Friday, February 26, 2010

Managing vs. Solving Food Related Issues

It is safe to say that the United States does a good job at masking issues through ‘quick-fixes’ that often end up extending into the long term and replacing further action or development. We see this in the way that food charities and emergency food programs mask the deeply rooted issues of hunger and the reasons for it. Because we have such a complex infrastructure, it becomes difficult to make changes in that infrastructure in fear of impacting a network of systems that are all interrelated.

The article "Temporary Hunger Relief Measures are Unsustainable," includes a report from Food Bank for New York City that shows a decrease in the number of residents throughout the five burroughs of the city experiencing difficulties affording food from 3.9 million in 2008 to 3.3 million in 2009. This decrease is the result of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) from the stimulus package which provided support for low and middle-income families. The problem is that the ARRA, along with other funds, were put in place as temporary responses to the recession. These funds helped to put a temporary hold on the six year trend of increasing families experiencing difficulties affording food. However, when the funds are cut in half this year the people in need are back at square one while food pantries will have to work harder to keep up. This article makes a clear statement in the necessity to " implement permanent, long-term solutions to food poverty, including establishing affordable housing, health care and a living wage." Having a long-term reliance on these emergency food programs cannot be sustained indefinately and does not provide a solution to the reasons people are hungry. This brings me to the conclusion that temporary fixes may be necessary at times, but broader changes and developments need to happen in working to solve the issue of hunger.

In the beginnings of emergency food programs, breadlines and things of that nature marked a time of great despair or depression. We see now that they have spread to become permanant necessities for people's survival. In Sweet Charity, Janet Poppendieck exposes the negative sides of food emergency programs, soup kitchens and food pantries. The rapid increase in emergency foods programs after the recession of the 1980’s has extended to today, where hunger problems are managed but not solved. Poppendieck exposes how we've created a culture of charity that normalizes poverty. This makes real action against poverty, such as better education and community involvement, reside to the back-burner. Also discussed is the way soup kitchens further separate and segregate lower classes, as it is demoralizing for people to depend on hand-outs. Food stamps can be seen as a better way to bridge social gaps by allowing people with them to shop in the same place as others and to have consumer choice of foods. As discussed, food stamps are a good way to provide extra help to the "working poor" and sometimes even keep them off welfare but also can start to hide the problem of unmet needs in this country as well.

Another example of the reluctance to solve problems is seen in the way the agribusiness attempts to ‘manage’ instead of solve contaminated food issues. “Food Safety Consequences and Factory Farms,” from Food Inc. talks of the difficulties in dealing with the enormous amounts of waste produced by the thousands of animals on factory farms. This waste entering into the meat we eat and nearby streams and groundwater causes the easy spread of E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, listeria etc. Theses factory farms have too many animals and are just too big to function properly. Sadly, they have replaced thousands of local farms working on smaller, more sustainable and healthy scales. Instead of taking measures to preventing this spread of contamination in the agribusiness, the problem is dealt with by injecting animals with antibiotics to fight off infection while people continue to get sick from the meat. A transition back to smaller, manageable farms would make sense, or at least money invested in making sure the meat is not contaminated.

Although these issues become quite complex, raising awareness is the best way to spark change in the United States' long history of masking problems with the mentality of "fixing it later". This mentality extends outside of food related issues into challages involving the environment, healthcare, debt, safety etc. Although sometimes periods of intense struggle require immediate (temporary) outreach, none of these programs should stand alone. In the face of all these issues in this time of change, it would be most progressive to consider the long-term in any new development. Although it is important to continue to feed the hungry, it's possible to do so in conjunction with other advancements that get at the deeply rooted sources of these issues involving inequalities, education systems, and the outsourcing of jobs.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What you really get with processed foods.

One of the new food fads is to eat food with "any" trans fats, saturated fats, reduced fat, or any other heavily modified food that takes at one thing that "the experts" think is bad. But the truth is that these scientist don't know how every type of food ingested reacts with other food ingested and the body. But to get all the bad fats out of the food, it has to be heavily processed to do so. Process foods were maybe at one point real foods, but they really aren't anymore. They contain a lot of sodium and fats that the body doesn't fully recognize and can cause harm to the body, or fats that are just bad in general for the body if too much is consumed. But what kind of foods are processed food, well heres a small list of some processed food.

canned foods with lots of sodium

white breads and pastas made with refined white flour, which are not as healthy as those made with whole grains

packaged high-calorie snack foods, like chips and cheese snacks

high-fat convenience foods, like cans of ravioli

frozen fish sticks and frozen dinners

packaged cakes and cookies

boxed meal mixes

sugary breakfast cereals

processed meats

Processed meats are some of the worst processed foods you can eat, such as the hamburgers at a fast food chain, they contain high amounts of sodium and other bad fats that can be overwhelming to the body in high amounts and lead to ones self become over weight.

But a good thing of processed food is that the food can be processed to remove some ingredients that are harmful to the body, but this involves processing already processed food. Which could have some negative side affects to the body.

So avoiding processed foods can be difficult but do able if you have the time to actually cook food from raw ingredients, which takes time and and skill. Making processed food a much easier and less time consuming alternative. So my question to you is how much processed food do you eat weekly, if any at all? And if you don't eat it at all or a little, how do you avoid it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Food and Reductionism

So far this semester, readings and class discussions have dealt with the topics of the fast food industry, animal rights and vegetarianism, and most recently, the politics of nutrition. Our discourse regarding these topics has helped shed light on a root idea that is tying all of them together: reductionism. This concept can be interpreted as it relates to food itself, the path between its origins and our plate, our relationship with food, or food's social, economic, and cultural implications; but whatever angle from which you consider reductionism, its application to food has questionable results, some of which have already proven to contribute to social and economic problems and health problems in humans, animals, and the environment.

