This week’s classes have got me thinking about how the food we eat today is unhealthier than it ever was in the past. This is because of all the high fructose corn syrup that you can find in almost everything sold at the supermarket. The food of the past was more organic and didn’t have as much processed ingredients in them. I also started thinking about why Americans are getting fatter while people in other developed countries are still getting fatter, but at a much slower rate. Is this because we have greater access to fast food restaurants or because of the government subsidizing the farmers to grow corn, which starts the chain reaction of adding more and more corn syrup into the foods we eat?
I read an article on Food Safety News about how researchers discovered a new and more convenient way to test for foodborne pathogens. Biology researchers in England discovered that by using the chemical: Firefly luciferase, the enzyme that makes fireflies’ abdomens light up, they can pinpoint harmful bacteria such as Listeria and Salmonella. They developed a device called the “Bioluminescent Assay in Real-Time” (BART), which activates the luciferase, which in the presence of bacteria, will convert the bacteria’s DNA sequences into distinguishable patterns of light. This new system of spotting pathogens dramatically cuts the detection time from about a day to around an hour. Along with shortened testing times, portable versions of this device can be made: allowing for testing in animal farms. This is a huge breakthrough for the food safety sector because these devices will allow inspectors greater range of freedom and it sounds like this machine will also cut costs because the food will no longer have to be sent to a lab to get tested.
The Grocery Gap reading we had to do for class on Friday made a lot of sense to me. When I was driving back from Florida over Spring Break, we were travelling through mostly rural areas of Georgia all the way up to Susquehanna. I noticed that in these rural areas -there were no true places; like supermarkets- for people to buy food, just convenience stores and fast food restaurants. After noticing this pattern, I became curious as to why this was the case. After reading the Grocery Gap article, I think I came up with the main reason why these areas were lacking proper stores to buy healthier food: it is because the stores in these areas wouldn’t make enough money to support their expenses and this is due to the poverty levels of the areas. These people don’t have the proper income or budgets to buy the healthy, more expensive foods so they have no choice but to buy the crappy food at the convenience stores. People in these areas are unhealthier than people who live in more populated centers because they don’t have the resources or access to healthier foods.
I read an article on http://www.foodpolitics.com/2012/03/petitions-to-label-gm-foods-deserve-support/ and it was about why we should be labeling our foods if they are genetically modified. There is a national campaign that is fighting for required labeling of genetically modified foods in all supermarkets. They argue that if consumers distrust genetically modified foods, the industry has nobody to blame but itself. It has done little to inspire trust. Labeling promotes trust. Not labeling is undemocratic; it does not allow choice. This distrust in these companies is bad for business. They aren’t saying GMOs are harmful or wrong, they would actually welcome GMOs into their shopping lists, they are just fighting for the honest labeling of these products, which I found surprising. Every time I read/hear something that is about GMOs, the argument is always about how GMOs are harmful to people and the environment. I actually liked this article because these people are welcoming the inevitable future of food production, but they want an honest labeling system established to create a firmer market for the companies making and selling these GMOs and also honest labeling in the sense that it is upholding our democracy.
Overall, this course hasn’t changed my outlook on food the way I thought it would. I guess the main reason for this is because I don’t care that much about the system behind how my food is processed and shipped. As long as it tastes good and doesn’t make me sick, I don’t really care. The only true eye opening experience I had so far was last week’s theme of food safety and how easily food born bacteria can infect my food, which legitimately scared me. But I won’t get into this in great detail- that’s what my last blog entry was for. I did find it interesting to find out that some of the “organic” foods in the supermarket isn’t actually all that organic. Now that I think about it, this shouldn’t really surprise me at all, especially considering my topic of my research paper I did last semester (green-washing in environmental advertising).
