment of the earth’s ever-growing population ignites a call to produce more and more food to sustain that mass.

“In our minds, that means we have to increase the production of food at a level that we will effectively double food production by 2050,” said Brett Begemann, Monsanto executive vice president of global commercial. “When you think about what that means, it means we have to produce more food between now and 2050 – which is a short 40-year period – than the world has produced in the previous 10,000 years combined.”

And it is precisely this attitude which grants license to a multi-billion dollar conglomeration to “feed the world”. It is done under the convincing veil of benevolence and humanitarianism, and with no revelations about the cost to human health and the environment.

Hazards of GE (genetically-engineered) foods and crops (as listed in the Food, Inc., Participant Guide):

  • toxins and poisons
  • increased cancer risks
  • allergies
  • damage to food quality and nutrition
  • antibiotic resistance
  • increased pesticide residues
  • damage to beneficial insects, soil fertility (and diversity)
  • creation of GE “superweeds” and “super pests”
  • new viruses and pathogens
  • genetic bio-invasion
  • socioeconomic hazards
  • ethical hazards

I just have to ask this question: why is that people persist in the idea that somehow if we step up government regulation – which is currently failing – these problems will cease to exist? Is this the answer we need to change the landscape of food safety?

I don’t have to tell you just how much a mega-corporation like Monsanto would benefit from the passage of the newer version of this bill (S. 510). To see what’s in this bill, read the text of H.R. 875, introduced last year (2009).

Even though web sites like Slow Food claim that there is no reason to be unnerved by this bill or anything remotely resembling it, the motives behind why such a bill would be introduced by individuals working for such a corporation really need to be called into question.

History is doomed to repeat itself

Time and time again, reports of food recalls and contamination occur within the industrial food supply realm. When are the authorities governing these arenas going to wake up and realize that what is needed is massive change in the way food is produced? The industrial food market needs to be forced to clean up its act, and we need to maintain the protection and rights of local and sustainable producers providing healthy and safe products, which means not adding monumental federal regulatory sanctions for farming that only the big, multi-billion dollar players can actually meet.

Here are some quotes by individuals in the agricultural industry:

“The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GMOs] that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender.”

Don Westfall, biotech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar International quoted in, “Starlink fallout could cost billions”, Toronto Star, 9 January 2001

“It’s important for countries around the world to adopt a uniform standard of acceptable levels of contamination.”

Biotechnology Industry Organization spokesperson, Lisa Dry quoted in, “Engineered DNA found in crop seeds“, Rick Weiss, Washington Post, 24 February 2004

“People will have [GM] Roundup Ready soya whether they like it or not.”

Monsanto spokesperson in Britian, Ann Foster, “The politics of food“, Maria Margaronis, The Nation, 27 December 1999

“Cross-pollination of the environment is an issue, and that has to be addressed. And for those countries that have very small landmass, there’s no way they can segregate GM crops from conventional crops or from organic crops, and so the likelihood of cross pollination exists.”

Prof Patrick Wall, until 2008 the Chairman of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU Agency mandated by the European Commission to advise on the safety of genetically modified food and animal feed for the European Union, in an interview: “We cannot force-feed EU citizens with GM food“, 2 December 2008

Source, OpEd News

Here are just some of the gross oversights occurring in our current food regulatory system (source, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics):

  • Over time, the number of facilities that actually receive inspection has decreased – the FDA inspects less than a quarter of food facilities annually
  • Of the total, 56 percent of total facilities have gone 5 years or longer without FDA inspection.
  • The number of facilities that received OAI [Official Action Indicated] classifications has declined over time. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the facilities that received OAI classifications in FY 2008 had a history of violations. Two percent of facilities that received OAI classifications refused to grant FDA officials access to their records.
  • FDA took regulatory action against 46 percent of the facilities with initial OAI classifications; for the remainder, FDA either lowered the classification or took no regulatory action.
  • For 36 percent of the facilities with OAI classifications in FY 2007, FDA took no additional steps to ensure that the violations were corrected.

Ideally, I’d like to see legislation supporting amendments that would place exemptions for small-scale and direct-marketing producers. Small farmers and food producers currently answer to state and local authority regulation, so to impose additional federal regulation upon them would at the very least hamper their abilities to produce a safe product and could very easily shut operations down completely.

I’m concerned that if the new legislation favors larger, industrial agricultural system, too much federal regulation would cause smaller, local producers to go out of business. The real answer lies in the cultivation and support of local food systems to alleviate the burden of these food safety issues.

In the states of Florida and Wyoming, state legislatures have been considering bills that would decentralize regulation of local food. This movement would be a change in the right direction to affect food safety in a positive way.

How exactly does supporting local agricultural business accomplish this, and what are the benefits?

  • Food produced near those consuming it can observe farming practices
  • In some areas, fresh, seasonal food is available all year round; in others, communities without certain types of food can purchase from neighboring communities
  • There is more accountability and ability by the consumer to be able to know how the food is produced
  • With closer proximity to customers, farmers can have relationships with those individuals and develop a better understanding of what their customers want
  • Food quality is generally higher because the nutrients in foods are not compromised due to excessive processing, packaging, and travel
  • Your food dollars go to support your local communities – not a big, bloated agribusiness giant that destroys the environment, the economy, human, and animal health by unsafe and unhealthy production and “farming” practices
  • Saves petroleum and other forms of energy and reduce pollution generated by those efforts by buying from producers and farmers who are close to where you live
  • Contribute to the success of families trying to earn an honest living
  • The use of CSAs (“subscription” programs where food growers allot certain packages of food for certain times of year to customers) helps farmers fund their efforts more evenly during the year

How can you make a difference?

  • Watch what your politicians are doing – call or write to your state senators and representatives, and let them know these issues are important to you! Put pressure on politicians at every opportunity to vote for legislation that supports sustainable farming.
  • Learn to cook at home – avoid eating out and buying packaged foods.  See our recipes section for some ideas on getting started.
  • Vote with your food dollars – that means not supporting big corporations, but buying local and regional food products to support the farmers and food growers in your area.
  • Avoid processed foods – that means, foods in boxes, packages, and cans. Buy foods that are recognizable, have the least ingredients, and create the smallest footprint.
  • Get to know the people who produce food you eat. When people have respect for one another and the work necessary to produce or create something, they gain an appreciation for life.
  • Organize forums, web discussion groups, local organizations, and news-making events around boycotting genetically-engineered foods and supporting local agricultural producers that use sustainable farming methods
  • Learn the difference between local and sustainable – local does not necessarily mean production and/or farming methods used are going to benefit human and environmental health.  Read How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!
  • Learn about From Grass to Cheese – a small, family farm based in Nolan, Ohio is hoping for directors to gain enough funding by their goal – April 22, 2010 to bring a documentary to the world about the importance of supporting the sustainable family farm. Please listen to this podcast and donate your dollars to help them reach their goal of making this important film!