Doing My Homework: 5 Days of Anti-Agriculture Reading

Monsanto.

Whether you think this is a “dirty word” or it plays a beneficial part of your everyday life, there is no one in America who should be uninformed about one of the biggest agricultural biotechnology corporations in the world. Monsanto has their hands in everything, you can’t deny they are a smart business. They employ over 20,000 directly and indirectly, I’d venture to say they support numerous other jobholders.

I’m a big fan of reading the book before watching the movie. Full-disclosure: I’m a disgustingly die-hard Harry Potter fan, the movies were okay.. but the books? I’ve been re-reading them for years. Don’t judge. But back to my point- although The World According to Monsanto‘s research has been made into a documentary, I felt it was important to read the original work. Anyone with interest in what Monsanto is, their history, and the anti-Monsanto agenda needs to read this book.

Even as an avid reader, I thought this was a pretty tough book. I can’t tell a lie- I fell asleep a record number of times. I know that doesn’t sound like a glowing review, but the material was good- it was just a little overdramatic in style. It does tell a lot about the history of Monsanto, the maker of Agent Orange, DDT, and PCB’s, although it takes a very accusatory stance. In my opinion, as an agriculturalist, that’s where I “do my homework”. Why do people hate Monsanto? I learned a lot; Monsanto has made some questionable decisions in the past, after all, it’s been around since 1901. I understand immensely more about the arguments people make about the integrity of the company.

The thing that the author and I will probably always disagree on is the production of GMO technology. She sees it as a threat to world health, I see it as an answer to a growing population that needs to be fed healthy, sustainable food. Americans produce more while using less, and a huge reason that is possible is because of the advances in biotechnology in products used to grow crops and livestock.

Overall, The World According to Monsanto is extremely biased. If you’re a farmer, you’ll scoff at some of the statements the author makes. Parts of the book will make you want to chuck it against the wall- it’s not easy reading inflammatory statements about the work you’ve done for decades, on family farms dating back centuries. But read it. You’ll be more informed- when someone wants to talk about Monsanto, you’ll know both sides of the story. That’s what makes an informed blogger, voter, writer, speaker, and just an everyday average Joe (or Jane).

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Doing My Homework: 5 Days of Anti-Agricultural Reading

There are titles in food production and processing literature that are known to most. Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marian Nestle- their writing has made a splash with many Americans, promoting vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

The CAFO Reader includes excerpts from mutiple books, addressing customer concerns such as biological effects, financial concerns, GMO’s and antibiotic use, and sustainability. Edited by Daniel Imhoff, this book gives the reader the most bang for their buck. It includes writing from all of the most widely known authors and animal rights advocates. If you’re looking for a good, general resource that covers all animal markets and multiple concerns, this is it. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. While farmers see the reasoning behind animal production practices, this book looks at the concerns of those who might confuse CAFO’s with “factory farms“.

My favorite part of this book is Part Two, “Myths of the CAFO”. It rolls through all of the myths surrounding CAFO’s and common thoughts relating to the reasons why indivduals might support animal production through CAFO’s. To understand why Americans have negative views about modern animal production, this is an extremely useful chapter. But to really get fired up, read Part Three- “Inside the CAFO”. The introduction, titled “What the Industry Doesn’t Want Us to Know” leads into a section that details the perceived negative production methods. The editor believes that the industry knows and accepts myths like the one that says antibiotic use is causing health problems for Americans and resistance to human medicines. They mention that farmers only care about profit, and care little about their animals, which is the mentality and untruth that we continue to work against with this blog.  

The book finishes with steps and processes the reader can do to work against animal production and ways to move to what they consider a more sustainable diet. While this book contains a lot of untruth and a lot of opinion pieces, it’s still an interesting book and extremely important to read when learning about American concerns with food production. The one thing myself and the editor do agree on is; do your homework. Research your concerns before making decisions or advocating against or for something.

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Doing My Homework: 5 Days of Anti-Agricultural Reading

The holidays are a great time to read. If you follow the blog regularly, you know that it is one of my favorite hobbies. I love to read. I’ve collected quite a few books in the last few years, and soon I will probably need to invest in a bigger bookcase. The interesting thing about them, is most of my books about agriculture are anti-ag. Doing my homework to learn about American concerns and questions regarding farming means listening to their side of the story. In the next few days, I am going to share a few of my favorite, or the most interesting books on my shelf.