The fast food industry is the result of the [seeming] reduction of time and energy; time and energy previously spent by individuals or small groups of people obtaining raw foodstuffs and preparing meals. Before the advent of the fast food industry, feeding oneself and one's family was an important responsibility and might as well have been a full-time job. But the fast food industry offered to provide people with full meals at low costs and in no time at all. This reduction in the time and energy a consumer would invest in obtaining, preparing, and consuming food led to more serious and questionable forms of reductionism in relation to our food, including: a diminishing sense of food's social and cultural significance in our daily lives, a decreased sense of intimacy in our relationship with food, and the application of a technologically advanced assembly-line logic--reducing food production and preparation processes to their most fundamental mechanical steps and optimizing that system to promote corporate goals of mere convenience, efficiency, and profit.

"I have no desire to scale up or get bigger. ... As soon as you grasp for that growth, you're going to view your customer differently, you're going to view your product differently, you're going to view your business differently. Everything that is the most important-- you're going to view that differently," says Polyface Farms owner, Joel Salatin (1). This perspective implicitly warns against a form of reductionism that would result from prioritizing convenience, efficiency, and profit over product quality, consumer protection, sustainability, and human and animal health and welfare: reducing living beings to lifeless instruments merely meant for the efficient generation of profit. In the meat-packing industry, animals are considered as commodities and workers deal with unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, have little to no rights, and are easily replaceable. The root of many health problems for the workers, animals, and consumers can be traced to this grim aspect of the meat industry's business model.

'Nutritionism' is another important form of reductionism. It is the term that Gyorgy Scrinis uses to describe an ideology whereby food is evaluated and consumed according to its nutritional content. Nutritionism sort of abstracts all foods into quantitative models of the nutrients they contain (2) and this has proven to be helpful to players in the processed food industry. Experts would designate which nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are 'good' and 'bad' and food scientists could easily devise a way to engineer certain foods to hold large amounts of the 'good' nutrients (3). So you could be in the snack aisle at the supermarket and find yourself looking at a sack of greasy potato chips that have been nutritionally engineered to give you a refreshing boost of vitamins and minerals. It easily seems too good to be true and odds are, it is. The problem with nutritionism is that it assumes that isolated nutrients are responsible for good physical health, as opposed to, say, nutrients in chemical combination with each other or nutrients as they occur naturally in certain foods (4). One also has to consider the essential nature of processed foods. Usually, food becomes more unhealthy to consume as it becomes more processed. Although it may bestow certain foods with more meaningful nutritional content (at least according to nutritionism), nutritional engineering is still a [potentially harmful] industrial food process. Another problem with nutritionism is just the fact that it is so focused on nutritional content. What about a food's ability to satisfy hunger? What about the taste of the food? Or are humans just nutrient-fueled machines incapable of perceiving the complex and intangible dimensions of food?

Although the three topics discussed seem only vaguely related, their relation to the idea of reductionism demonstrates that our current food production models and attitudes towards food are not at all suited to our nature as human beings. Regarding humans and animals with indifference and forgoing social meals for vitamin supplements are obviously not appealing and yet we find ourselves in a position where these conditions are accepted and normal. We can't cut corners and be dishonest with ourselves when it comes to our food and health. Given the current food situation and what it has cost us, who would want to?

1. Food, Inc. (Film)
2. "On The Ideology of Nutritionism", Gyorgy Scrinis, pg. 39
3. "On The Ideology of Nutritionism", Gyorgy Scrinis, pgs. 44-45
4. In Defense Of Food, Michael Pollan, pg. 26

How safe is the milk we drink?

“No artificial growth hormones used!” claims Hannaford brand 1% low fat milk that I drink at least a cup daily. When I look closer though, I see in fine print “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST treated and non-rBST treated cows.” This fine print disclaimer might leave consumers confused with many unanswered questions, the main ones being what is rBST, and does it have any effect on my health?

According to Food & Water Watch in Food, Inc by Karl Weber, rBGH is recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is a “genetically engineered, artificial growth hormone that is injected into dairy cattle to increase their milk production by anywhere from eight to seventeen percent.” The FDA approved of rBGH in 1993 even though its effects were never properly studied. The FDA based their approval solely on an unpublished thereby unverified study conducted by Monsanto Company who had a vested interest toward the bias as the main provider of rBGH, in which the growth hormone was administered to just 30 rats and these rats were tested for only 90 days ( Typically, chemicals aren’t approved for human consumption until they have been more extensively tested, often times for as long as ten years. rBGH is outlawed in Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand because of its unknown health effects on humans (Food & Water

Cows injected with rBGH tend to have higher levels of IGF-1 or Insulin-like growth factor 1. IGF-1 naturally occurs within the human body, but when milk from cows injected with rBGH is consumed, the level of IGF-1 increases. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition ( excess levels of IGF-1 pose serious risks of breast and prostate cancer; “IGF-1 may promote the growth and invasiveness of any cancer by inhibiting programmed self-destruction of cancer cells, and that contamination of milk with residues of antibiotics used to treat mastitis in rBGH cows is likely to spread antibiotic resistant infections in the general population.” Women that have a slight increase in their level of IGF-1 are up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women with lower levels; therefore, elevated IGF-1 levels are among the leading known risk factors for breast cancer (

With these known health risks, why won’t the FDA withdraw its approval of rBGH? The reason can only be speculated, but here are some facts that may allude to an answer: “Michael Taylor, the FDA commissioner responsible for writing the labeling guidelines, had worked as a Monsanto lawyer for seven years before joining the FDA” ( Also, deputy director of the FDA’s New Animal Drugs Office had been a Monsanto research scientist researching the safety of rBGH. is an excellent site to learn more about rBGH in the world today. The site features articles updating the reader on the status of this growth hormone, for example: consumers’ attempts to rid rBGH from schools or Yoplait and Dannon go rBGH free.