I found an article online about a program that has been set up in the Leigh Valley area that teaches about sustainable growing techniques and puts a spin on community supported agriculture. Anyone can apply to participate in this program and they encourage its participants to spread the knowledge they learned there, to other people. One example of sustainable growing they teach, and which I thought was really cool, is called straw bale gardening and it is one of the main components of the program. You can place straw bales on concrete, toss in a tiny bit of compost and plant into them. Even places with low-quality or no soil at all can start a productive garden. The reason this program is different from the others is because not only do they teach you growing techniques, but also how to set up an ASC business of your own. They teach you about writing business plans, marketing the program, establishing community relationships, providing nutrition education, and solidifying partnerships. I think that is the coolest part of this program, how they are encouraging future generations of people to expand this idea of sustainable, community oriented farming, which I also think will become a lot more important in the future.
Honestly, this week’s classes have scared me into becoming a vegetarian for a while. I haven’t eaten a single piece of meat since reading the Food Safety article Sunday night. Learning about the conditions of slaughterhouses and actually seeing what goes on behind their doors didn’t bother me, it’s the thought of how my previously conceived notions of a clean food processing system that did. I have always believed that the meat was free of bacteria and that every part of the process was completely sterile. Seeing how these pathogens can be transferred during the shipping or processing part bothers me. The part that scared me the most was when that article mentioned multiple examples of how people are getting sick, even after cooking the meat or treating their food. I immediately though about our cafeteria and how they never thoroughly cook our food when reading that part of the article. From this point on, I will always be second guessing if my hamburger or steak was, not only cooked properly, but if there are bacteria inside the thing.
I read an article on http://grist.org/food/sugar-low-do-sweeteners-need-to-be-regulated/ about how scientists have come to think that the sugar we eat should be regulated. They went as far as saying sugar is as dangerous as alcohol. The article mentions how our biggest health problem isn’t obesity but the metabolic disorders like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease caused by sugar, which are. I agree and disagree with these scientists. Our society has become obsessed with sugar and it is almost impossible to avoid it in the food we eat today. The companies who make the food should definitely tone down on the amount of sugar they put in just because it is really unhealthy. Also, companies with the sugariest (I don’t even know if that’s a word) products target kids in their advertising. Kids are the last ones who need to be eating large amounts of sugar every day, but I know that is very hard to avoid today. Schools have been cutting back on the amounts of junk food they are serving/selling, which is a good start, but the real effort has to come from the manufacturers. On the other hand, I disagree with these scientists because this issue is on a more familial or personal level. Kids are taught that too much sugar is bad for you in school and parents already know this. If parents don’t want their children eating a lot of sugar, then they could stop buying soda and junk food for home. People who care about their health will try to stop eating so much sugary foods and eat healthier.
So far, this class has definitely made me start thinking about the food I eat. It hasn’t turned me off from any kind of particular food type, but it has certainly increased my awareness of where my food comes from and how it is processed. Reading about the tomato farmers down in Florida has gotten me thinking about the people who are out in the fields actually picking my fruits and vegetables. I began wondering about how bad their working conditions are and how they are treated by their bosses. I was surprised to find out that in our modern era, farmers are still facing problems the conventional workforce dealt with almost a century ago. I believe that Obama’s immigration plan will eventually fix this because these farmers are mostly illegal immigrants. Since his plan will offer citizenship to some illegal immigrants that will change the interactions between the farmers and their bosses. Going off track a bit, when I go down the shore in the summer, there are more locally grown vegetables for sale down there. The farms where these vegetables are grown are only a couple miles away from our place and you can see the men working in the fields, which to me is important. Knowing exactly where they come from and being able to see the work put into harvesting them, I guess puts me at ease almost.
