Friday, December 10, 2010

Slavoj Zizek - Cultural Consumerism

I've been meaning to post this for weeks. Slavoj Zizek is a sociologist specializing in Marxist theory. The majority of the video is not about food, but in the first five minutes or so, Zizek describes the cultural phenomenon that he's come to call "Cultural Consumerism," which is this idea that our guilt surrounding our crazy consumerist ways drives us to act responsibly, and that interestingly, our way of acting responsibly to combat our over-consumption is by consuming responsible products. That's a terrible summary, so here's the link:

He talks about big corporations like Starbucks encouraging you to act responsibly by buying their product. The rest of the video is not as food-related, but still brings up some issues of culture and society that we've covered in class, particularly equity amongst classes.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Climate Change and Food Prices

When people talk about climate change, not much attention is given to how global farming practices could be affected. This article ( discusses how global warming could lead to a doubling of food prices and cause many more people to suffer from malnourishment. This is not just a problem to be worried about in the future; scientists have found that change is already happening in some areas. For example, in India, warmer temperatures are maturing the wheat too quickly, resulting in reduced yields. The corn belt in the US could also see a reduction in productivity due to climate change.

As productivity and yields decrease, prices for grain will inevitably increase. This will only exacerbate the problems for people who already have trouble affording food. Experts suggest that some of these problems could be alleviated by developing higher yielding varieties of corn, wheat, etc. and having more flexible trade in food commodities. As we discussed in class, malnutrition is not caused by food shortage but by people not having equal access to food. We are producing more than enough food to feed all the peoples of the world. I’m glad that this article does not suggest producing more food in newer areas as a possible solution for this problem. Maybe this means that people are starting to realize the true causes of hunger.

After reading this article, I started wondering whether a reduction in productivity in the corn belt might actually be a good thing? A lot of the food problems we’re experiencing occur because we have too much corn. If less corn was produced, wouldn’t less corn be available for industrialized beef, hog and chicken industries? This would reduce the number of animals grown on these CAFOs and the pollutants released from these feedlots which would help reduce global warming. Quite the cyclic process.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Eating Ethically on Campus

I happen to be fortunate enough to have a scholarship that covers room and board for me at RPI. However, since I now live off campus this means that I can only use it for my meal plan, leading to me having a meal plan when I rather not.
Because of this situation I have been asking myself "How can I eat ethically when my food options are chosen for me by another party?"
It is very hard to avoid supporting factory farming and unsustainable food practices when the only options I have available when I go into my dining hall are food choices that come from sources I'd rather not eat from. So, I would like to point out several of the options available on campus that are available to those who wish to eat more ethically.
The most obvious options would be to eat only from the salad bar, and to choose the vegetarian option that Tofu Tim offers, while it is hard to know how the greens one is eating are grown, it is a healthier and more moral choice than eating the meat that is offered, but the reality is there is not much in the way of choice with Sodexho.
However, this doesn't mean that there aren't better alternatives on campus. Sodexho is proud to point out that the coffee it offers all over campus is fair trade, and every Wednesday you can go to the Terra Cafe, which offers excellent organic and local food, and whether you choose the vegetarian or meat option you will be getting an amazing meal.
There are some options for good sustainable food on campus, but there are better ways to ensure ethical eating with your limited choices on campus, the key option being to actually talk to Sodexho. Communication is usually the only way anything gets done, and what better way to improve your limited eating options than talking to the actual food provider? Since the food quality at RPI is a running joke, I'm sure Sodexho is always looking for alternatives for food options, and I know they are willing to take suggestions, the changes with Sodexho's pizza delivery service is some proof of that.
Also, in the case of Java ++ Sodexho is desperate for student input in how to make their venues profitable. I know at one time Sodexho was willing to turn Java ++ into an outlet where organic food was served to attract more students, but the idea fell apart because it didn't get enough student support.
So, the moral of the story is this: if you are tired of going into the food halls and seeing the same unsustainable food options there are alternatives around campus, but if you are looking for long term improvements talk to Sodexho themselves. They may be a scary big company, but they do listen to students, and if the are motivated correctly (i.e. give them a way to make Java ++ profitable) then Sodexho will be more than happy to listen to you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Senate Passes Food Safety Bill That Would Increase FDA Authority

In a breaking news article today the Senate passed a new food safety bill that gives the Food & Drug Administration more power in making food recalls and inspections on food processing facilities. The intent of the bill is to thwart the outbreaks of contaminated food instead of dealing with the health problems the outbreaks cause after the fact. The FDA will now have the direct power to make food recalls. Before they were only allowed to request that food companies recall their products. They will also increase their number of inspections of food facilities from 7,400 now to 50,000 in 2015. The video with this statistic and other commentary on the bill can be seen here. The FDA can now set standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown abroad along with inspecting foreign food processing plants. The bill covers 80% of the United States food supply, excluding the institutions covered by the Department of Agriculture which consist of slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.