Also, compiled Artificial Hormone-free Brands’ Guide for each state which illustrates which milks and other dairy products do not have rBGH and are safe to eat.

Corporate influence on our dietary advice

Increasing levels of recommended food consumption, especially of meat and dairy products rates are heavily influenced by food corporations. The US dietary guidelines are directly influenced by the food industry. Jennifer Falbe and Marion Nestle, in A Sociology of Food and Nutrition: The Social Appetite[1], state that “seven of the 13 members of the 2005 committee had financial ties to the International Life Sciences Institute, National Dairy Council, or other industry groups.” The recommended total number of daily servings in 1982 was 11 to 14, and has increased to 17 to 24 as of 2007. [1] This increase in recommended consumption has followed a general trend of nutritionism, increasing amounts of information available about the effects of specific nutrients, and rising confusion about what people should eat to have a complete diet.

Gyorgy Scrinis, in his article On the Ideology of Nutritionism[2], describes a general trend of ‘nutritional reductionism’ which occurs at two levels. The first is an attempt “to understand all issues relating to the quality of foods and their relationship to bodily health at the nutria-biochemical level,” and the second is “a simplified focus on particular nutrients, or on particular bodily processes and biomarkers.” This trend of nutritionism has increased the amount of information consumers need to know, making them focus on specific aspects of food rather than the general impact types of food have on the body. The US dietary guidelines have followed this trend, and the number of key recommendations and pages in the guidelines has increased from 7 and 19 in 1980 to 41 and 70 in 2005.[1] The recommendations made in the guidelines have become lengthy and obtuse, changing from “Avoid too much sugar” to “Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan.”[1]

The food industry is largely behind the changes in how we perceive food and the increasing obtuseness of our guidelines. According to Scrisis, the food industry sees us as “in need of nutritional advice, weight loss plans and products, functional foods, nutritional supplements, …”[2] While creating food guidelines that increase sales, the food industry do not create guidelines that allow consumers to decide what to eat or plan a balanced diet. In order to get dietary guidelines that provide accurate and sound nutrition advice, corporations need to be removed from process, so that the government is solely responsible for the national dietary guidelines. Fable and Nestle suggests that we be “diligent in encouraging governments to issue dietary advice that is clear, unambiguous, and useful to the public.”[1] While this is a good strategy, I think we should first encourage our government to restrict the influence that the food industry has on the guideline making process, and that then the dietary advice will resume a more reasonable level of usefulness.

Children and Food Safety

Recently we read several articles about Factory Farming and how it is harmful to people, animals and the environment we live in. As i read all these articles , I couldn’t help but think that there was something missing; Children. Children are the most susceptible to harm from factory farming and other dangers from the modern world, yet they often get overlooked because of their lack of status. They are more vulnerable because of their size and naivete about the world. We have read several articles about how children are specifically targeted in advertising from Mcdonalds and other companies, but have not really talked about the long term ramifications of this or how it should be changed. Since they are more susceptible to everything, from food safety to advertisements for new products, this should be an area of concern.

Last semester I took a class with Professor Mascarenhas called Environmental Justice. It explored how people's racial, economic and cultural background influenced their exposure to pollution and unsafe environments. We read several articles about children and how they are the most vulnerable to damage from exposure to pollution. Environmental regulations do not take into account the fact that children are even more susceptible to damage from the food they eat, the air they breathe and the environment they live in.

We talked briefly about the Precautionary Principle in class, which states that the government has a responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm when a potential risk has been found. The company/corporation must prove that its product/etc. is safe BEFORE putting it on the market. This counters the current paradigm, which will allow potentially harmful substances in the market until they are proven to be harmful.

This principle should be applied with regard to our food safety and environmental regulations with children as the main focus of our protection. If the level of e-coli in a hamburger could harm an toddler eating a happy meal, it should not be there. If the smog in the air could harm a baby being walked in the park, it should not be there either. Only when we think our the youth will our future adults live in a safe world. We should make our regulations so that the youngest children are protected, because if they are protected, then we will be too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Terra Cafe

Today we talked about Terra Cafe at the end of class. I saw this video today and it was pretty awesome so I'm sharing it here.
Also here's the site.

History of US food labels

A food blogger has put together a really good history of food and nutrition labeling in the US - with most emphasis on recent industry-led efforts to create nutrition labels. The last line raises an interesting question:

Visionaries see a day where each ingredient of every product on a shelf can be connected directly to the farm, factory, and other stakeholders involved in its processing. Now how do you fit all that information on a pack of gum?

Upcoming events at RPI

Terra Cafe is hosting a farmer's market sampler at 8pm this Saturday at
Mother's in the Union. This event is free to attend and open to the entire student body.

Come learn about the market and the benefits of eating locally while eating some delicious free food from Troy's very own farmer's market!

Tell all your friends, especially those that might never have been to the market.

Also, Terracafe needs volunteers to help for the event, so if you can
help, email Beth at


Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Food, Inc.

