DOWN ON THE FARM
Farming has as much impact on our environment as air and water pollution combined. The fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides farmers use soak into and contaminate our ground water as well as pour straight into our streams through rainwater runoff. And that's just agriculture. Animal husbandry brings its own set of environmental nightmares. However, like every other facet of our lives, there are big changes afoot in farming. This page will attempt to track them.
The High Price of Cheap Food 1.26.10
It seems prices for everything but health care and housing hasn’t budged since China discovered it had close to one billion people who would happily slap sneakers and refrigerators together for $10 a day. In the US, our oil-fired agriculture allows us to feed a family of five for about the same price, if you’re willing to forego the Lunchables, Go-gurt, juice boxes, and Happy Meals. We could double the price of meat, fish and poultry tomorrow and not know the difference in our wallet if we are willing to eat less of all the above and more grains and vegees. Or just eat less, period. At the same time we could revert back to small-production, less environmentally disastrous farming while eating healthier food in the process. We enter into evidence People's Exhibit 1: a t-bone steak for $6. Warning! Personal anecdote approaching.
For precious-few years, when the five of us were kids, Dad decided it was a good time to launch a freelance journalism career. We were broke. We didn’t have Frootshoots and Stack’ems in the brown paper bags we brought to school, we had handmade sandwiches wrapped in wax paper bags with an apple. (Very occasionally, someone got a raw potato but that was more for comical, rather than economic effect.) Worse, we’d often come home from school to a dinner of lentil soup my mother used to make in 50-gallon vats. Every fourth vat had hotdogs. Guess what? We survived. Ever since Lincoln, American’s have lectured their kids on how good they’ve got it. But our economy isn’t the only thing we’ve trashed giving it to them. Now our kids are going to have to pay.
What if we make it so the cost of a steak reflects the ecological cost of producing it. Chicken at $.79 a pound is insane when you look at the messy farms it leaves behind. In 1996 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that for every one fish caught and kept, another six unwanted fish are also caught and discarded. That’s going to end in a hurry if fresh wild fish costs $20 a pound and you can only catch it by hook and line. To keep fishstick fans and Long John Silver’s happy, we could turn our fishermen into fish farmers. With these changes, throwing out our one pound of food per-person, per-day, will not be coming at so dear a cost to our land and marine ecosystems.
So, where does that leave us with our elderly NBC sources decrying the high cost of food and NBN's reluctance to run this lament last week? Consider those sources in the NBC segment again. That first couple looks fairly comfortable in their Florida retirement community and the second woman was interviewed in a café where her bill could buy three meals if prepared at home. Did NBC go out and get the “quotes” needed to support its Social Security story in the same way NBN searched out the links to support its misunderstanding of the facts last week? We had a week to rewrite and rethink our piece. NBC didn’t. Nuf' said.
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Corn Pone from Corn Power 10.19.10
Over the objections of the auto industry, environmentalists and a broad coalition of other groups, the EPA is expected to increase the minimum level of ethanol in auto fuel to 15 percent from 10 percent, according to this AP piece. Which has us asking: who favors this move? These guys: Growth Energy. They collect about $2.3 million in annual contributions (PDF) to make similar contributions to the politicians pushing this policy. According to the non-profit’s IRS Form 990 more than half the annual budget went to “communications” and “other” without any additional details. Who gave the money? It all came in membership dues. Who are the members? Guys profiting handsomely from all those donations.
First there’s Steve McNinch, CEO of Western Plains Energy LLC, which is an ethanol plant near Oakley, Kansas. Then there’s Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and chief executive of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, one of the nation’s larger ethanol companies. Then there’s Dave Vander Griend, head of another pro-ethanol group in Kansas. Then there’s Darrin Ihnen, National Corn Growers Association president. Not to be outdone by the GOP over -influence here, former Democratic Prez candidate Wesley Clark, is also on the board of directors of Growth Energy.
You can argue the merits of ethanol all day long. But how can it possibly be less polluting than solar and wind power which consume no fossil fuels, pesticides or herbicides in production and produce no green houses gases. Yet American’s have paid $250 billion to these folks since 1995 to grow or not grow their crops. (We urge you to see the movie Food Inc. and what it has to say about corn growers in this country.) These guys aren’t Republicans or Democrats, they’re the Cosa Nostra. The caporegimes are the guys running commercials right now decrying such corruption while we’re trying to watch the latest episode of The Greatest Loser.
We’re the losers folks. There are no political parties, just vested interests paying off politicians representing corporate interests above ours in Washington. What do we do about it? The same thing we’ve always done: Elect the same people anointed by national political parties to perpetuate policies enriching the contributors empowering these national parties. Look at this Google News search result for “campaign finance reform.” It’s depressing. Are any of the candidates seeking election in your state talking about it? Hell no. The Democrats and the Republicans are as terrified of campaign finance reform as the Saudis are of solar power and the drug cartels are of marijuana legalization. The single biggest problem facing this country is not terrorism, the economy, immigration or pollution. It’s campaign finance reform. And the problem has never been worse than it is right now. How is that possible?
