Food for Thought

*If you don’t want to know where your food comes from, avert your eyes.

I came across this today and am… at a loss for words*. Go ahead, click on the link, it’ll open in a new window. Take a read and come back.

So, shockingly Hershey’s was at one time in recent history making a real-ish version of chocolate. Now debuting, however is a “chocolate candy” including such dubious words as “resinous glaze” and “carnuba wax” in the ingredients list. This new chocolate, which Hershey’s claims consumers “love” debuts at the same time as their “Pure Chocolate” advertising campaign. Hm.

There seems to be this pervasive sense in this country that if enough people say a lie/misstatement of the truth enough times, that lie slowly becomes accepted as fact. I could [insert current events examples here] but you probably are already feeling the effects of those, so I won’t remind you.

I on the other hand, am broke, so this calamity is really neither here nor there. Until this new form of truthiness begins to effect my food choices.

Of course I don’t have to buy Hershey’s. I don’t. I’m a snob. However, millions of people do. I am not an evangilist or anything like that BUT I do think there is something very wrong and possibly illegal about saying “Hershey’s pure chocolate” when in fact, its not actually chocolate. Not according to the FDA anyway who overlooks a lot of stuff.

So, what’s a person to do?

A. Not care. Figure lots more people would be up-in-arms if this was actually a big deal, and toss back another carnuba-waxy Milk Dud.

B. Stand on a soapbox in the Halloween aisle and try to persuade the parents of advertising-soaked kids to opt for the raisins instead.

C. Base your food choices on actual truth (I can’t believe that I have actually qualify the word “truth”) and surround yourself with like-minded individuals who won’t try to convince you that the advertisements for high fructose corn syrup actually make a compelling case. Thank you corn lobby.

I’m going with C. For Halloween, I’ll be handing out boxes of crayons. Easy, cheap, and lets kids get pleasure out of something other than candy.

Beyond that, I am educating myself and anyone else who is interested. If this web of farm-to-table is intriguing to you, start by reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. There are some very dense science lessons involved, but I walked away from that book feeling grounded in my decision to try to eat low on the food chain.

What does that mean? The fewer steps away from pure animal, vegetable or fungi, the better. So little to no processing. Also, not buying foods that contribute to a global health crisis, both for the farmer and the consumer. Primarily, bananas and high fructose corn syrup.

Let’s go a little deeper. (Again, if you don’t want to know where food comes from, navigate away now.)

Since I was a kid, my food has primarily come from my parent’s backyard, or when I was very young, my father’s fishing boat. These were the days of Lunchables and Chef Boyardee and I was the kid with a flounder sandwich. We ate fish nearly every night. I begged to please, just one night to eat something normal, like spaghetti. To which my mom would reply, “we’re having spaghetti. Spaghetti and fish.” I spent many dinners over at my friend Suzie’s house, where her parents ate normally. Their macaroni and cheese came out of a neat aluminum packet, no handmade bechamel sauce at their house! Instead, a comforting pile of bright orange normalcy.

Bear in mind, I was cooking all along. I regularly made french toast with eggs from my backyard. But our eggs were brown and none of my friends tolerated egg salad, let alone (gasp!) a hard boiled egg! Eeeew! I won Best in Show for my Peanut Butter Pockets at the Riverhead Country Fair with those very same eggs. Additionally, I didn’t have a television that showed anything other that (old family joke) “static, static, static and the news.”  So, when foods were advertised, I wasn’t around to see them. Unless I was at Suzie’s house and I could eat Lucky Charms as their images danced between Saturday morning cartoons.

It wasn’t really until I got to college that I began to understand that this lack of access to processed foods (thank you mom and dad!) had shaped the lens through which I was beginning to see the world. Take the Dining Hall. One swipe of my card, and an all you could eat buffet revealed itself. I went to a very progressive school that enrolled many Vegans and dancers, two groups known for being particular about what they eat. Their influence on the cafeteria was revealed in the massive salad bar, a hot vegan station, a make-your-own-pasta station and Tofutti Cuties in the freezer. In the first weeks, sitting down with new people from around the race and class spectrum, the majority of them went for the upside down tubs of Apple Jacks and Honey Comb cereals, while I went for actual apples and honey.

Again, though, I’m not evangelical about this. To this day, I eat my fair share of crap. The difference between me and the uninitiated is that I am making a conscientious decision, knowing full-well the ramifications of my food choices, both on myself and the world at large. Here’s an example I learned from Michael Pollan’s book:

Bacon at a diner will be very hard for me to give up. Bacon from anywhere, actually, but a farm that I can go and see the pigs if I so choose. I went this weekend to Ray Bradley’s farm and met my bacon. No Kafka moments to speak of, just stinky, dirty pigs.

Why is this so important? Because in a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation – which is where everything is raised if not on a small farm) the piglets are weaned from their mother after 10 days, instead of the 6-10 weeks that nature allows. This results in a corral stuffed with little piggies who still have the biological want to suck on something, and what is available is the tail of the little piggy in front of them. The receiving piglets don’t seem to care, and allow the suckling on their tails, but this can lead to infection and so to curb this behavior, the tails are, without any anesthesia, chopped off. Not so low as to kill the nerve-endings, but left just long enough so that if a little piggy comes along to suck a swollen nub of spinal chord, the resulting pain is so blinding that the otherwise docile animal turns around and screeches for the prematurely-weaned sucker to move on.

Nice, right?

Now, I’m not telling you this to gross you out or to traumatize you. I’m telling you this because you don’t have to give up bacon or pork chops! Just buy them from a farmer. An actual, honest to goodness person who lovingly and graciously raises his or her animals the way nature intended. The strongest argument against veganism is that if it wasn’t for people eating them, the pig (and chicken and cow) would have dropped off the evolutionary landscape a long time ago.

In the case of chocolate, good, fair trade, real chocolate is widely available. Meat, you have to do a little work. You can’t walk into Whole Foods, buy the pork chops and feel okay about your decision because their CAFOs employ exactly the same methods, except the foods that the animals eat is organic. Whole Foods then markets the pastoral ideal to you, and you want to believe your piggies had tails. I’m sorry to break it to you. But, if you think about it, no single farmer could keep up with all the demand. And the pork has to come from somewhere. Lucky for you, you get to choose from where. Or, you can choose truthiness and instant gratification.

Here’s a starting point. Make a day of it! Make some room in your freezer, find a local winery or cheese maker and go buy yourself a supply of pork to eat, anytime you want, truthfully.

*I’m never at a loss for words.


3 responses to “Food for Thought

  1. You should try Michael Pollen’s new book : “In Defense of Food” its the how to his why in Omivores dilemma…good read

  2. thegourmandandthepeasant

    Its next on the list! I have to get a new library card.

  3. Pingback: What Chefs Call “Fabrication” « In the Making

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