The two books that closely go together have equally similar names. Hal Herzog’s Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat and Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows are two of my favorites because of the way they make the reader really think. While they both discuss the psychology of eating and raising meat animals, they are really pretty different.

Opening Lines: Hal Herzog’s “Why is it so hard to think straight about animals?”:

Herzog looks into the wide array of relationships between animal lovers, pet lovers, and animal advocates. He tells the story of a vegetarian who knew that cows and chickens were animals, but didn’t consider fish to be real animals, even though they have brains, are vertebrates, and are social. After she met her future husband, who was a hunter, she slowly reverted to a meat-eating lifestyle. Then he tells the story of a boy who decided to eat a vegetarian diet based on one of those popular pro-vegan publications you sometimes see in dirty metro stations. He even felt that keeping his pet bird in captivity was wrong. He released it into the back yard. He said “I knew she wouldn’t survive, that she probably starved.” Yet he chose to release her for his own mental well-being. The last story Herzog tells is when he owned a baby boa constrictor and the neighbors called after hearing he was feeding it kittens. Of course this wasn’t true. But he brings up a good point- with all of the kittens that are euthanized in the US each year, why wouldn’t we use them to feed predatory pets like snakes and birds, rather than cremating them? I know it’s an “off-limit” thought to most Americans. This is often because we attach warm and fuzzies to kittens- the thought of them as food is disgusting. Part of this is something called antropomorphism, humans projecting their emotions onto animals. This could be similar to a farmer looking at a cow and thinking “he looks really content, because I just fed him and he has shelter” and someone else thinking “that cow looks very sad to be confined and probably isn’t fed enough”. Americans project their emotions onto animals in both rational and irrational ways. Overall this book just opens up a new line of thinking about humans thoughts relating to animals.

Opening Lines: Melanie Joy’s “To love or to eat?”:

The first minute of the following video is the opening scenario in Joy’s book:

 

Melanie goes on to explain carnism. Essentially, carnism is to vegetarianism as carnivore is to herbivore as meat-eater is to plant-eater. This means that carnism is the choice to eat meat. The author doesn’t consider meat to be a necessary part of the diet, so eating it is a conscience decision made by humans. This is relatable to speciesism, but is more clearly defined in terms of diet. The author has said previously, in so many words, that the reason for this is to remain inoffensive and open to the meat-eaters of the world. However… in no way is this book inoffensive to meat-eaters. Joy uses quotes from Nazi leaders and philosophers to make meat-eaters reading the book to feel guilty, ignorant, almost evil. The author bases these thoughts on what she calls “The Three N’s”.

Normal: Eating meat is normal. If everyone’s doing it, how can it be wrong?

Natural: Eating animals, especially raising animals for meat, is the way things should be.

Necessary: For 2 reasons: animal population control and health and world hunger benefits.

Joy’s combats all of these common reasons why humans, specifically Americans, eat meat. Her opinion is that all meat consumption is wrong, but her ideas are intriguing in terms of psychology. Most Americans would be disgusted with the thought of eating golden retriever, but that’s just a food taboo in the US. Around the world, people eat some whack stuff. In the West African nation of Togo, rats are on the menu. In Iceland, during the holiday celebration called Thorrablot, residents dine on rams’ testicles, sheep’s heads, and rotting shark. Kutti pi, highly desired by most Indians and Europeans, is considered a delicacy because it is rare- animal fetus. All across the globe, we swat or spray misquitos, I would say even animal lovers: yet they have brains, they breed, they’re living creatures. Where is the line drawn? This is why I love these two books: they make me think about these weird things.

Do you eat meat? Why do you do it? I feel comfortable eating meat because there is a cycle of respect and care that I am confident occurs in animal production. I was once asked “how does it feel to eat an animal you raised?” This is important: I felt successful. Hear me out: if I had given that young pig anything but the best care that was possible of me, and it died or became ill, I would have failed. The fact that I cared for an animal, raised it, watched it grow, and then was informed about the slaughter process of animals is a success. I know where my food came from. There is no disconnect or unrealistic expectations, and I don’t feel negatively about helping to feed my family nutritious, sustainable food.