Thursday, February 25th


Sage 3303

RPI faculty and experts from the community will facilitate discussion after the film screening

(Panel organized by Dr. Michael Mascarenhas, Dept. of Science and Technology Studies)

Light refreshments provided

Monday, February 22, 2010

FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System

On February 17, New York City released FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System, a report that came out of the discussions held at the NYC Food & Climate Summit held in December. This document purports to be “the most comprehensive effort to date to unify and reform New York City’s policies regarding the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.” The ultimate goal is the development and reform of food policies that integrate climate and energy objectives with social, public health and economic goals. This shows just how far-reaching the effects of food policy are on the overall health of a city, and is really an answer for anyone with a skeptical friend who may question the importance of class “just about food.” Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer, explains, “By devoting serious attention to our food system, city government can in one stroke improve public health, sustainability, and job creation.” The blueprint is less than fifty pages and outlines pragmatic concise recommendations in 10 different areas and provides context to understand the current problems of a broken food system. These 10 different categories with specific goals are: Urban Agriculture, Regional Food Production, Food Processing and Distribution, New Markets, Procurement of Regionally Grown Food, Education, Food Waste, Plastic Water Bottles, Food Economy, Government Oversight and Coordination of Food Policy Programs. I highly recommend that you, dear blog reader, should take a look at this document, but in the rest of this post I’m just going to discuss a couple of the recommendations I found most interesting, controversial, or applicable to class discussions.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Men and the Thin Ideal - Repost

The structural factors that perpetuate the thin ideal in women are largely driven by the desire for economic gain. In the Germov/Williams reading, I was struck by the variety of ways women have attempted to adhere to an ideal body image throughout the centuries. The book mentions how women of the 19th century used inflated undergarments in order to have a more rounded, shapely appearance, as was desired by the time. Also, the book detailed the extreme measures women use today to achieve the thin ideal, such as cosmetic surgery and dangerous diet habits. The book also detailed how the ideal body image of the time is always the most difficult to attain. In times of plenty, thinness is in fashion. In times of need, a more shapely appearance is desirable.

Inhuman structural factors, such as the fashion industry, health sector and diet industry dictate what is desirable in society with no reference to what the actual members of society find ideal.

Only those who subscribe to the popular notions of the thin ideal are actually controlled by this notion. A personal commitment to obsess over the thin ideal, the marriage of structural and post structural factors, perpetuates the thin ideal in society. As a result of this obsession, a large percentage of women suffer from poor body image, unhealthy dieting habits, and even life threatening diseases such as anorexia or bulimia. In my opinion, the ideal body as dictated by society is a falsehood and is only a money-earning construct for those industries involved. Structural factors manipulate women into the thin ideal in order to take their money and create life-long followers of what they say. Regardless of what these factors say, individuals will always have their own ideas of what is attractive in themselves and others, regardless of, and sometimes opposite to, the thin ideal and what society mandates.

Lately, there has been a growing movement in society to promote a healthier body image, by embracing the human body and everyone’s individuality. These emancipatory politics are epitomized by The Body Shop’s “Ruby” campaign as detailed in the Germov/Williams reading, and the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty.” On the Dove campaign website,, there are opportunities for self esteem programs for women, pictures of shapely women in their underwear and opportunities to contribute to this topic.

Despite the predominant feminine audience when dealing with body image and societal body ideals, men are also a strong part of the audience. The reading by Bentley focuses on the masculine facet of the dieting scene. In particular, the Atkins diet especially appeals to a manly manner of dieting due to its large consumption of red meat. While women seem to be the primary targets of societal body ideals, men are more strongly held to societal role ideals than women. Throughout the decades, the role of a woman has fluctuated between liberal and free to weak and dependent on men. On the other hand, men have always been held to the manly, masculine standard to be a provider, strong and ascribing to certain tastes and hobbies. The Bentley reading details how it is acceptable for women to enjoy manly activities such as football, but it is frowned upon when men enjoy feminine activities such as ballet.

While it is possible to exercise and eat healthily in order to work towards the bodily ideals of society, it is very difficult, if not impossible to change one’s mentality in accordance with what is accepted by society. The plight of women and body image is a hot topic in society, but the trouble men face in upholding the standard of being male physically, mentally and emotionally is a silent problem. Instead of just having to drop a few pounds or tone some muscles, men must deny their own personalities, emotions and mentality in order to fit in with society’s ideals.

Friday, February 19, 2010

'Consumer' Control and Vulnerability

Although government regulation of the agribusiness is key in solving issues such as animal cruelty in meat production, the negative environmental and economic impacts of factory farming, and unhealthy meat consumption on a mass scale that we’ve been reading about and discussing, we sometimes forget that as ‘consumers’ the choices we make will impact the meat industry and influence governmental action the most. This is because we supply the money and consume the meat produced by these mega-corporations, fueling this cycle of malpractice. By reducing the support and dependence that ‘consumers’ have on mass-produced meat, changes regarding the above issues would become forced upon the meatpacking industry.

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser gives us a glimpse of how much power the major meatpacking corporations (13 in total) have over the food Americans eat. The two main reasons for this is America’s dependence on mass-produced meat for the majority of its meat consumption and the ties the meatpacking industry has with Congress through lobbying. Schlosser points out the ways in which meatpacking corporations have been successful in pawning responsibility of their safety practices on Americans by diverting the cost of any new safety legislation on the people, using tax dollars to make the few changes that do get enforced by the government. Our dependence on these factory farms leaves us extremely vulnerable until we can reduce our demand from the said suppliers.

It is important to note that decreasing this demand will only happen when personal changes are realistic and realizable. It is not realistic to suggest that everyone stop eating meat when it is so embedded into our culture and cooking practices. Although that would help, there are other ways to reduce demand on factory farms by supporting local farms that provide meat of grass-fed cattle or free-range chicken. In Food Inc., Karl Weber suggests the three Rs: Refine to eliminate the most abusive animal products, Reduce consumption of animal products and Replace animal products in your diet with vegetarian options (p. 64)or the above discussed local animal products.

To be honest, it is a real challenge to seek out local meat that is of grass-fed cattle or free range chickens. The best way to do this is through your local farmer’s market , which can be limiting as they usually only operate once a week. Even in visiting a local butcher (Fred The Butcher in Clifton Park) it was surprising to me that they had no grass-fed beef but provided me with a pamphlet of a farm they knew of that had it in the Adirondacks, Mack Brook Farm . We can see how difficult this can be, especially when so many of us eat out a lot and have little control over where the meat is coming from.

