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PerformWell Blog

How Do You Vote?

Posted on 09/12/11

How Do You Vote?
Approximately 90 million (40%) of the 218 million eligible US voters actually cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election.  Yet, essentially all 309 million Americans cast several ballots each day for how food is produced in the US.  Every food purchase is a vote;  whether at a grocery store, farmers market, fast-food drive-thru, food co-op, coffee shop, fine dining establishment, vending machine, truck farmer, concession stand or convenience store.   So, how do you vote?  Moreover, what do you know, or care to know, about how your food is produced and marketed so that you will spend your hard earned money to purchase it, and thus vote for it.

In other words, do you vote for industrialized agriculture that uses biotechnology to mass produce genetically engineered or modified (GMO) food that is linked to the obesity epidemic and outbreaks of anti-biotic resistant food borne diseases in the United States?  Or, do you vote for food that is produced locally, seasonally and sustainably the way humans have produced food for thousands of years, and continue to do so in many areas of the world?

A trip down any aisle in your local grocery store can easily become disheartening when you begin to realize that nearly all of the items are manufactured from GMO corn and/or soy.  Take a peak at the seemingly endless list of food, health & wellness, personal care, pharmaceutical and packaging products that Corn Products US synthesizes from corn.   Each time you purchase any of these products, you are casting a vote in support of industrialized agriculture and food processing.

You may be thinking that corn is natural, so synthesizing products from corn is no big deal.  This sentiment is echoed in several advertisements for High Fructose Corn Syrup, which end with the statement “get the facts”.   Well, “the facts” are that the corn grown today bears little resemblance to the corn my grandfather grew in Iowa before WWII, when 40-50 bushels an acre was considered a bountiful harvest.   Today’s GMO corn has been artificially engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Round-Up and also produces it’s own bacterial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis.  Further, the high nitrogen fertilizers, used to produce yields of 180-200 bushels per acre, are linked to nitrate contamination of groundwater wells, streams, rivers and the expanding 3,300 square-mile dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  Still wanna cast your monetary vote for products made from “natural” corn?

Fortunately, New Orleanians have several alternatives for their food dollars and votes, such as the Hollygrove Market and Farm,  the Crescent City Farmers Markets, the Sankofa Farmers Market, the soon-to-open New Orleans Food Co-Op and the historic French Market.  For those of you not so fortunate to live in the Big Easy, Local Harvest and Eat Wild are two fabulous online directories that allow you to search for local farmers markets, food co-ops, consumer supported agriculture and farms.  Finally, most grocery stores now have “organic” sections.  The more often you cast your shopping ballot these selections, the more abundant and affordable they become.  Spend your dollars and cast your food votes wisely and the market will respond to consumer demand.

Haitian Farmers to Monstanto: We May Be Starving, But We're Not That Hungry

Posted on 08/17/11

In the wake of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, Haitian farmer banded together and burned 475 tons of donated vegetable and grain seeds.   Why would farmers in a poor and starving country on the brink of collapse do such a thing?  Simple, the donor was the agribusiness giant Monsanto and the seeds were genetically modified (GMO).   While the earthquake forever affected their lives, growing Monsanto's GMO seeds would place their livelihood in peril.  Realize, that Monsanto was donating seeds, not 475 tons of food.

So, why did Haitian farmers band together and burn these seeds in protest?   Maybe, Haitian farmers wanted to growing diverse varieties of native vegetables and grains rather than growing a few select GMO crops in huge industrial mono-system farms.  Haitian farmers may have realized that they could not afford the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are the life-blood of GMO crops.  Haitian farmers may have been wise to the fact that growing Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds could make them a target of Monsanto’s lawyers that are attempting to enforce U.S. patent laws in foreign countries.  Haitian farmers may want to continue saving their seeds to plant the following season, which is a violation of Monsanto’s patent on their GMO seeds.   And maybe, Haitian farmers looked north across the waters and saw a population that is suffering from an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, largely from eating foods processed from GMO crops, and felt they could better feed their people with their native crops.

Americans have given selflessly of themselves to aid Haiti in their time of need.   In exchange, maybe we can learn a valuable lesson from Haiti that the cheap food from our industrial farming system may actually have a cost that we can no longer afford.

How Do You View Food?

Posted on 08/02/11

Do you view individual foods as being either “Good” or “Bad”?  If so, what criteria do you use to distinguish a “Good” food from a “Bad” one?   What are your sources of food and nutrition information and are they credible and reliable?   Do you find yourself following the advice of what “they” say?   By the way, who are “they”?  And most importantly, what do you know about how your food is produced?

