This is no place for the horrifying details that led to 143 million pounds of beef being recalled from the market last week. Just the words “143 million pounds of beef” ought to be enough. How did this happen? Not just to the cows, but how did our food supply run so amok?
I think everyone ought to think really hard about the food choices that we make every single day and what making those choices means. Especially if we’re making food choices for other people, like our children.
Most often it’s about ourselves and our bodies. We’re driven by our wants and needs. As simply as, “I’m tired, I need a pick-me-up — this can of soda has 50 milligrams of sodium and 140 calories and no nutritional value, but I want it.”
So what do I do? I’m hungry and overtired; I don’t think I’ve had a soda in the last decade, save the emergency Fresca I had two summers ago (as I’ve written before, that’s another story for another time and certainly not a story for everyone’s ears). I digress, sorry.
But in that state, how am I supposed to come to the conclusion that an apple is what I ought to eat? Thankfully, I have people around me, and I might say out loud, “What should I eat?” Or I might poke around Polly’s or Lori’s office and see whether they’ve got something to nibble on.
This weekend I hunkered down at home to get some work done. On Saturday at around 2 p.m., while I was still in my pajamas, hunger pangs set in, and if I’d had soda in my house I’d have poured one — it would have staved off the immediate need without slowing me down. Luckily I had peanut butter — really good natural stuff. Yes, I did stick the spoon into the jar and eat it like a popsicle, but I have a choice.
Sometimes it’s about season. How about eating strawberries in February? I saw some gorgeous strawberries yesterday — all red and freckled with silly, green, frilly hats. I thought, “Wow, what a nice treat that would be.” But I knew they would disappoint, because they’d been picked a while ago, maybe at some huge agribusiness farm in Chile, and packed, loaded, flown, and trucked to the East Coast. Then sold to a produce distributor, loaded again, then shipped and packed to a Portland, Maine, grocery store, where they were unpacked and put on a shelf in the produce aisle.
I’d rather wait until June, when they’re in season here — I can pick and eat them while they’re still warm. I’ll eat more than my fill and I’ll make jam if I can so that I can have strawberries here, in February, when they’re not in season. I confess I didn’t make any jam last summer, but my neighbor Sarah did, and it was so good that it didn’t last past October. (Note to self: Ask Sarah to make more jam this year, offer to help.) I have a choice.
Or it’s about taste, which often fits into the seasonal argument, but when it comes to say, corn, the less time from stalk to table the better. The natural sugars in corn quickly convert to starch once the corn is cut, so even if you can’t eat it right away, cook it right away. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating an ear of corn in the field, you know it doesn’t even have to be boiled — same with peas. Unless I’m desperate, I won’t even buy corn from a chain supermarket. Do you think it was picked that morning? That week? I have a choice.
It’s about supporting the local economy. You may or may not know how much I love oysters. Well, I do, and now is the time to be eating them. I can buy oysters from New England and support people who do the backbreaking work under difficult conditions and enjoy a fresh product that tastes of where it came from. Or I can buy Tomales Bay oysters from California (which are delicious). I have a choice.
It’s about national security. If we don’t support our local growers and producers and our precious farmland and dairyland disappear, we’ll be completely dependent on outside sources for our food. I worry already about how so much of our food comes from outside New England. What if, God forbid, a hurricane half the size of Katrina were to hit the Eastern seaboard, or worse, a military situation were to occur? How long would we be able to sustain ourselves without outside food sources? Heavy stuff, right?
It’s about ethics, too. For the last few decades, most of the beef in America has been raised under questionable circumstances. Cows are fed a diet made of mostly corn and other grains (again, this may not be the place to go into what else these harmless animals are fed). Cows by evolution aren’t designed to eat corn — it makes them sick — so they’re given drugs (and antibiotics to keep them alive while living in unsanitary conditions under close quarters). You don’t have to be an animal-rights activist to feel for those poor animals at that meat factory, or to understand that nothing good can come from a steak or burger from an animal that lived such a sorry life.
Vote With Your Fork
Here are some good books for more information:
A Year of Eating by Barbara Kingsolver
Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe
What to Eat by Marion Nestle
Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters
Read more of Annie’s Eating New England.