This brings me back to the point of the control we ‘consumers’ do have on the market. Remember, we have not been dependent on the corporate meatpacking industry before the last 50 years. It is very possible to create a demand for healthy meat from local sources which, in turn, increases the convenience in its availability.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's All in the Education

Illustration by Richard Turtletaub; graphic by The New York Times
The secret to a healthy lifestyle: early intervention.
It's no secret that people are most susceptible to influences at a young age. In an effort to take advantage of this, many schools have created programs and rules regarding food policy. Some programs will be more successful than others, however.
The federal government wants to ban all candy and soft drinks from schools and put more nutritious choices into the vending machines. A noble idea indeed, but when you can't even sell cupcakes for new uniforms, this seems a bit extreme. Kids always want something more if they can't have it. Will completely banning candy be a good idea if little Bobby will devour Skittles every time he can get his hands on them? Moderation is the message that needs to be driven home. We can't eliminate only soda or candy and expect to see changes. The proposed tax on soda might even worsen the situation. If someone wants to buy soda, they are going to buy it regardless, and the extra money that paid for the tax might lead to cuts in produce purchases.
Joshua Bright for The New York Times
There are better ways to get kids excited about eating healthy. Around the world, many countries have started school gardens to teach kids about where healthy food comes from. This provides a diversion from the indoor routine of classes (always a plus) and a way for students to feel proud about their work. One high school in Brooklyn has taken this to the next level. Not only do they maintain a 2500 sq. ft. organic garden, they also offer a class much like ours, reading Michael Pollan and taking trips to local farms. This type of education is sorely needed in a location like this, a "food desert", where most families are low-income and many kids resort to fast food options. As the teacher comments, "It’s really hard to cement in their heads that there are other options to industrial food.” A challenge, no doubt, but we are slowly making progress.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is denial causing fewer people to become vegetarians?

Denial can become commonplace when the truth of a situation is beyond what the typical individual is able to comprehend. An example that illustrates this point is the animal abuse and suffering that occurs on industrialized farms. Society as a whole suffers from the denial of these extreme acts of cruelty and as a result continues to consume goods produced by these farms. This denial facilitates the continued sale of meat and contributes to fewer people leading a vegetarian lifestyle.

Cohen defines denial as “the maintenance of social worlds in which undesirable situation (event, condition, phenomenon) is unrecognized, ignored or made to seem normal” in his book States of Denial, Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. The practices of industrialized farmers to increase profit by increasing the amount of meat that they produce through raising the animals in dismal living conditions then falls into the category of an undesirable phenomenon. Increasing profit at the expense of the an animal’s ability to lead a healthy long life is accomplished in a variety of ways including: decreasing the amount of space in which each animal lives as much as physically possible, injecting the animals with growth hormones to reach maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, and impairing the animals (example: teeth clipping and tail docking of pigs so they don’t hurt each other). These are not the images the people want to conjure when eating the meat that they purchased from their local market-instead they choose to deny that these events ever occurred so they will be able to enjoy their meat guilt free.

Cohen describes this level of denial as cultural because the whole of society slips into a state of denial without provocation from public sanctions or other methods of control. A society accomplishes this extensive denial through use of a specific, shared vocabulary used to normalize the undesirable phenomenon. In industrialized farming, this shared vocabulary is represented by the names given to the animal when it is butchered and sold as meat. For example, a cow becomes T-bone steak, tenderloin, chuck, etc. and a pig becomes sausage, ham, spare ribs, bacon, etc.

If society did not exist in this state of denial and considered the repercussions of factory farming for meat, then more people would likely become vegetarian. Perhaps if the conditions in which the animal was raised were on the forefront of the consumer’s mind when purchasing meat, the consumer would opt not to buy meat.

Sources: A Sociology of Food & Nutrition: The Social Appetite by John Germov & Lauren Williams

The health risks associated with industrially produced ground beef

Last fall I read an article[3] in the NY Times about a 22-year old dancer, Stephanie Smith, who became severely ill from eating hamburger in early fall 2007. Ms. Smith did not recover and remains paralyzed. How could this have happened?

The ground meat available to the public tends to contain non-meat contaminants, including bone, animal bedding, and feces. As part of our class, we are reading parts of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Food, Inc., edited by Karl Weber, both of which address the issue of dangerous meat in the food supply. Fast Food Nation focuses on causes of meat contamination, the rise of E. Coli O157:H7 and other potentially fatal species of E. Coli, the lack of responsibility by corporations, and the inabilities of government to effectively regulate foods and enforce food-safety standards. Food, Inc. briefly discusses various industrial methods used to increase production and their side effects to the consumer.

I was appalled to find that corporations ignore “the primary causes of meat contamination—the feed being given to cattle, the overcrowding at feedlots, the poor sanitation at slaughterhouses, excessive line speeds, poorly trained workers, the lack of stringent government oversight…”,[1] instead focusing on new ways to make contaminated meat safer, including irradiation. Corporations cannot effectively be held accountable, since the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) cannot issue a recall of tainted meat nor fine companies for knowingly selling it. While some fast-food corporations have put pressure on meat suppliers and succeeded in getting cleaner meat for their business, meat sold to the public still remains highly contaminated. The most distressing part of this lack of sanitation is that effective monitoring is not expensive. Jack in the Box, after losing credibility when four children died from eating contaminated hamburgers in 1993, established an effective testing system to evaluate the meat they used and safely prepare it for consumption that “raises the cost of the chain’s ground beef by about one penny per pound.” [1]

Other health risks come from the antibiotics and hormones used to increase the growth rate of cattle. The use of low doses of antibiotics promotes the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which pose a growing public health concern. The hormones used to boost growth increase risks of breast, prostate, and colon cancer, as well as causing potential reproductive issues. Industrial methods used to increase production of meat pose a direct and significant health risk to the public. [2]

Why is our food contaminated? And, why are there no enforceable regulations to prevent contaminated foods from reaching the marketplace? I believe the only recourse for the consumer is to buy locally from known producers. Support your farmer’s markets and your local farms, find out how your foods are produced, and speak out to your congressmen about need for safe food.

1. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Scholler.

2. Food, Inc., by Participant media and Karl Weber.

3. E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection, by Michael Moss.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An ethical Butcher?

I found this website while stumbling on the internet the other day. It tells the story of Berlin Reed, a vegetarian who was employed as a part time butcher and describes his time there as a "journey from vegetarianism to ethical omnivorism and theorizes an environmentally friendly future for meat."This article fit in really well with what we had just read in class, so I decided to share it with you all. Although he proposes that everyone become an ethical omnivore and be more conscious about how much and where they purchase their meat, will that really make a difference?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Animal Rights and Perceptions of Meat in American Society

The significance of meat in American society is widespread and multifaceted. Its meaning, for many people, extends beyond the scope of health, nutrition, or that of a mere dietary supplement; meat bears social connotations that range from cultural traditions to gender standards and associations to animal rights issues.

It is no wonder why America has come to produce and consume more meat than any country in the world, taking the cake when it comes to beef, veal, and broiler meat and coming in third next to the European Union and China when it comes to pork, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

An even more profound example of the significance of meat in American society would be the growing vegetarian/vegan demographic within the United States; the basic manifestation of the rejection of meat in America. The principles and practices on which vegetarianism is built and the many reasons why people would choose to pursue such a lifestyle make a strong statement about what meat has come to represent to many Americans today : a less than savory truth about what I'll call the Meat Process; its production, preparation, and consumption in contemporary America.

When presented with the idea of meat, many people would automatically think of wings, drumsticks, steak, cutlets, chops, bacon, and ham instead of chickens, cows, lambs, or pigs.1 Hopefully, in all seriousness, when all is said and done, we have the basic knowledge that our meat does indeed come from animals; but this immediate perception of meat demonstrates an almost deliberate lack of basic understanding of the origins of meat. Given this perspective, the amount of meat the nation consumes is quite alarming. Steak, hot dogs, buffalo wings, and hamburgers can be considered iconic American foods that many people eat almost on a regular basis. McDonald's has a strong and deeply rooted presence in the nation and its staple menu items primarily consist of meat. Yearly quotas for meat industry kingpins must be increasing for a reason. To be consuming so much of something we effectively know so little about should be a major concern for everyone.

Many vegetarians claim that their decision to become such was driven by an affinity for animal rights. Animal rights issues need to be addressed because they are indirectly related to human health in terms of the consumption of meat. The actual killing of an animal for food cannot necessarily be deemed animal cruelty because it happens everywhere--between humans and animals and between different animal species--and it's out of an objective biological necessity. However, treatment of the animals and respect for their natural behaviors and processes is a different issue. This is where the definition and enforcement of animal rights is crucial and ultimately in our best interest. Society generally looks down on athletes who use steroids and other drugs to enhance physique and performance. It is a practice that is considered unfair, unhealthy, and dangerous. However, many people (albeit unknowlingly) eat meat derived from animals that have been injected with growth hormones, antibiotics, and other potentially harmful drugs. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat, aren't you? On top of this, animals bred for slaughter spend most of their lives in dismal, unhealthy, illness-inducing living conditions2 and are often fed rendered feed mixtures consisting of animal remains, animal feces, corn, soybeans, and other ingredients alien to their natural diet.3 All these factors provide the perfect opportunity for harmful and resilient bacteria to multiply and thrive.

Sometimes new technologies and practices are factored into the Meat Process in response to food-borne illnesses. These include introducing new antibiotics to combat bacteria mutations that resulted from developed resistance to old antibiotics4, soaking meat in ammonia to kill bacteria, and irradiation to sterilize harmful bacteria.5 But these 'solutions' have every potential to introduce many new and potentially worse problems. If key players at the early critical stages of the Meat Process exercised respect for an animal's natural existence, promoted animal health, and re-evaluated and reconfigured their share of the Meat Process accordingly, many of the modern human health concerns associated with meat would be 'nipped in the bud', so to speak.

Vegetarianism is not necessarily the solution to all the meat problems in America and it certainly is not well-suited for everyone. While a vegetarian lifestyle works for some, many people are healthy omnivores that count meat as an essential component of a healthy and balanced diet. But some of the philosophies and principles behind vegetarianism do have something useful to offer us in terms of rethinking our consumption of and attitudes towards meat. Demonstrating a basic respect for nature and living organisms is a fundamental vegetarian concept. Pairing this practice with that of being well-informed about the food we eat and what is necessary to sustain our health and well-being can help people become healthier and stay healthy without having to resort to extremes.

1. A Sociology of Food and Nutrition (pg. 289)

2. Food, Inc. (pgs. 61-64)

3. Fast Food Nation (pg. 202)

4. Fast Food Nation (pgs. 199-200)

5. Fast Food Nation (pgs. 215-218)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The McItaly: a “monstrous act of national betrayal?”

the McItaly
McDonalds has created a special burger just for Italy: a beef patty, Asiago cheese, and artichoke spread all wrapped up in an Italian flag. The Italian government has endorsed the burger and the agricultural minister, Luca Zaia, is touring the country promoting the creation and the local Italian ingredients of which it is made.

Watch the BBC's coverage: The 'McItaly' burger row and leave a comment here. (I wanted to embed the video, but the only available versions were in Italian without closed captioning).

Just like in the Russian McDonalds case study, a multinational company uses local ingredients to create a specialty product and appeal to a feeling of nationalism, but will this approach be as successful in Italy?

Friday, February 12, 2010

World Food System Interconnectivity - Social Justice

The high rate of consumption of meat in developed nations not only results in the deaths of countless animals each year, it also harms humans, pushing them into poverty.

