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Friday, September 24, 2010

Unsafe Food: What You Can Do To Fight Back.

When I was a young child, my older brother and I would often visit my aunt and uncle on their farm in Kansas. My aunt had a particularly lovely gift of putting us to work around the farm while making the entire experience utterly enchanting...I very much treasure my memories from her farm. But one of my favorite jobs - indeed one that stands out in my memory - was getting the eggs from the hen-house in the morning. The eggs were warm and brown, sometimes with spots or other imperfections, and always made for a delicious breakfast. The hens ran about the farm all day clucking and making for endless entertainment when we got to chasing them, and though I always liked the ducks better for their endearing "Quack!", it was the hens who laid the eggs.

It would be years before it occurred to me that hens were kept in any other fashion.

With the recent egg recalls and this week's hearings, no consumer should neglect to educate themselves about the deplorable conditions at these factory farms. Not only do these horrorshows have potentially deadly repercussions for Americans and their families, but these animals are used like machines and tossed away like trash when they "break down". Its morally reprehensible and robs us of any remaining confidence in America's food supply.

And it isn't just eggs. There are breakdowns of quality at every level, breakdowns that show us that these "factory farms" can not possibly keep up quality standards with their enormous amount of output and their huge numbers of animals. They pump their animals full of anitbiotics, and these antibiotics have been proven to increase the rate of antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans. There are outbreaks of salmonella and the nutrition content of our food is falling, and failing, far to fast. There are no quick, easy solutions to this problem on a national level, although strides need to be made, and no one should give up. But in the meantime, until we get this taken care of on a national level, there are things that you can do in your own home and pantry to ensure you are avoiding these farms and their diseased, inferior products as much as possible.

First, shop local, shop local, shop local. If you are buying from your local farmers and artisans, you can go to their farms, you can see their animals, and you can talk to them in person. Were I to head out to my aunt's farm today, I would find her hens in just the same state of simplicity and bliss that they were in my childhood, and I could buy a dozen freshly gathered eggs and have a nice conversation with my aunt while I was there. In my own area, there are farmers who bring their eggs to the Farmer's Market, but during the off season you can buy from them as well. The eggs are full of nutrients and they are taken from happy hens who are fed organic, healthy diets and allowed to roam the yard, weather permitting. The same thing applies to dairy cows, which we covered earlier this week.

Buying your fruits, vegetables, breads and jams from the farmer's market gives you access to fresh, delicious food that is high in nutrition and puts more of your money back into your local economy. But buying meat, milk, and eggs from local farmers does all that and more; it gives back to those farmers committed to raising healthy, happy animals and safe, delicious food all while making sure you are feeding your family the very best.

Secondly, keep informed. Slow Food, a movement toward global health and nutrition, is a great resource for anyone trying to stay on top of their nutrition and the political information therein. Slow Food, through their programs, their blog, and their wells of information, allows their readers to stay informed...but they are so much more than that. In their own words, "Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet." Indeed, we should (and can) all work toward such a vision, and therefore I would encourage anyone reading this to support them and their wonderful mission.

Last of all (for today), be active, and be vocal. Get your friends in on shopping local, take them with you to the Farmer's Markets or join a CSA together. Find others in your community who are making an effort to eat whole, local foods and swap recipes and tips. Look through the hundreds of blogs on the subject to gather recipes and find more information on what you can do to help. Even if it's taking two minutes to write your legislator or converting the meat in your house to organic and local varieties, every little bit counts. Everything that you do makes a difference.

-The Calm Cook

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