When I was looking around various food blogs this week, I noticed a lot of articles were discussing outbreaks of disease among food products and/or recall notices due to these diseases. One of the more surprising articles I read was one about a recent outbreak of salmonella in Taco Bells across the country. What surprised me is that this is the third health related problem Taco Bell has had in the past 10 years. About 5 or 6 years back, there was a problem with the Taco Bells in my area where they were finding fecal matter from rodents in their kitchens. That resulted in a number of stores closing down and adding in these salmonella outbreaks, it doesn’t look good. I am always hearing about different food products being recalled on the news. I just read an article on a recall of hard-cooked eggs from Wegmans Food Markets, Greencore USA, and Allison’s Gourmet Kitchens due to a Listeria outbreak. It makes me wonder about how “sterile” our current food processing/transportation system. Maybe I am only noticing an increase in these problems because of the increased use of media coverage, or if this has always been a problem and I just haven’t noticed it before, but it is really starting to concern me.
Friday night, I went out to eat and I ordered a hamburger. When the waitress placed my food down in front of me, the bun was laying on the side showing the meat, I realized that my burger had once been part of a cow. I never thought twice about what I was eating up until that point in my life. After our discussion in class about how we usually don’t think about how our food used to be part of a living animal, I thought about how the cow that made my hamburger lived its life. That brought me back to those videos we watched in class about the cruel conditions these animals are kept in when they are alive. The cramped living conditions they are stuck in and how the force-fed corn makes them sick. The more shocking fact was how their human masters treated them; kicking them around like a soccer ball. My point is, after seeing what goes on behind the scenes, maybe you would think twice about what you eat. I believe this is the case because we, as consumers, are becoming increasingly distant to our food production processes and sources.
I read an article on the New York Times about how the Food and Drug Administration declined to regulate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture (http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/the-f-d-a-s-token-gesture/#more-3445). The article went on to mention “the F.D.A. made it crystal clear that, despite the increasingly common threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in supermarket meat, it would leave the regulating up to industry itself.” I just find this irresponsible of the FDA, especially considering this is a professional governmental administration. Leaving an industry to regulate itself is like telling an alcoholic not to drink and then leaving him in a room full of alcohol. The FDA needs to set some kind of ground rules at least so these companies don’t screw things up too much. I am suspecting some form of state capture that’s in effect but that is still no excuse. Also, another problem with no antibiotic regulation is that diseases will build up an immunity to these antibiotics that protect us, creating mutant bacteria that we have no chance of fighting. The article mentioned how in 2010, 29 million pounds of antibiotics were used on animals. Just the fact that there is a need for these antibiotics to keep the animals healthy (due to their living conditions) is wrong.
One of the reasons why I am interested in taking this course is because I want to know more about what really goes on in the food production process before I buy it off the shelf. Working in a supermarket for 4 years got me thinking about where our food really comes from. The only major thing I know about this process is that the meat we are buying now comes from livestock raised in factory farms. The living conditions in these places are awful to keep animals in, and that the animals are treated inhumanely. I know that the meat industry isn’t the only one that cuts corners and has some skeletons in its closet, but I want to find out who these other industries are and what they are doing that is wrong.
I read an article on www.foodsafetynews.com about the fungicide found in the juices we are importing into this country, mainly orange juice. At high levels, the fungicide has been tied to liver cancer. It specifically mentioned how the fungicide found in the juice, carbendazim, is banned from use in the US but not in Europe. The interesting part is that the EU has established a maximum residue limit, or maximum level considered safe, for carbendazim in orange juice: 200 parts per billion, while the FDA said it would reject any shipments found to contain the fungicide at 10 ppb or more. Just seeing the EU having more laxed standards than their American counterpart was very surprising to me. I found this to be out of character for EU standards. Europe is known to have very strict standards when it comes to any form of regulation. That, adding in the fact that European consumers are highly interested in where their food comes from, is really surprising. My other thought I had on this article is a question: why does America need to import the majority of its juice, especially orange juice? I understand that we don’t grow all the necessary fruits to make some of these juices, but we shouldn’t be importing orange juice considering America is one of the leading growers of oranges in the world. I know that buying oranges grown in other countries is probably cheaper, but we shouldn’t be importing something that we are perfectly capable of producing ourselves. I guess it bothers me that we are outsourcing one of the few things left America can do on its own.