I was thrilled to hear that this happened today as I have been following this issue for a couple of weeks now. I think it is a very imperative bill that will go a long way in helping us avoid major food-borne illness outbreaks that we have recently seen. Last year, 1,422 people were sickened by jalapeƱos and another 1,813 people were sickened by eggs this year. The American food system is becoming more harmful to people than ever before. The care for food is declining as the fight for money is mounting to an all-time high. With the increased demand for food, agribusinesses and factory farming has taken over the food system. They are churning out as much food as they can in as little time as possible. Their practices are enhanced by using chemicals and pesticides on plants, fruits, and vegetables or fattening up farm animals via mass corn and grain consumption.

For me, it is nice to see this bill get passed to keep a big portion of the food system more honest. It is scary to think that anyone could consume food that is contaminated at any time and not know it until they become very ill with the potential of dying. Just to play a little devil’s advocate on this article, I would also like to see things go further involving slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. These two types of institutions are (in my mind) so far off track it is only a matter of time before a major outbreak happens. The conditions these animals are slaughtered in are so horrid and vile one cannot begin to imagine the lives these animals have to endure. I would love to see the next step in the changing of the food process aimed directly at these two corrupt institutions. At the moment I could be one of the least supportive people on how food is produced in America. But with conscientious shopping and the passing of this bill I can still catch some sleep at night knowing I am doing my part and government is starting to do theirs. Good night and happy eating!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Worthy of Thanks

In this article David Katz traces back the meaning of food in Thanksgiving. In the past Thanksgiving was a time for celebrating that harvest and bounty of the season. Katz links this holiday to a “holy” day that was centered on food and the harvest.

Katz discusses how Thanksgiving was a day for the “masses”, who generally barely scraped by, and this one day gave everyone a chance to feast just as the aristocrats did. However, today the majority of people do not participate in back-breaking labor to support themselves; and we also do not need to worry about food shortages.

So what does this mean about our contemporary Thanksgiving? If we are not celebrating a rare bounty of food or rest from hard labor, then what is the point? What are we celebrating? I believe that we are still celebrating rest from labor, however, it is rest from the crazy hectic lives that we have on cell phones, with blackberries, and emails 24/7. Also, instead of celebrating rare bounty, it is a chance for us to share the food we have with our friends and family and also with those that may not have.

Thanksgiving today also has to do with its namesake and giving thanks for what we have. I believe a part of this is giving thanks for the farmers that supplied the food we enjoy. Australia has also recognized the importance of famers and they recently announced that 2012 will be its “Year of the Farmer”. A webpage recently created provides the purpose of this dedicated year. Australia wants to recognize what farmers do in creating fresh, fruits, vegetable, dairy, grain, meat, and also in providing fine products such as wool, cotton, and timber. This is really a great way to connect people to their food so that they are better educated about where there food comes from. This may even lead to smarter purchasing and helping to promote support of local farmers. So as you sit down to eat your Thanksgiving meal this year, or as you purchase and eat food throughout the year gives thanks for those that chose to live a life that can provide such a bountiful harvest for us all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meat: An Intelligence Enhancer

Historically, our ancestors have been eating raw food, but because there aren't a lot of calories in these food, any one individual could spend a significant amount of their day eating in order to survive according to this study This also meant that our stomachs had to be bigger in order to digest all of this raw food, but because all of the energy went into eating it, there wasn't much left for brain power. This continued until somewhere along the line meat was discovered.

The study, suggests that after we started consuming meat, we no longer needed the large digestive gut and could then put that energy consumed toward making our brains larger. This also changed the way our teeth began to look, instead of having sharper teeth, we began to have large, round teeth instead. This not only helped make chewing up meat easier but vegetables as well. How exactly our species discovered meat is unclear, however it seemed to begin a civilizing process that has continued though to today.

Obviously there is more involved in the evolutionary story than just discovering meat and getting smarter, we also had to learn to cook it. This isn't to say that eating raw food is less healthy than not, only that cooking food makes it easier to digest. So we cook meat, we have more energy, and according to this study we're smarter for it (or rather because of it) but whether it is right or wrong still remains in question. According to history, it was right to eat meat because it led to making better tools, smaller guts and eventually a civilized world. Eating meat now is not quite the same as it was during our evolution, as most of our guts have come back, but if it does help us grow "bigger" brains as this study suggests, why not choose to eat meat?