Curative Powers of Grass-Fed Beef 06.15.10
There comes a time in our lives when people begin to believe they should be consuming fewer chemicals. Not just the obvious things like salt, nicotine and saturated fats, but the nastier things like pesticides, herbicides and synthetic hormones. You begin to wonder about lasting impacts from having these things floating around in your bloodstream for half a century. You start stopping at the organic produce sections in the supermarket before recoiling at the prices and moving on. You envision for a moment the residues coating the inside of your lungs before inhaling that cigar you're enjoying with your single malt scotch. As you sip that scotch you weigh more deliberately the wisdom of once again bathing your dwindling supply of brain cells in ethyl alcohol after an illspent youth devoted to drowning same in a broad spectrum of intoxicants.
Before you assume NBN is once again on a mission to bum you out, relax. All this middle-aged angst actually has a happy ending. We've discovered the curative powers of organic beef for middle-age anxiety over environmental health threats. Make no mistake, NBN has pounded down our share of Big Macs. Hey, we’re lugging it. But there’s this movie out called Food Inc. that will put the fear of food into you. This is must see TV for anyone with an aversion to auto-immune diseases. According to this movie, chicken, cows and pigs aren’t raised, these days, they’re cultivated with the same sort of chemical inducements discussed in Biodiversity News today. Without getting into all the gory details the movie does, we'll just say that movie definitely takes the fun out of Happy Meals. So, does that mean you shell out $1 each for organic bananas and $16 per-pound for grass fed beef?
Call it kismet, but just about the time NBN started weighing these unpleasant realities we discovered Tendercrop Farms. Five miles away there’s a market that sells grass-fed beef, free range poultry and whatever you do to pigs to help them lead a cleaner, happier life before being eaten. Contrary to popular belief, grass-fed steaks and other organic meats are not all lean and tasteless. On the contrary, every incarnation of muscle tissue Tendercrop sells is delicious, so far as we’ve eaten anyway. We ate this steak Sunday, it was slaughtered Friday. For all we know the day before that it was chowing down on clover thinking nice thoughts. This steak was every bit as delicious as it looks. There was blood in the plastic bag we carried the meat home in. No styrofoam cartons pressurized with oxygen that adds months onto the shelf life of steak.
We’re not being paid to promote Tendecrop. (In fact, we’re not being paid at all. Please see our Reader Services page to correct this travesty.) We’re just making a point: You can have your organic steak and eat it too. Just not as often as you used to enjoy the hormone-fed, antibiotic-injected, penned-up versions of meat supermarkets sell for a third the price. Those steaks can taste pretty dam good too. Who buys grass-fed organic steak for three times the price of the chemically enhanced version during these tough times? We do. In a perverse twist of logic, shopping at Tendercrop has become part of our new austerity plan. Here’s how it works. We’ve cut back to only eating meat once or twice a week. When we do, it’s usually a 1.5 inch rib eye or strip streak that costs about $10 each for a 12-ounce serving; A perfectly marbled, morsel of the grass fed fellow pictured two paragraphs up. Steak for us has become once again what it was when we were kids: a treat.
During the week we fill the void with various cereals covered with flax seed and left-overs climbing out of the Tupperware they’ve been sentenced to. On the weekends it’s Tendercrop bacon with free range eggs for breakfast and grass fed beef or day-boat haddock for dinner, usually with a side of some sort of chemically enhanced veggies. (We haven’t gone that organic, yet. We explain why in Popular Wisdom this week.) We’re not just doing this because we're slaves to good-tasting food that's good for you. We also are getting a little concerned about what stuff like Zeranol does to your immune system. Do we really want any more of these things clogging our capillaries and muddling our metabolism than absolutely necessary? Warning: This is where this cheery conversation turns a little dark.
Could there be a link between all these chemicals in our environment and the increase in autoimmune disease? Let’s indulge in completely reckless speculation for a moment. Is it possible all these complex chemicals are rolling through your blood stream like millions of little red flags setting off alarm bells for your immune system to attack? Could all these complex chemicals be wearing out your immune system the same way white sugar and wheat wear out your pancreas, giving you diabetes? There is also thought to be a connection between auto-immune diseases and cancer. While we wait for science to sort out some answers, it just seems like common sense to hedge our bets by consuming fewer chemicals. And, as all the above suggests, you can still enjoy a fine steak every once in a while. If you want to know what’s really in your Big Mac, check out this Mother Earth News piece.