While the correlation between meat consumption and animal death/suffering is lucid, I think that correlation between the suffering of other humans is unquantifiable. If our society had greater exposure to the data correlating meat consumptions to deaths and suffering of humans there would be less consumption of meat. Didre Wicks explains "In terms of human consequences, it is clear that the high meat consumption within affluent countries has had an adverse impact on people in developing countries…These countries grow the cereals as cash crops for desperately needed foreign exchange) when they could instead grow crops for food to halt malnutrition among their own people (Spencer 1995, p. 341).” In A Sociology of Food and Nutrition: The Social Appetite (pg 292). This idea is explained further by “The more meat we eat, the fewer people we can feed. If everyone on Earth received 25 percent of his or her calories from animal products, only 3.2 billion people could be nourished.”

This is a process which is well understood through a World System Theory lenses. This theory argues that the market system creates an uneven exchange between the develop and undeveloped world. The devoted nations are taking raw materials, in this situation food and grains from the third world, leaving behind pollution and poverty. Twenty Lessons in Environmental Theory (pg 35). In return for the raw materials, these people are forced into poverty, struggling to produce enough food for themselves. Yes, there is monetary compensation for the goods, but there is no compensation for social costs, loss in quality of life, and loss of life itself .

Our world interconnected and food system is interconnected. The consumption of meat in America is able to deplete the food supply for people living in a different hemisphere.

The Social Acceptance of Voluntary Vegetarians

In the section of A Sociology of Food and Nutrition written by Deirdre Wicks titled “Humans, Food, and other Animals: The Vegetarian Option” the root of vegetarianism is explored. Vegetarianism is defined as a diet consisting of no meat. However, as Wicks states, vegetarianism is a broad term that has been used to describe, more generally, those who refrain from eating flesh. The sub categories of lacto-veg, ovo-veg, a combination of the two, and those who eat fish all fall under the title of vegetarian. It is fair to say that this term has a subjective definition that is free for interpretation, except for vegetarians who take on the exclusive title of vegan. This notes their rejection of all animal products from their life including food, clothing, and furniture. Now how do these groups socially fit into a society such as the United States?

Micks notes in the reading that the vegetarian movement has “historically maintained long-standing links with movements such as ethical socialism, animal rights, anti-vivisection and pacifism.” For those unaware, the anti-vivisection movement is focused on removing animal testing from the realm of science.(See link for more info) These social movements are more often than not associated with the hippies of our culture, the radicals, “those people.” Many people stereotype all vegetarians and especially vegans to be the type of radical PETA people that are seen in the news throwing paint and making a scene for animals’ rights. Many people in the U.S. are uninformed and are unaware that most vegetarians and vegans are not the pushy, belief shoving groups looking to convert the world.

It is hard, if not next to impossible to completely change the way people eat. Many techniques have been used to try and inform the public of the horrors of the meat industry such as animal treatment. This information for many vegetarians has been the reason for their choice of diet. How else can the public possibly be inspired to take a minute and consider how high levels of meat consumption have led to the state of the meat industry? Many people when asked how they feel about the treatment of animals in the industry do genuinely feel bad, but they follow up the statement immediately with “What am I supposed to do about it?” or “I’m not the only one doing it.” If you ask the greater majority if they could possibly adopt a more vegetarian diet, the response will most likely be similar to what Wicks describes as the “I should but…” attitude. It is seen as such a radical change of diet when all it really takes is a little risk to try something new. It is hard to change the social momentum of a society that has been as dependent on meat as the United States. It is too easy to continue our fast paced lives just the way they are instead of stopping and considering “Hey maybe I should think about what I eat and where it comes from.” That’s all it would take. I think we would all be better off if we were to take a minute to consider the simple question, “Am I ok with the way I eat?” no matter what the answer may be.

The Battle Against Childhood Obesity

Following a brief scan of various online resources this week, I managed to dig up several current articles very relevant to the concept of food culture that we have become more familiar with during the course of this class. Of particular interest was Michelle Obama’s endorsement of the Child Nutrition Act, outlined in a blog entry by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

This week Michelle Obama announced her intentions to eradicate childhood obesity across the country. Under, the Child Nutrition Act, she hopes to introduce reforms aimed mainly at urban families without access to produce and non-processed foods. By replacing junk foods in school cafeterias with “more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products” the policy seeks to improve aspects of child development that are influenced by diet. The history of the Child Nutrition Act can be traced to the Lyndon B. Johnson administration enabling subsidizing of meals in public schools. With her endorsement of reauthorization of the bill, the first lady just might give children across the country the opportunity to proper nutrition.

While I certainly admire the intentions of anyone with the motivation, much less the means to reform the nutritional system of public schools having suffered through most of k-12 suffering through roofing tar pizza and hockey puck hamburgers, I can’t help but question some of the tactics this reform is proposing. The blog states that “[Obama] has enlisted professional athletes to run sports clinics across the nation and is using her considerable bully pulpit to get food makers and vendors to voluntarily either make their food healthier or at least label it better so people can make informed choices.” Are professional athletes the most qualified individuals to fill this position? I’m sure children enjoy playing structured sports, but I find they are typically more enthusiastic about having fun. Moreover, the effectiveness of Obama’s “bully pulpit” remains to be seen, but will certainly be tested against a floundering economy.

When school districts began implementing measures prohibiting recess for elementary schools, I was wondered how such a policy could possibly be healthy. Even prisoners are allowed yard time. In the age of a video-game and internet media centered culture, by taking away the only times many children have access be it, voluntarily or not to physical activity, school districts are perpetuating a unhealthy behaviors in the elementary school population. Also, somehow I’m not convinced that state run school districts will be too thrilled about federal intervention. Public schools are already underfunded and I believe the corporate revenue many schools derive from endorsing junk-food culture, is just one perceived solutions to the financial conundrum.

