March 18, 2008

Eating Ethically

Okay, so the author of one of our favorite cookbooks is this guy, Mark Bittman, who also writes a great column about food in the New York Times. He normally writes about basic cooking things, like how to make simple and excellent bread. But lately he's done some really good columns/articles about the way food is produced. I find his stuff very interesting, because it's mostly written from the perspective of someone who really loves food, and thinks food is important on its own terms--which makes his stuff particularly compelling.

Anyway, today for example he links to a column about the logistics of organic farming; I would be interested if anyone who reads this is a farmer, or has a background that would allow them to evaluate the numbers? It seems interesting to me.

Also recently, he wrote this very disturbing article about the effects of large-scale meat production. Now, Mark Bittman is no vegetarian, and neither are we. I have worked on a farm, and I have thought a lot about ethics, and I think that there is no ethical problem with being a part of a food chain in which something dies or is killed, and you eat it.

That said: lately I have been thinking a lot about our grocery store habits. We're not completely gung-ho organic, and we're certainly not going veg. But we are trying to make some changes, not only because of concern about our own and Elliot's health, but more importantly because of an attempt to live a little lighter on the world. We're lucky enough to have the resources to spend a little more on our food if we need to...I guess I see spending more on food that's raised more ethically as sort of a "vote with your money" way of making a charitable donation--rather than giving money to the Sierra Club, this year, we are buying organic milk.

Anyway, these are some of the changes we're making. I don't mean them as diagnostic, because I don't really know enough...I'm more interested in starting a conversation, if anyone is interested, on how to make easy and effective food changes. We are open to suggestions.

  1. We are indeed buying organic milk. I read a pretty compelling piece about how milk is a very effective thing to buy organic, not so much because organic milk is healthier, but because cows require so many resources. When you buy organic milk, you're "voting" for organic feed for those cows, too.
  2. We are trying to buy antibiotic free meat whenever possible. This means we go to whole foods more than we'd like, but there it is. I will say that I was recently making a recipe that involved shredding some chicken, and half of the chicken was fancy whole foods stuff, and half of it was from costco, and I COULD TOTALLY TELL, as I was shredding it, which was which. The whole foods suff was noticably moister.
  3. We are trying in general to eat less beef (sigh--this is hard for me) and get protein lower on the food chain.
  4. We are arguing a lot about the organic/local foods divide. From what I can tell, the evidence is still a little sketchy on this point.
  5. Other foods which we have been convinced to go organic on, from either a health or taste perspective, include: apples, sweet potatoes, and peanut butter.
Okay, that's all for now. I just wanted to throw this out there. To recap: read that creepy article about meat. And make that YUMMY YUMMY recipe for bread.


orange said...

did you read this article on carbon footprints from the new yorker? very worth reading, imo; good points about local vs organic vs other factors:

my friend amy blogged about that article, and blogs a lot about food, footprints, organics, and the like. i think this link should take you to her enviro posts... (i'm trying my darnedest to figure out how to get to her permalinks. sheesh.)

if you've got a few minutes, i recommend a skim through her posts. she's got some great links, resources, and thoughts on this whole subject.

Sheree said...

Hey, Sarah. I applaud your choices. I'm with you on choosing organic when it seems to make sense. Right now, we're selecting RBGH free milk, and will switch to organic when Jackson turns 1. I wish I could easily get labeled cheese since its so fatty and that's where the additives build up. Anyway, I just read this scary article about beef from Mother Earth News

I'm beef free, but Jason vowed to go local after a splurge on "grass-fed" which turned out to be from New Zealand and as such required incalculable amounts of energy to get to the table. It's turned out to be too much of a burden, though. After 6 months, we've yet to make the 20 minute drive for local and organic beef.

Also, did you catch my rave about the best turkey ever which was neither organic nor local, but it was pastured.