These are two books that, after I read them, I said “that really pissed me off, but I’d read it again, it made me think”. Those are the great kinds of books.

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The Talk vs. The Truth in Regards to Food Dollars

via CommonGround Nebraska

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Baby Carrots; An Urban Legend

Recently I received an email forward concerning one of life’s greatest joys- baby carrots. It was mildly concerning and cause for research.

If you know anything at all, you know that baby carrots, or cocktail carrots, are made by using a machine to cut and shape the wee ones from the large, probably misshapen carrots. Also, you know that they are delicious, nutritious, and good for night vision- what more would you want in a snack. Also, you should steam them, and season them with garlic and thyme or brown sugar…if you know what’s good for you.

Check out how they make those little guys:

This was not the concerning part of the email. This is:

“..once the carrots are cut and shaped into cocktail carrots they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine in order to preserve them (this is the same chlorine used your pool) since they do not have their skin or natural protective covering, they give the m a higher dose of chlorine. You will notice that once you keep these carrots in your refrigerator for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots, this is the chlorine which resurfaces. At what cost do we put our health at risk to have esthetically pleasing vegetables which are practically plastic?”

You don’t really buy this do you? I hope not. Because it is not true. Most fruits and vegetables are washed with a chemical compound after harvest, even organic produce; Fresh Express developed an acidic combination to wash their fruits and vegetables. There is a reason for this. The amount of chlorine or acid that is in the water mixture is so minimal, it is much less risky than eating produce that may be contaminated with bacteria found in nature that may cause food-borne illness. The primary way to avoid this is to grow your own produce, which is a good idea either way!

The thing that scares people, I think, is the white film that appears on carrots when they lose moisture. However, that has nothing to do with the chlorine. Sometimes called “carrot blush” or “white blush”, it is caused by the loss of moisture drying the surface and causing rough cracks. It can also occur when surface cells are damaged, releasing an enzyme (phenylalanine ammonia-lyase, if you’re into that sort of thing). This makes small molecules called phenols to join together to form lignin, which is essentially the fibers that help hold plants together. This causes the whitening, but has no affect on the safety of the wee carrot babe.

I personally love email forwards. They give me a much needed laugh, this one especially. Don’t let chlorine scare you, after all, it is just an element found in nature that we are using to keep our food safe.

So, to sum things up, babies=great, carrots=great, baby carrots=super great. But overall, baby carrots=safe and healthy.

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To the Curious Consumer

Submitted in early October at 1:35 am. 

“Wow, I’m afraid I’m none too impressed with what you found out, as it doesn’t address any real issues of ‘meat production’ and the safety of what we’re eating (or the humane/inhumane treatment of animals).

I would like to know:

–How many hours daily/weekly are the cows ‘at pasture’? how many hours daily/weekly confined?

–List the ingredients in their food & the ratio of each (grains in too high of a ratio are truly unnatural/unnatural for cows – and should only be given in the dead of winter as a ‘supplement’ to their hay (alfalfa/clover).

–How many “chemicals” are added to their food? And why? (and who cares if the FDA “approves” them or not…poison is poison, eh?)

–Solid confirmation or denial of feeding animals GM grains (which have been proven to be horrendously toxic to any animal that eats them (including humans that eat those animals)

–the addition of selenium & Vitamin E is a MAJOR red flag. These things are NOT needed to prevent disease in animals that are provided food that is natural & healthy to them.

—What type (and how much) antibiotics are injected into these animals monthly? semi-annually? annually? And why are they needed at all (typically due to the rapid & rampant spread of disease caused by overcrowding, lack of Vitamin D {sunlight}, and grains/feed that are totally unnatural & stressful to the animal.

–What type (and how much) growth hormones are injected into these animals?

–What is the leading cause of disease/death, and why?
–How is disease managed in general?
–What is the most common disease? And how does that compare to animals that are pastured and fed healthy diets?
–What is done with diseased animals (i.e. do they make it into the food chain? ground up and added to animal/pet feed? {very common}, or disposed of properly?

If you’re not able/willing/whatever to ask these questions and post them answers, will you please email me a few of the email addresses of those who previously answered your emails? My mother is wondering if it is safe/healthy for her to consume ‘Amana Beef’, and since “meat” that has been ‘grown as a commodity’ in confinement operations has been proven to be a leading cause of disease & cancer, I would like to have the answers to provide to & for her.