Sweet, Lynn , “Michelle Obama's war on obesity” The scoop from Washington. 2/10/10. 2/10/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The not so nice side of PETA.

First of all I am NOT a supported of PETA and in short I think their viewings are a little wacky. Here's a little website page that might make you feel that way too.

PETA is an organization that wants to better the lives of all animals. It is also a very well known organization and even some celebrities have reported to of joined this group. But according to this webpage they support domestic terrorist type groups, believe that no animal should be owned by any person even as a pet or farm animal [even animals that couldn't be undomesticated very easily] as well as some other stuff. So leave comments on what you think of this and such.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

FDA requests more funding

Well, like any good American, i hate it when any part of the government asks for even more money so that they can do their jobs. However given what has happened in the last few years, in most part whose blame lies with the FDA, i think that asking for more money and using it to "upgrade" how thing are done by the FDA is a good thing.

If you are not aware of what things that could be blamed as the fault of the FDA, then allow me to state a few cases. There were cases were peanut butter products had salmonella in them in the good old United States of America (2009), contaminated milk from china that killed four children (2008) and salmonella contaminated jalapenos from mexico (2008). In the cases shown above, all the products were allowed to be consumed within our borders.

The FDA is doing this in most part to follow the president's 2011 fiscal budget. the FDA's budget will be raised by 23% to become $4.03 billion. Of the 23% increase, $318.3 million will go to Transforming Food Safety, $215 million to Tobacco related items , $100.8 milllion will go to Protecting Patients, and the remaining $25 milling will go towards Advancing Regulatory Science.

For more information about what and how the increase funding will be used, please to the the FDA site. Source

Monday, February 8, 2010

Construction of the Female Bodayyy

Although, the "thin ideal" movement has gained the attention of women in Western civilization, specifically the United States of America. The introduction of another campaign has been nipping on the "thin ideal" movements heels. The "Big and Beautiful" movement, has been one of precedency, mandating that all potential members should embrace their "curves". Either way you slice this tomato, women will always fall captive to the emotional toil between, what feels good and what "looks" good. Both campaigns, encourage an extremity, it has even been publicized that the "Big and Beautiful" campaign encourages women to gain weight. I personally believe that one campaign speaks directly to it's clientele, whereas another barks at their members. Both campaigns sprung from the depths of society and the stigmas each places upon their occupying females. The "thin ideal" has been and still is the female standard. This standard stereotypes women in all aspects of life. Your a slob if your overweight, your too thin, your thin and pretty and not taken seriously. The "thin ideal" campaign is the heavy weight, whereas "big and beautiful" is still looking for that ground swell. It wasn't until the twentieth century, females began to embrace such a concept; realizing popular culture showcased an "impossible" conception.
Today's generation are products of both ideals and each find support through popular media. The "thin ideal" has been perpetuated since the invention of broadcast cable, capturing women as a precious commodity, Hollywood generalized on "types" of beauty. Advertising campaigns such as, Dove, have opened their eyes to the "common" female, spending billions on print campaigns celebrating the "girl next store's figure" and the "full figured model". But even though there has been a sudden uprise of this counter-culture, even those women who once embraced the ideal of "bigger is better" have fallen off the train. Such activists as the popular comedian, Mo'nique, have slimmed down. The idea of "big and beautiful" has run it course and the successor is health.
Unfortunately, I feel as if women will always be in plight, not saying theres less of these issues amongst our counterparts; but as long as the media perceives beauty as tangible then the intangible and frankly important qualities comprising a person will never be valued.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Men on Atkins

Double standards exist everywhere in society. Both men and women face acceptable boundaries created by societal "norms". Even though both men and women have insecurities about body image, it is more acceptable for women to obsess about dieting. The article written by Amy Bently about men and the Atkins diet touches on a lot of these issues and how the Atkins diet has been created to target men. Bently seems to have a negative view of the Atkins diets, as it only stands to allow men to hide their insecurities behind their carnivorous, fatty meals.

With all these new diets the main idea is to appeal to the consumer by highlighting the aspects of it that make life easier and healthier. However, it seems that some diets only serve to target specific groups so their profit is higher. The Atkins diet, for example, opens up the dieting spectrum to both men and women which is fairly unusual for diets. When we see commercials on the television for Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers most of the people bragging about their weight loss are women. This is due to the fact that these diets tend to include low-fat, small portioned meals which we mostly associate with women. The Atkins diet expanded the dieting world by promoting low-carb, low sugar, high fat meals. Men now feel like they can open up about dieting because they can order a 16 oz steak topped with blue cheese and still be obeying the rules of their diet. The Atkins creators did not want to cut out people in lower classes by cutting out cheap foods like chips, pretzels, and crackers so they promoted other cheap snacks. When the Atkins phase hit America, snacks like pork rinds and beef jerky became more popular. This allowed cheap snacks to be available for those who had to stick to a more strict budget. The idea of appealing to multiple classes is a common goal for most advertisers. The article by Roseberry touches on advertising that focuses to class distinction. Companies like Dunkin Donuts try to include all classes by making commercials that focus on cheap, quality coffee. Starbucks, however, has made their name by being a very exclusive company with their pretentious drink names and high prices.

It is possible that the Atkins diet was just a new approach to losing weight and the masculine appeal was just an extra plus. However, it is difficult to argue that social stereotypes do not exist and that Atkins is a way of looking past these stereotypes and making men feel more comfortable with dieting. As long as society continues to make men feel uncomfortable about expressing their insecurities advertisers will have to be more and more creative about allowing men to enjoy their product without sacrificing their masculinity.

Bently, Amy. Men on Atkins: Dieting, Meat, and Masculinity. Open Court Publishing.