Viewing food as being innately “Good” or “Bad” has many drawbacks.   Particularly since such a 2-dimensional view causes you to lump together all varieties and forms of an individual food.  Thus, a tomato is always a tomato; an apple is always an apple; chicken is always chicken ... regardless of when, where and how it is grown or raised.  We all know that the taste of a fresh, seasonal, garden grown tomato bears little resemblance to a tomato bought in the middle of winter at your local grocery.   Apples are sweet, crisp and tart in the fall, but rather bland and tasteless in the summer.   Yet, both tomatoes and apples, considered to be “Good” fruits and vegetables, are available 365 days a year in your local grocery store.  If the taste of a fruit or vegetable can vary depending on when and how it is grown, then it should be logical that its nutritional value has similar variation.

Chicken is commonly considered a “good” food while beef is “bad”, mainly because chicken is thought to have less fat than beef.  Since fat is widely considered “Bad”, anything that is thought to contain less fat simply has to be “Good”.  Actually, the fat content in both chicken and beef is essentially equal.  The only difference is that chickens deposit fat under the skin, which is easily removed, whereas cow fat tends to “marble” within muscle tissue.  However, the manner in which an animal is raised has a profound impact on both the amount and type of fat found in all animal products.

The vast majority of the animal products (meat, milk, cheese and eggs) found in your local grocery come from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, not in chicken coops and pastures.   Corn is the main feed and is supplied in abundance, even though corn is not the natural food for chickens, cows or most any animal.   Grass, bugs and grubs comprise the natural diet chickens and most birds.  But, worms are not to be found in CAFOs regardless of how early a bird rises.   Grasses and clovers are the natural food for cows, whose rumen or 2nd stomach transforms pasture grazings into amino acids, the building blocks of protein.  Further, cow patties are an ideal source of bugs and grubs for chickens ... and droppings from both cows and chickens fertilize the grasses and clovers.  But, this natural symbiotic system found in lush green pastures does not exist in the crowded confines of today’s CAFOs.

Animals can barely move in CAFOs (remember C means Concentrated), so the starchy corn is rapidly stored as fat.  Actually, CAFO chickens have been genetically altered so that their breasts, mostly used for chicken nuggets, develop larger and faster than their legs.  The term “cage free” is practically meaningless as these CAFO raised chickens cannot walk and are never kept in cages or pens.  The bottom line is that CAFO raised animals reach slaughter weight in nearly half the time of those raised on real farms. 
Thus, the meat of CAFO raised animals is high in fat and tends to be flavorless, whereas the meat from animals raised in coops and open pastures is lean and rich in flavor.  Further, the fat of cornfed animals is high in Omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in Omega-3s.   A diet high in Omega-6s and deficient in Omega 3s increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in humans ... and also increases the sales of Omega-3 supplements.   Interestingly, the fat from chickens and cows raised in their natural environment has the ideal 1:1 balance of Omega-6s to Omega 3s.   Hmmmmm ... animals raised in their natural environment produce meat, milk and eggs that are lower in fat, contain a healthy fatty acid ratio and taste delicious ... sounds “Good” to me!

Finally, a corn-based diet causes both cows, chickens and most animals to become sick and develop chronic infections.  So, low dose antibiotics are mixed in with the feed; a practice banned in Norway due to research that has linked this practice to the rise in antibiotic resistant diseases in humans.   Commercial corn feed is deficient in protein since today’s genetically modified corn is predominantly starch.  So, animal remnants from slaughter houses are mixed with the feed as a protein supplement; a cannibalistic practice linked to the outbreak of mad-cow disease in Europe ... which slightly shifted the practice to now mix chicken parts in with cow feed and cow parts in with chicken feed.    Anybody interested in learning the outcome of this latest practice of commercial agri-business?

So, you may be asking yourself why do “they” do this?  Well, “they” being the industrialized agri-business has created an abundance of cheap food by applying factory assembly-line methods to growing and raising food.   Rapid animal growth decreases production time, which decreases cost, which increases overall production, which increases profit margins.   Higher profits can be used to fund massive advertising campaigns, such as painting milk mustaches on celebrities proclaiming “Milk is Good Food” or using cute cows to promote “Eat Mor Chiken” (and bad spelling), and “they” have an incredibly profitable industry with powerful influence (see previous article on the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines). 

So, what can you do?   Support your local farmers markets buy your food from the person that grew or raised it..  Join a local CSA (consumer supported agriculture) and receive weekly boxes of farm fresh food.  Join a local food co-op and become part your food supply.   Plant a garden, get involved with a community garden or simply grow herbs in a window box.   Become responsible for your food and remove the control from “them” ... unless you are content to continue doing whatever “they” say.