Thank you!”

First and foremost, I have to apologize for the late response. My comment filter needs to be improved, because by the time I waded through 1,000+ spam comments relating to Louis Vuitton and other mildly alarming health benefits that are not of interest to me, I was extremely late in reading this comment.

While looking for the best answers for this reader, I had a very hard time responding, a sentiment which other agriculturists agreed with. It seems as though their mind is already made up, and coming into a conversation with such a negative attitude toward my writing shows me that I should answer with nothing less than solid fact, both personal and scientific. So here I go: Continue reading

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From the Mouths of Babes

Everyday as producers, we hear (we do, I promise) customer’s concerns about the products that they are buying. But how much does the average person think about the food they’re buying. We know, through modern research, that these concerns increase when people start having families or are providing for others, and also when finances are a strong concern. But when does this thinking start?

In my eighth grade class, we read excerpts of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. To start the class, I wrote a question on the board. “Do you think our food system is safe?” Now, I have to admit, my timing was bad- I put this lesson in at the end of the quarter, and their desire to write was less than average. But I thought their responses wer interesting to read, so I thought I would share them:

“No, I don’t think about my food. I just eat it” – Cody

“No, it does not bother me, I just think it’s safe” – Zach

“I don’t think about whether my food is safe or not as much as I should. I don’t care what I eat anyway.” – Trent

“I don’t think it is safe because you don’t know where it comes from. It might have chemicals or pesticides. Or you could go to the store and get robbed and murdered! Dun dun dun” – Jasmine

“Yes, I think it’s safe because I’m pretty sure it gets cleaned and fertilized. If not I’m screwed.” -Alvaro Continue reading

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The Technology Double Standard

Yesterday I was reading an article about new technology that would allow us to print meat. Print. Meat. A company named Modern Meadow was given $350,000 to develop an edible prototype of a meat replacement. Their short-term goal is creating a small piece of synthetic meat less than one inch long. You have to read the article to believe it. Their main purpose in creating synthetic meat is to create what they imagine as a more compassionate and sustainable food system surrounding meat.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of 3D printing. They’re using it to develop a number of synthetic materials and to solve a multitude of problems, specifically in the health field relating to medical implants. There is a lot of people who are extremely supportive and enthusiastic about the prospects of 3D printing.

Then I have heard the ongoing complaints and praises for the new iPhone. People I know stood in line for the new model, then proceeded to point out all of its flaws. Nevertheless. when I asked why they don’t switch to Android (like me), they claim that they would never betray their beloved Apple products.

Then, finally, yesterday I was forwarded this article about vertical fields; growing crops on the sides of skyscrapers using a mechanical track bringing harvest-ready plants to the bottom of the building. Now, I’m going to be the first to admit- this is a sweet idea. you go, environmental activists! But when I think of our 3000+ acres alone, and how we are such an extremely small percentage of the nation’s growers, I simply cannot see the sides of a few buildings in Chicago as a sustainable option. But I still like it.

Now, here is the point I originally wanted to write about. WHY do all of these ideas get wild praise, with all of their flaws, and proven technology like genetically modified seed is portrayed as the work of the devil? GM crops allow farmers reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also have lower production costs and higher output, benefits that generally outweigh the higher costs of the engineered seeds.

This is a sincere question: if you don’t have an opinion pass this on to your friend- you know, that one who has an opinion on anything. I’d especially love it if you forwarded this to your friend who hates modern agriculture. I sincerely, genuinely, passionately need to know why improved technology is wonderful, excluding innovation in agriculture. There is a double standard, and I can’t wrap my head around it.

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Who’s Telling Your Kids What to Eat?

I was making a video for agricultural promotion a few weeks ago, and I spoke a lot about what I do…I am not a farmer. Yes, I’m from the country and love to work on the family farm, but my full-time job is teaching. I love working with kids in any way, and I’ve been in school to get my bachelor’s in Family and Consumer Science Education for four years. Sometimes I think it’s a little hypocritical to write about agriculture and farming when I’m not a farmer, but with so much information, both correct and misled, floating around, it’s “all hands on deck”. But what does my career have to do with agriculture? A lot.

Continue reading

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Perfect Evening for Harvesting

You really can't beat this office view.

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