I recommend you add eggs to your list. Ours are local, pastured, vegetarian (not organic--I don't have a source for the grain). Anway, you can TOTALLY see and taste the difference and that's in comparison to the "free-range, vegetarian" supermarket eggs we would otherwise be buying. The nutritional evidence on these is in (regardless of what the USDA says)

I think the key is to choose organic and pastured for foods that are highly concentrated and fatty (meats, dairy) and for those that have high pesticide retention (berries, broccoli).

Happy Cooking!

w. wilson said...

We think of local food as a way to stick it to Agribusiness, FWIW. Also a way to get around Whole Foods. Check out farm shares- I'm sure they exist in Chicago.

Also: read Marion Nestle, "What to Eat" in particular.

XXOO w, the organic goddess

Camera Crazy said...

I, too, read the article in the New Yorker about food choices and blogged about it. The article makes clear it is a pretty complicated matter that often seems contradictive. Buying from local markets is an excellent option rather than paying the high prices at Whole Paycheck, oh wait, I meant Whole Foods.
I'm a serious beef lover as well.

Beck said...

We're big fans of Mark Bittman, too, and are restling with the same questions about how to eat ethically. Right now, we get much of our beef from my dad's farm, which means that I when I'm making supper, I know EXACTLY WHAT COW I'M EATING. It's disconcerting.

Amy E said...

We po' folks don't always have the privilege of choosing to afford "organic." Whole Foods, are you kidding me? I'm lucky if I get to go to Trader Joe's. There are weeks where I have $10 to spend on food total, and the 99cents Store surely doesn't have "organic" choices. I am ever often for rich people. I don't know how the Farmers Markets are in the rest of the country, but here in CA they are definitely more expensive than regular grocery stores.

But, in other news, I cannot recommend this movie enough:

"Our Daily Bread"

It might make you queasy with it's simplicity, but it is a marvel to behold: such beautiful symmetry simultaneously presented with brutality. It didn't make me want to resume being a vegetarian, but maybe that's because I already quit being one a long time ago. I rarely ate meat from age 12-24 (just ask B about the times I refused to be around his beef intake). Then I was driving across Texas and ate a steak, and wow, what a rush. So now I eat meat, though not particularly often.

My boyfriend, who has been a devout vegetarian/vegan for 27 years, has severe Restless Legs Syndrome. He kicks and thrashes every 20 seconds in his sleep, all night long (I have it on tape if anyone wants to see). We have been medically investigating the cause, and it turns out to be low ferritin levels. Ferritin is long-term stored iron. It cannot be fixed with vegetable ingestion, nor with oral vitamin supplements. In fact, in most cases it is extremely difficult to replenish, though there is some hope with beef. He can choose to eat red meat to fix his ferritin, or he can embrace his 6x increased chances of stroke and heartattack associated with long-term low levels of ferritin.

So, eat your vegetables and your meat, and yes, some of it should probably be red. But not too much.

Amy E said...

My sentence above:

"I am ever often for rich people"

should instead read,

"I am ever frustrated that environmentalism is most often affordable for rich people."

Sheree said...

Sorry, Amy. This country subsidizes agribusiness (and their lobbies) not farmers.
2 options for you. 1--grow your own garden. 2--Find a local farm that accepts labor as part of the payment. I just heard of one in Connecticut that is looking for an apprentice in exchange for free rent!!

Brandon said...

Sheree, check that New Yorker article -- a study in England showed that New Zealand-raised lamb, imported to England, had a smaller carbon footprint than lamb raised in England. (Because of fertilizer, land yields, and other factors.)

For reasons like this, I find myself pretty darn opposed to the concept of food miles! A simple, memorable, easily communicated, and completely wrong answer to a complex problem.

w. wilson said...

Yes, B, but buying from a local farm, rather than a long chain of suppliers and middle men, does good in other ways, most especially by encouraging traditional, smaller scale (better!) ways of growing and harvesting food.

And Sheree- do you think that farm would take Graham as an apprentice. We're looking to hire him out. :)